Not just talk Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2009

Imagine revenue is squeezed and one of your best employees comes to your office and asks for a raise. Can you turn this situation into a win-win? Samuel J. Lucci III, founder and CEO of Partners Through People, says it can be done.

Instead of dismissing the possibility right away, which projects a harsh tone, ask the employee what prompted the request. Maybe someone in the family lost a job, or perhaps the employee simply feels overworked and underpaid.

“Whatever answer you receive, explore it,” says Lucci. “Dig down and find the real reason instead of just reacting. Every human being has a need to be understood. Now, when you are a leader, you’d like to be understood, too. But you have to come second, not first.”

Smart Business spoke with Lucci about how to become a better communicator and why communication is not just about talking.

What is the key to effective communication?

We’ve been taught that communication is expressing yourself, telling someone what’s on your mind. That’s part of communication, but that is not the only part of communication. If you are a manager, business owner, salesperson, whatever — you are a leader. You are trying to get someone else’s cooperation. When you want to get someone’s cooperation, it’s not important for you to express yourself. What is important is for you to uncover what that someone else is feeling. My definition of communication is to discover the meaning behind the message. What is the emotional feeling that is behind that motivation?

How do you determine your employees’ motivation levels?

It starts with a desire to be genuinely interested in the other person. If you’re only interested in yourself and your own agenda, you’re going to be a poor communicator. Once you do have an interest, you have to acquire the skills and knowledge. The key is to ask yourself: ‘What are they trying to tell me? What is motivating them?’

If I want something from my employees, I have to ask them how they feel about it. It’s never about telling; it’s always about asking. Keep asking question after question until you understand. Some call it active listening. Once you know their motivation — what has caused them to feel the way they feel — then you can look at that, think of your own agenda and determine how you can get what you want, based on what you have discovered. At that point, it’s a matter of using your skill to communicate with them to see how you could blend what they want against what you want and come out with a win-win situation.

How can this make people into better communicators?

There are two parts to communication: perception and projection. Projection is what I am showing to you, and perception is what you are showing to me. Your projection becomes my perception of you, and my projection becomes your perception of me. It’s important to understand that perception is a person’s reality. If I perceive you to be a jerk, in my mind you’re a jerk — whether you are or not.

So, the most important part of communication starts with controlling your own projection. Think about what you want to project to your employees, sales staff and vendors, and that is what you work toward. You want to project stability, confidence, caring and level-headedness so people know you won’t fly off the handle. You want to be dependable, reliable and sensitive.

Figure out what makes the most sense to project, and that’s what you project. That’s generally what another person will pick up and perceive. In a professional setting in the business world, you want to project those things and now I want to perceive what you are showing me. Once you get your projection under control, then you can concentrate 100 percent on what people are showing you. That’s their projection and your perception.

What are some tips people can use to improve their projections?

Think about what you are projecting. Most people don’t see themselves the way they are. You have to have thick enough skin to ask people to tell you what you are projecting. If they aren’t afraid of you, they’ll tell you. A lot of people won’t because they are too timid, but you can usually find someone who will tell you the truth about what you’re projecting.

Once you know what your pitfalls are — what you are projecting that you don’t want to project — you make a plan and try to internalize it. This is all tied into attitude. If you have the opinion that being a loudmouth is OK, you probably don’t care how you’re perceived. You’re just going to keep shooting yourself in the foot. Your own opinion system has to be under control or you won’t see any need to change.

How can you improve the perception you have of others?

The human mind thinks much faster than it can speak or listen. So you have to learn to quiet yourself down. If you are a busy-type person and you think fast, you literally have to slow down. In good communication, there is a lot of silence. There is a lot of dead air. You don’t have to be chattering, there doesn’t have to be noise all the time. When you ask a person a question, sometimes they stop and reflect. Give them time to reflect; it’s OK. You don’t have to fill that space up with words and chatter. It’s very important to give people time to articulate their thoughts and to express them.

Samuel J. Lucci III is the CEO and founder of Partners Through People. Reach him at sjl3@partnersthroughpeople.com or (724) 457-2500.