How You Say What You Say is More Said by Stewart Mednick

by 05 Dec 2008
Recent research suggests that how you speak is more important in effective communication than what you actually say. Successful customer service oriented professionals will speak little and listen much. When they do speak, their voices fluctuate strongly in amplitude and pitch. This will reflect the suggestion to the listener, there is interest and responsiveness to that customer?s needs. Little variation in vocal inflections will denote a tone of authority and the customer may become stand-offish. Speaking invitingly, responsively but not pushy, and with variation can be the key to a successful cold call, follow-up call, or initial meeting. Professor Alex Pentland of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab Human Dynamics Group has been studying this very topic with some amazing results. With a sensor that will analyze speech patterns and not words, new and meaningful information is recorded and studied on how sales calls, management styles and office dynamics can be engaging, successful, or simply listened. Face-to-face negotiation simulations would be staged. These sensors can predict with 87 percent accuracy which person would be the victor by bodily movements, manner of speech and ignoring the actual words or type of strategy. Mirroring the conversational partner is often regarded as empathetic and is a strong predictor of success. This may include hand gestures, phrasing inflections, or body language. Two distinct ?channels? of communication are noted: the verbal channel through which linguistics flows, and the non-verbal channel that carries just as much information in the forms of body language, inflections, and verbal sounds other than words. Listening to both channels and deciphering the information is how we make informed decisions on how to act. Much of the reaction we exhibit is subconscious and is processed in microseconds. However, being aware of the subtle verbal and non-verbal nuances will make you a more informed listener and a more skilled customer service professional. To many readers, this research may be construed as common-sense. To those who read my column regularly, you may note that I have written about conversational techniques and knowing your client?s social style. I would agree that the basic premise is rudimentary. What I find most intriguing is the accuracy in which the successful party of a negotiation can be predicted. Knowing what ?non-verbals? should be used to be successful is also a great take-away from this research. The key to effective communication is much like how a dog is responsive to its master?s voice. Ever try the experiment of talking to your dog in different voice tones? You can say, ?BAD dog!? in a loud booming voice, and the dog would cower. You could say the same words in a gentle, loving tone and the dog would wag its tail and come to you to lick your face, reciprocating the implied affection. Conversely, you can say ?I LOVE you!? in a loud booming voice and the dog would again take a defensive, timid posture. The tone and vocal inflection is the key to the dog?s perception of how your words are interpreted. Dogs hear changes in amplitude, pitch, and observe facial expression emphasized with hand gestures. Can this same process be equally as effective on your clients (not suggesting that your clients are responsive like dogs, of course)? Mammals have the capacity for compassion. Compassion is therefore an expressive form of communication. In the context of effective communication with prospects, clients and business associates, compassion is implemented as the afore-mentioned changes in amplitude and pitch. The challenge to you is to be conscious of how you speak when talking to clients. Be aware of many characteristics of what makes your speech either inviting or detracting to your cause. Pay attention to your tone, the rate of speed you talk, the percentage of silence (active listening) to speaking time you have in the total time of a conversation, the changes in amplitude in your voice, and the changes of pitch. Here is a brief break down of what each of these five items means and how it is important. Tone ? this is the emotion evoked when speaking; angry, happy, inquisitive, excited. Rate of speed ? try to emulate to whom you are speaking. If the person is elderly and speaks slowly, then speak at about the same rate. If you are speaking to a young business professional who speaks in an aggressive, upbeat manner, then emulate and speak at a bit of an accelerated rate, etc. Percentage of speaking to listening ? Actively listen more than you speak, especially in the early onset of conversation. Let the client tell a story of needs and desires before you speak to the points told. I would say 65 percent listening and 35 percent talking is a good ratio in any given conversation. A change in amplitude ? amplitude is the measure of volume. Lower amplitude is a quiet voice. Conversely, higher amplitude is a loud voice. These changes will inherently be implied in the tone of your voice, but not always to the degree necessary to emphasize your speaking points. Like an actor in a movie, you may need to over emphasize (in a controlled, not obnoxious degree) your changes in amplitude to show excitement, understanding or agreement in a conversation. Practicing mock dialogue to explore what works best for your personal style may be a wise course of action. A change in pitch ? this is a change in voice from high to low. High typically denotes excitement, happiness and enthusiasm. A low tone could denote seriousness, sadness, or emphasize authority. Again, practice may be prudent to perfect a tone for each response or situation that a client may verbally express. You may see this approach in conversation silly or childish, since many who have children think this is how you would speak to your kids. I agree in part. But consider why we speak that way to our children. We want to emphasize the verbal or linguistic portion of our message with the non-verbal elements. With children, the end result may seem a bit ?sing-song.? With a client, be more mature with the final result. And when you achieve success by shaking the client?s hand at the closing table, use facial expression and body language as well to show your enthusiasm for the event. Maybe you will close a loan for a movie director and get cast in his or her next film. Stewart Mednick is a seasoned mortgage banker and published author. His writing focuses on relationship development, personal empowerment, customer satisfaction, marketing and sales techniques. Stewart is available for marketing consulting, personal coaching and training sessions. If you have a comment or a question for Stewart, contact him at 651-895-5122 or


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