Articles providing practical, field-tested advice to sales professionals.

Location: Houston, Texas, United States

Thursday, June 02, 2005


“How an individual handles communication both as a receiver and as a sender, has a greater effect on his life than any other thing he does,” says Dr. DeWitt C. Reddick, Dean of the University of Texas school of Communication. According to Dr. Reddick, “Currently we suffer from acute communication indigestion.”

The difficulties of communicating with one another he described by telling of a father pointing out a cemetery to his four-year-old daughter. “A cemetery is a place where they buy people’s bodies when they die,” the father explained. After a few minutes of silence, the daughter asked: “But Daddy, what do they do with their heads?”

Communication Gap

Why do we experience difficulty in communicating with other individuals in our business, social, and family relationships? Why are many parents experiencing difficulty and even frustration in trying to communicate with their teenage children?

The Austin Statesmen newspaper quotes Dr. Reddick as referring to the present generation of college students as “over-exposed” and with a sense of “inescapable responsibility”. Statistics show that the heaviest viewing age among television viewers is four to six years. This generation of college students, he said, is the first to have grown up with exposure from birth to pictures – both true and false – of the troubles of the world.

In the past, education was shaped to introduce the child gradually to the horizon of the world, whereas today he is flung, unguided, and at an early age, into scenes of violence and turmoil facing the world.

This overexposure has left the student of today with a curious sense of inescapable responsibility for others and a distrust of the older generations who have failed to solve these problems that exist today, he said. The dean continued that the life of accelerating change, leaving few traditional symbols of security, surrounding the student and his sense of wanting to be relevant in the world around him have set today’s student apart from past generations. Thus, to communicate effectively with our college age children, our business associates, or our social acquaintances, we must be able to put ourselves in the world of the person with whom we are talking.


“Older people who become alarmed at the antics of teenagers fail in empathy; instead of imagining themselves as teenagers again, they expect the younger generation to act like oldsters.” Says John Kord Lageman in a Reader’s Digest article, “How’s Your Empathy?”Mr. Lageman further states, “Psychologists have given us a new word to describe a trait that can increase our understand and enjoyment of others. Empathy is the ability to appreciate the other person’s feelings without yourself become so emotionally involved that your judgment is affected. It sharpens our perception in all sorts of situations in our daily lives. It’s a state of mind which anyone can develop and improve.

The biggest mistake in dealing (communicating) with others is to underestimate the importance of their feelings. You can acquire empathy through role-playing. To grasp the essential feeling pattern of another person, say to yourself, “Now I am going to imagine that I am Jones facing this situation.” The first step is to find out what Jones is “like”. Often we assume that others feel exactly as we do when faced with a difficult situation. Empathy asks you to forget your own reactions while attempting to see through Jones’ eyes.

There is nothing people will not tell us about themselves if only we tune in on the feelings behind their words and acts. The awareness of how others think and feel can be a key to effective communication. Using empathy to enter the mind and heart of another human being can become an interesting and rewarding adventure.

How much more effective and happy would you be in your family, social, and professional life if you could become more proficient in communicating? Would your increased skill as a communicator help you toward the attainment of some of your personal goals? If so, maybe it would be worth a reasonable amount of time and effort to develop the knowledge and skill to become a good communicator. A good communicator is a good salesperson.

Everyone’s a Salesperson?

Was Robert Louis Stevenson right when he said, “Everything in life is selling?”
“What Makes a Good Salesman?” written for The Harvard Business Review by Dr. Herbert Greenberg states, “A large amount of empathy and ego drive is what makes a good salesman.” Dr. Greenberg has spent over 15 years working with over 350,000 salespeople to determine these basic characteristics. Since all of us want to “sell” others on our ideas or concepts, our products, our services, or ourselves, maybe we should attempt to learn “how to” best achieve our goals.

Our friends. No merry thought has any significance unless we share it. No flash of wisdom is worth anything unless we disclose it. Cicero summed it up like this: If a wise man were granted a life of abundance of everything material, so that he had leisure to contemplate everything worth knowing, still if he could not communicate with another human being he would abandon life.

Dr. Reddick has listed one of the barriers to communication between individuals: “The human tendencies is to jump to conclusions and to consider that the words of another person mean what they would mean if we were saying them.”

Sharing… Talking Together

Dialogue begins in an act of faith: the assumption that those who converse speak in honesty for the purpose of reaching understanding, and with generosity toward each other. Dialogue is an achievement of civilization. It has assertion, reply, and rejoinder, so that thoughts are interpreted, and ideas are combined or blended.

Truth is reached by dialogue. Dialogue demands that we earn the right to be heard by lending our ears to what others have to say. The only way we can get another person’s idea or reaction is by listening to him talk.

