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Designing the floor plan for success Featured

9:35am EDT July 22, 2002

Last month I began explaining a three-step process for developing effective communication skills.

Part one detailed how to build a foundation of trust. This month, I'll explain how to design and build a bold and open floor plan, then ensure there are no roofs on top of the communications house.

The floor plan must contain clear, direct, respectful, reflective and frequent communication. Here's how to get started.

Get to the point

Consider cutting 30 to 40 percent of the words from any written letter. Bold or bullet the key one or two points. The average business communication is reviewed for five seconds. Make it easy to casually glance at the letter to garner the main points.

When engaging in verbal communications, develop an outline in your head before speaking. If you tend to be chatty on the phone, use an hourglass or timer and reduce the time of phone conversations by 20 percent. If you want something, directly ask the person who can honor the request.

Even if you don't get what you want, it could provide a lesson on how to obtain what you want in the future.

Wire your house for communications

As organizations get flatter in structure and faster, with fewer employees and even less time, how can you get wired and automate your communications?

E-mail -- Properly used, e-mail allows a quick and cost-effective way to deepen relationships and add value. Use it to garner feedback, schedule meetings and send out FYI messages. E-mail should not be used as a firewall that you throw hand grenades over.

Word processors -- Leaders at all levels should learn how to use a word processor. Why write out a letter that another person has to type when it can be done in one step? This promotes a flatter, quicker company.

Use bold colors on walls

If you are not passionate about what you are saying, why would anyone else want to listen? Try using emotion to improve communications.

Focus efforts on potential -- Your potential lies at the intersection of what you love to do and what you are good at. The first question that Steve Marks of Main Street Gourmet asks his followers in a review is, "Do you love what you are doing?" If they don't love their work, they discuss changes to get on track.

Don't use the same bold color throughout -- If you speak with enthusiasm and always use the same words, you might be perceived as insincere. If someone asks how you are doing, you can answer great, wonderful, fantastic, if I were doing any better it might be illegal, etc.

Add brightness on the phone -- You need to over-emphasize your voice by 30 percent on the telephone to compensate for not being physically present.

Don't use red -- Speaker Tony Allesandra talks about practicing "pausitiveness." When you are in a "red" mood (elevated state), try at all costs to think, then act, not react. When you react, you pay dearly later.

Hold more conversations in the kitchen

You won't strengthen relationships if you sit behind a desk. Meet and talk to people in the lunchroom or break room. Go to their turf and break down communication barriers.

Install moveable partitions instead of permanent offices. Eliminate executive parking spaces. Open the floor plan for more open communications.

Install mirrors

Reflect on communications that have gone wrong. Pat Perry from Employers Resource Council once told me, "The mirror is your greatest evaluator." Consider using 360-degree feedback -- garner feedback from those at all levels of the organization, not just those leading -- and development plans.

By now, you've built your foundation of trust, you have a bold and open floor plan and it's time for a roof. Forget about the roof. Your growing house continually needs to be built up.

You cannot keep building up if you believe that you have a roof over your head. Communication potential is a limitless journey that is only stopped by obstacles you perceive.

Just like building an actual home, building a house of effective communications is not easy. It requires the efforts and cooperation of many people with different experiences and backgrounds.

Unlike building a home, the process of effective communications is never completed but is continually being built one block at a time. Mike Foti (mfoti@leadershipbuilders.com) is CEO/Chief Visionary Officer of Cleveland Glass Block and president of Leadership Builders. Foti works with organizations to influence and motivate their people and help their businesses grow. He can be reached at (216) 531-6085.