A short story on how effective communication can make a difference to all business interactions.
The other day I was visiting with a client, Cliff, who shared a story about a relationship challenge he had been having with his business partner, Susan. Together, they run a small tour company, crafting wellness trips to Mexico and Central America for higher-end clientele.
Cliff found himself in a predicament that devastated Susan’s feelings on a recent trip.
As Cliff relates the story, tensions were high as they neared the end of their trip to Central Mexico last Fall. The van they had rented began suffering brake issues, which ultimately prevented the group from returning to Mexico City on time. Fortunately, the two had found a solution: Susan would return to Mexico City in a hired replacement van with most of their passengers, while Cliff would stay in the town where they found themselves, San Miguel de Allende, and repair the van. Since San Miguel is a charming place, two guests decided to stay with Cliff.
A few hours passed, and without too much fanfare, the van’s brakes repaired, and before long, Cliff and his two guests got on the road and headed to Mexico City.
As Cliff was nearing Mexico City, he prepared herself for a very challenging interchange that was unmarked but of vital importance. Miss this exchange, and not only would he be on a road he didn’t know, but he would add at least another hour onto their 4-hour trip.
As semi-trucks passed Cliff on either side, on roads with no lighting at 10 in the evening, being vigilant for the wayward pothole or street dog, Susan called Cliff. Later he would learn that she had arrived at the hotel and wanted to let him know that her van and the group had arrived safely.
Cliff did not pick up with the stresses of the road and the vital interchange coming up; Cliff did not pick up. Susan called again. Then, she sent a text, followed by another one. And then a call to WhatsApp. After the third call to WhatsApp, Cliff picked up the phone and said sharply, “Susan, I can’t talk to you right now. I will have to call you back.” Then he hung up.
Amid the distractions, Cliff missed his turn and spent the following hours lost in the outskirts of Mexico City. Arriving at the hotel some hours later, he looked at his phone to some emotionally charged texts from Susan. The most glaring read: “I deserve to be treated better. There are no excuses for how you spoke to me on the phone.”
Cliff knew that he would need to connect with Susan and would need to handle the situation as carefully as possible.
How to achieve effective communication in three simple steps
After a needed rest, Cliff met with Susan the following day and employed a method of effective communication I had taught him some weeks before.
Entire libraries could be filled on practical communication skills, so writing one more article to the volumes already written might seem redundant.
Unless, of course, this method — because of its glaring simplicity — really works.
Over coffee in the hotel lobby, Cliff asked Susan to share with him her frustrations. And she did. For nearly 10 minutes, Susan shared with him her frustrations. And for the almost 10 minutes that she spoke, Cliff paid attention to what she said.
2. Don’t interrupt
There isn’t room to interject your opinions if you genuinely listen, which Cliff did. He listened intently, without interrupting, until Susan was finished.
3. Repeat back what you have heard
When Susan had finished explaining her feelings, Cliff asked if she had shared everything that she needed to. Then he repeated back to Susan what he had learned. This piece shows the listening party confirming what they had heard was correct and the speaking party; the opportunity to clarify anything.
In the end, Susan and Cliff decided not to continue working with one another. They knew that their work styles often clashed for a while, and this argument added to that fire.
Still, how Cliff approached the conflict left both parties in a much stronger place. Cliff is proud of himself for allowing Susan to express herself without a need to interject. Susan is pleased that she could communicate her feelings known without them being squashed or dismissed.
Effective communication can be a complicated task. However, the next time you find yourself in a situation, follow these three simple steps. I guarantee you everyone involved will appreciate it.
Images by Depositphotos
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Casey A. Miller, President of 6 ½ Consulting, is on a mission: to help create environments where people value one another. In his consultancy, this means teaching business owners and executives how to build workplaces that inspire. In return, their organizations see positive returns on their time, teams, and profits.