Today when we speak of business communication the focus of many small business owners is on improving social media communication – and that certainly makes good business sense as social media communications are an essential component of any small businesses’ marketing communications plan. You’ve got to go to where your customers are in order to have a conversation with them – and, according to the User View Wave VII study conducted by BIA/Kelsey, 97% of consumers use online media to research local purchases with 19% of those who responded the to the survey reporting that they’d made an online appointment in the last six months.
Reading that 19% statistic probably brought a smile to many a small business owner’s face as it demonstrates the value of including social media in their marketing communications toolbox. But that statistic points in quite another direction as well.
While it’s true that most consumers begin the conversation relating to a buying decision online, yet small business owners would do well to also pay attention to continuously improving interpersonal communication skills as well. After all, the goal of engaging your customers online is to convert that virtual conversation to an in-person conversation.
And customers and clients aren’t the only people small business owners have interpersonal conversations with. Small business owners communicate a lot. Along with those customer and client conversations you communicate with employees; you communicate with distributors, vendors, and suppliers.
The differences between a virtual conversation and an in-person conversation seem obvious, with the most obvious being that an in-person conversation is an audio conversation where you hear the words being communicated. That might not seem to make a huge difference than a conversation where you were to read those words rather than hear them. But it does.
You Can’t Always See What People are Saying
We’ve all had experiences when we’ve read an email and got an impression of the sender’s emotional state from the “tone” of that email. However, when you get them on the phone and actually hear that tone, you discover your impression was mistaken. You got information not only from the words they spoke (which were essentially the same words as in the email) but also from “non-verbal” cues such as how fast they were speaking and the pitch of their voice.
Non-verbal communication are messages that are communicated in ways other than the spoken or written word. Communications experts estimate that between 65 and 75 percent of all communication is non-verbal – which means that we may miss quite a bit of meaning when depending on online written conversations. Research has suggested that 5 percent of an intended message is communicated by the spoken word, 45 by tone and inflexion, and 50 percent via body language/movement and eye contact.
It is a person’s non-verbal communication cues that cause us to “get the feeling” that a person is “saying one thing but means another.” Understanding the messages non-verbal cues can be sending us makes it easier to truly understand the messages being communicated to us. This is especially important within the various situations and types of conversations that take place in a small business environment.
Think about a time you first met someone. Within the first few seconds you formed an impression about that person; an impression that was based on non-verbal messages. Something as seemingly insignificant as a person’s posture can actually “speak volumes.”
Being able to interpret these non-verbal cues is important in a business environment, for instance when interviewing a job candidate or engaging with a customer making a buying decision. In the case of the job applicant, you’d want to receive non-verbal cues that indicate the candidate was confident and interested. When in a conversation with a customer or client, you’d want to communicate you own level of confidence in your product and/or service as well as genuine interest in providing that customer with what they need or help them solve their problem.
Whether you’re attempting to understand another’s level of confidence, or want to communicate your own level of confidence, here are some common non-verbal signs and signals:
- Posture – stand upright with shoulders back.
- Eye contact – Maintain eye contact most, but not all of the time. Staring can be off-putting.
- Gestures – Fluid, yet not uninhibited.
- Speech – Speak distinctly and clearly at a moderate rate of speed.
- Tone and Pitch – A moderate tone is best, but not “monotone.” Vary the pitch of your voice in order to keep the person’s interest as well as for emphasis.
Do You Have Their Attention?
Small business owners also find themselves speaking to groups, such as during meetings with clients or employees, or making presentations. Being able to interpret the non-verbal cues of your audience helps you to know how your message is being received allowing you to make adjustments if necessary. Here are some cues that your audience may not be engaged:
But you can actively engage the audience when you need to if you’re alert to some of the typical signs and signals of people not being engaged. Some of these signs and signals include:
- Heads are down.
- Eyes are averted.
- Sitting either slumped or leaning away from the speaker.
Truth Be Told
We’d all like to believe that people are telling the truth. Paying attention to non-verbal cues can help us know when someone is likely hesitant to communicate their true feelings; does not want to provide us with information we seek; or is lying:
- Little or no eye contact; rapid eye movements; pupils might be constricted.
- May place their hand or fingers over their mouth; touch their face.
- Will tend to turn their body away from you.
- Jerky, rapid gesturing.
- Rate of breath may increase.
- A change in complexion, such as becoming pale or red in the face.
- May start to sweat.
- Pitch and volume of voice fluctuates and/or becomes louder/higher; may start to stammer and/or clear throat.
The Best Defense
You may find yourself providing direction to an employee or explaining company policy to a customer and feel they are becoming defensive. You might be right if you see some of the following:
- No gesturing or gesture are small and “tight.”
- Arms are crossed in front of their body.
- Facial expression: lips pursed, tight smile, facial expression does not change.
- Turn their body away from you.
- Little eye contact or eyes are cast down.
While all the above are, in fact, non-verbal cues and can be very helpful in interpreting the messages that people send us, you should never assume that someone is lying because they aren’t looking at you, or they aren’t interested in what you are saying because they are sitting slumped in their chair, or are defensive simply because they have their arms crossed. Instead, use non-verbal cues as “clues.” For instance, if someone is sitting slumped in their chair ask them for some feedback about what you’re saying. If someone eyes are downcast, ask if there’s something you can help them with. In other words, always check with that person to ascertain whether your assumptions about the non-verbal cues you are picking up are correct.