Avoid communication breakdown.The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. (George Bernard Shaw)

Generally, in life, this predicament is the cause of many arguments; specifically, in selling, it is the cause of many lost sales.

One of the exercises we do is my sessions has all the delegates simultaneously follow precisely the same verbal instructions, yet without fail they all come out with different results. Why? Invariably one of them shares insight: “the instructions were the same, but the interpretation was different.”This is one of the major stumbling blocks to successful selling-what the prospect says and means what the salesperson hears and understands can differ as sharply as day from night.

Interpretation affects understanding

Psychologists would attribute this breakdown in communication to idiosyncrasies in personality, beliefs, pronunciation, culture and attitudes-in other words, we may be similar in appearance but differ widely mentally and emotionally. In essence therefore, from the outcome of the exercise the delegates are all right and by the same token, they are all wrong. In light of this dilemma, what to do then as a salesperson?

The foremost solution to this quandary is asking questions. Not interrogating, but asking in a conversational manner in like manner to a doctor during a prognosis. Questions are indispensable arsenal in the salesperson armoury. How did that make you feel? (Counselling); when did the cough start?(Doctor); Who was working the pump when it jammed? (Technician); What happened the last time you tried to withdraw money using your card? (Banker); Which of these two items would you like to buy? (salesman) Or, Would you like to sign with the blue pen or black one? (when closing). Questions, psychologists say, trigger the mind to alertness and offer clarity.

avoid communication breakdown

Questions alone are not enough

Alas, questions alone are not enough. You may still misinterpret the response. Again borrowing from the medical profession, writing down the responses, not only focuses the discussion (notice how you rarely go off topic when with the doctor), it offers you a record that allows instant recall-just like with a doctor. I used to have a boss who during his meetings (despite already having the secretary taking minutes) would still write down all the conclusions on a jotter he always had with him. And what he would do at the end of the meeting brings me to the third thing that helps avoid breakdown in communication.

Possible solution to avoid communication breakdown

What he would do is read back what he had written as confirmation that it was what was agreed upon. “Kageche, you are to see to it that we no longer have a 90-day column on the NMG account”. “Juma you ensure that all pending accounts have been opened”. ” Karani, you will see me at 3pm on Thursday with a report on why your departmental targets are still below acceptable”. At such times, more than once, corrections had to be made-what he understood and what, say, Karani meant, differed. And this anomaly would then be corrected at this stage and he would still read back to Karani what he had written, just to confirm that they were on the same page.

Taking notes and reading back also removes biases and assumptions. When selling, you are likely to be equally surprised when reading back to the prospect a summary of what you understood when he says,

“I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant”
(Alan Greenspan)


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