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It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it

26 February 2016 Hermione Gardiner

A message can be delivered in many ways, and it can also be received and heard in an even broader variety of ways.

Often we do not have control over the reaction of the other person, but we do have a very strong influence on how we deliver a message, which can have a strong influence on the outcome of the conversation.

Not remembering this can lead to unnecessary conflicts, as well as extra stress and time taken for everyone involved. There have been many a communication breakdown, lost management, angry tenant and tribunal case that could have been avoided with a few small tweaks to the delivery of our communication and messages. 

What can we do to better deliver our messages?

Remember they are not you

People have different ways of communicating, negotiating and different views on how situations should be handled. If you are a sharp, short and to the point type person, remember that the listener may not be the same as you and may need a bit of fluff and fuzzy to come around to your way of thinking, or perhaps some more facts and details than you would need to make a decision. Consider who you are dealing with and how they may prefer to be dealt with and spoken to.

Have some tact

Consider the use of some tact and strategy: the positive/negative positive sandwich is a popular one.

So instead of: “You have not cleaned the property and will be charged if you don’t fix it.”

Try: "Thank you so much for cleaning the property when you vacated and for returning it in good condition. There were a few minor items that were missed, we can sort that out for you easily at a minimal cost of $50 or you can return, and then as soon as we’ve resolved that I can ensure your bond is returned as fast as possible.”

Select the right method

Trying to deliver a tricky message via email can be the easiest way to increase your chances of conflict. Consider if sending the message via email is really the best method and if it would be better received over the phone.

Negotiating bond claims, tricky tenancies, tribunals, new lease details, complaints and breaches should always be done via phone as priority, so you can better convey sincerity, support and tone (than just using email to confirm the conversation).

Don’t point the finger

Sometimes we can unintentionally seem like we are pointing the finger of blame. Avoid using the words “you” – use more “I”, we” and “let’s” to try to help the listener know that you’re going to work together to resolve it and that you’re not blaming them (even though we may want to sometimes – remember here, the goal is to minimise conflict – which leads to the next point...)

What's it worth?                

Consider if it is worth sticking to your stubborn “I am right” guns and consider how the conversation could develop if you kept an open mind and bigger-picture thinking. Sure, you may think the client is wrong now, however, what is the cost of arguing with this person in the long run? Could it lead to them being more difficult in the future, losing managements or future sales? Is it better to save face than fight your point or jump on the defensive?

Acknowledge frustration

If a client is frustrated and you do not acknowledge this and continue to deliver your message, it can create even more of a disconnect, leading to more potential conflict. Acknowledge “I understand your frustrations”, “That sounds really hard”, “I am hearing you’re not very happy with the situation, would that be accurate to say?” or “I’m sorry to hear that”, before delivering your message.

Adjust your tone

How is your tone? Sometimes when we are rushing through our days, we do not realise our own tone is short, sharp or may come across rude to the listener, even my family sometimes says I have my “work voice” on. Even the tone of a how you open a conversation and deliver a message is important in the success of the receiver hearing it in the best possible way. Next time you pick up the phone and consider how you can make your tone more upbeat (situation dependent, of course), or after your next conversation, consider: how was I perceived?

Actively listen

Sometimes we are too busy thinking of solving the issue or developing our response that we are not actively listing to the client, which means that when we respond, our delivery could be all wrong as we have not identified core issues, their tone or their frustrations. Remove distractions and truly listen to be able to deliver the best response.

Use verbal softeners

Use words like “likely”, “typically”, “perhaps”, “sometime”, “possibly” or “occasionally” with customers who might not respond well to categorical words like “always” or “never”.

Reconfirm to demonstrate understanding

A great tool to close off a conversation is to reconfirm the outcome or actions to the listener. They will walk away feeling more comfortable with you having the situation under control. Try: “So, confirming that you would like to know if the owner would consider installing new carpet and you would be prepared to sign another 12-month lease, and I’ll be seeking a response on this as soon as possible” vs “I’ll check and let you know”.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it
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