A Failure to Communicate?

It’s all in the details, but they can only be conveyed via accurate and ongoing communication. Unfortunately, this basic skill – a necessity for all security professionals – is often overlooked. Learn how to be an effective communicator.

There are two important sets of job skills that everyone in your organization should possess. These are often referred to in the training community as hard and soft skills. Hard skills are the everyday technical abilities we need to do our job. Soft skills are such things as being adept at interpersonal relations, communications, customer service, and providing assistance, direction and leadership as needed. These are the backbone of any competitive and efficient operation.

In today’s technical world, soft skills are often not given the attention they deserve. They are very important and management should make sure staff is trained accordingly. Don’t make the mistake of saying to yourself, “Everyone seems to be getting along and customers are not complaining.” You can always do better and in today’s ever-competitive world customers expect more than the norm.

In recent years I have observed a troubling pattern of people becoming a society of sloppy and lazy communicators. According to the National Commission on Writing (a part of the College Board), it has been calculated that “remedying deficiencies in writing costs American corporations as much as $3.1 billion annually.’‘

In the security industry this is particularly concerning since on a daily basis we deal with critical operations such as life safety. What countermeasures and quality assurance (QA) does your organization have in place for critical communications — both human and machine-to-machine (M2M), a.k.a. alarm monitoring?

This month I am taking off my techie tool belt and putting on my management hat to talk about a key soft skill: providing excellent and reliable interpersonal communications. Specifically, I am referring to effective written and oral communications both internally between associates and externally to customers.

Begin With Basics of 5 Ws and 1 H

Effective written communications technique is not complicated, but it does require a certain level of practice and commitment. This is especially critical with today’s heavy reliance on electronic communications such as E-mail and text messaging.

Let’s take a look at some very basic and important rules that we actually should have learned back in high school, and even if we did may have forgotten. It is all about the rules of the five Ws and an H:

  • WHO is it about? Make sure all relevant parties are involved and all are copied.
  • WHAT happened (what’s the story)? Don’t assume everyone has the correct information and is at the same technical level as you. Provide at least a bulleted list.
  • WHEN did it take place? Provide accurate dates and times. Make sure to provide this information in the correct international time zones.
  • WHERE did it take place? Don’t assume everyone is as familiar with the location as you. Take advantage of Internet tools such as Google Maps.
  • WHY did it happen? Also ask and seek reasons from others. It is better to get different points of view on an issue. Don’t assume you have all the answers.
  • HOW did it happen? It takes time, but pay attention to the details of the issue at hand. You do not have to write a book, but at least do a quick bulleted list of the important items and place it at the beginning of your correspondence.

Communication Breakdown Causes

According to Chuck Terry, executive vice president and CSO of Carew Int’l Inc., an award-winning sales training company, the three most common causes for faulty business communications are:

Assuming we know what the other party is saying – “At my company we have a term for this phenomenon that we call being in your own ‘odds are.’ This is a reference to our research indicating the odds are 2-to-1 that in any conversation we will be listening to what is said through our own set of filters. We will experience what we thought we heard and have a ‘self-centered’ reaction versus an ‘other-centered’ response. Said another way, what we think we are hearing may be more about how we think it will impact us rather than how it is actually intended by the other party.

“The best antidote for this condition is to employ active listening. Although easier said than done, try asking some questions to clarify the other person’s intent before responding. Even if you think you know what the other party means, avoid responding until you clarify with a question or two.”

Spending more time talking than listening — “This communication misfire picks up right where the last one left off. You learn more by listening than by talking and, if you are like many of us, you would probably be surprised how much time you actually spend talking. We typically audiotape the role plays of salespeople in our training programs as they practice asking questions to uncover the customer’s needs.

“It is a revelation when many of them listen to the tapes and discover they spent most of the 5-minute exploratory call role play actually talking instead of listening. One of the great ways to break this habit is to do exactly what I just described. Try taping some of your conversations with clients.”

Spending time thinking of what you are going to say next instead of listening — “This is a dangerous subset of cause No. 2. Have you ever been ‘listening’ to someone else when, suddenly, they ask you a question and you realize you weren’t actually paying attention to what was being said? What you were probably doing was thinking about what you were going to say next. There are numerous reasons for us drifting off while others are speaking and none of them are good ones!

“A great trick for helping to stay engaged is to try to anticipate what is going to be the next word spoken by the other party. It helps keep you engaged and in the moment.”

Leveling the Listening Field

In training we have a saying, “Know your audience.” The same goes for communicating technical terminology to others. Make sure you adjust your correspondence so others truly understand what you are trying to convey. Another training tip that can be used is asking brief questions when relaying information to other, nontechnical people. This will help to see if they truly understand what you are saying.

I often think of the famous line, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate” line spoken by Paul Newman in the classic movie, “Cool Hand Luke.” This quote should be used as a reminder that, even with considerably enhanced communications technologies, many are still missing the boat on the fundamentals of relating with our professional peers and customers.

How much time do you and your staff dedicate to improving written and oral communications with your customers and peers? Now is as good a time as any to review and improve these important soft skills.

Bob Dolph has served in various technical management and advisory positions in the security industry for 30+ years. Check out his Tech Shack blog.

[IMAGE]12100[/IMAGE]Tech Talk Tool Tip

In keeping with our communications theme, this month I have chosen a very low cost, cloud scheduling program called Schedule Once. Some dealers are already successfully using this program for operations scheduling. The program works very well with Google Apps. Check it out at www.scheduleonce.com.

Another voice
communications tool I have been using lately is Google Voice. I like the way priority calls can be filtered and sent to several phone devices simultaneously. The cost is free.



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About the Author


Bob is currently a Security Sales & Integration "Tech Talk" columnist and a contributing technical writer. Bob installed his first DIY home intercom system at the age of 13, and formally started his technology career as a Navy communication electronics technician during the Vietnam War. He then attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering and went on to complete a Security Management program at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Since 1976, Bob has served in a variety of technical, training and project management positions with organizations such ADT, Rollins, National Guardian, Lockheed Martin, American Alarm Supply, Sonitrol and Ingersoll Rand. Early in his career, Bob started and operated his own alarm dealership. He has also served as treasurer of the Wisconsin Burglar and Fire Alarm Association and on Security Industry Association (SIA) standards committees. Bob also provides media and training consulting to the security industry.

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