When we come to the point of presenting our ideas, we should not start with talking or writing. We should begin by analyzing the problem, and then follow with gathering facts, organizing the facts, forming an outline, determining what is needed to convey our meaning, throwing it into interesting form, and adding human interest so as to motivate action. Then we may speak or write with assurance.

Sincerity should show itself in every sentence. To win confidence the words we speak and the things we write must breathe sincerity. This requires imagination of three kinds: (1) Plan – Creative imagination, to see how our proposal contributes to the needs or wants of the other person; (2) Show – Constructive imagination, to put our ideas into attention-winning form; (3) Tell – Interpretive imagination, to see ways in which our message may be conveyed most effectively so as to get the desired response.

In communion with others, we start by capturing attention, determining the situation or problem, and then go on to arouse interest, convince, then motivate, and indicate some course of desirable action.

Dealing With Facts

To write or speak with authority demands that we have facts. Once we start putting our facts on paper we may obtain a new and objective measure of our position or proposition. Having gathered a mass of facts, we proceed to consider their relative significance. Creative thinking, or application of our critical faculty, is our only guarantee that we shall not be stampeded into unwise action by misjudgment of the importance of facts.

Truth in any subject is to be found only through the confrontation of facts, and the interpretation of facts. We need to know not only our own side of any case, but the opposition, too.

Plain Talk

Everyone who speaks or writes in support of what he believes has a moral obligation to be intelligible. As Queen Elizabeth said to the King in Richard III: “An honest tale speeds best being plainly told.”

The heavenly twins of speaking and writing are Simplicity and Clarity, as Beatrice S. Findlay said so well in the C.A.A.E. book, Let’s Tell People. What we are trying to say must be clear-cut in our own minds. We must be sure of what we want our audience to know, and how we want people to act in response to what we tell them. And then we must put all that into unambiguous and appealing words.

Plain talk is necessary because the public has a rather well-based suspicion of schemes that can only be understood and carried out by very clever people. Even if you have the whole secret of human happiness within you, it is useless to society unless you express it in a manner that attracts attention and in language people understand.

What Do You Mean?

A word is not a symbol on paper or a vibration in the air; it is a tool of communication. The measure of the good word is meaning. It should be as exact as is required to avoid ambiguity, and it should be appropriate to the understanding level of the person to whom it is addressed.

What does a word mean in fact? It doesn’t make much difference how long the yard is, or how heavy a pound is; what really is important is that we all mean the same thing when we specify a yard or a pound. When a word kindles the same meaning in the mind of the hearer as in the mind of the speaker, there is successful communion. Bring the arguments out of your depths of thought and make them over so that they mean the same to others as they do to you. A private meaning is in reality no meaning at all.

Presenting a Case

Expression of one’s convictions must not be left to look coldly intellectual. No appeal to reason that is not also an appeal to a want will succeed.
We must become aware of the thinking that goes on inside other people – people who are living on islands of their own interests. We need to build a bridge with such things included as common sense, reason, fair play, love, dreams of a better self and a better world; and then add interest, feeling, and sentiment. It would take a thick government White Paper to say in official language what President Roosevelt said so effectively in a dozen words: “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.”

Instead of reading aloud the minutes of a meeting supporting an enterprise, we should try to hammer out some phrases that will convey the spirit of the cause to the people who listen or read so as to bring them into communion with us. Use familiar symbols, tell parables, bridge the gap between what the situation is now and what it can become following the proposed action. This is what Isaiah did in his prophecies; this is what Paul did in his Epistles; this is what Churchill did in his wartime speeches; this is what Roosevelt did in his Fireside Chats.

Use the Third Party

Are you the one to say it? It may be more effective to communicate indirectly or to have someone else present your message. Recall how the audience listened more actively to Charley McCarthy than to Edgar Bergen. Third party documented evidence may help convince the other person. You must present the evidence. Your prospect determines whether he will accept it as proof. He is the judge.


You have immersed yourself in the facts, you have chosen those which are pertinent; you have thrown them into understandable form and clothed them in bright language; now is the time to display your zeal, your enthusiasm, and your earnest sincerity. As you help your volunteers use their imaginations so they can visualize their dreams come true.


Show that what is proposed is in the hearer’s enlightened self-interest. In his own life story, every man and woman is potentially the hero or the heroine. It is not sufficient to paint a picture of what people are; it is not even enough to paint a picture of what they know they want to be; paint, rather a picture of what they would like to think of themselves as becoming. You have succeeded if your message strikes your audience as a wording of their own highest thoughts now brought to remembrance by your words.

You do not need to have an outstandingly high intelligence quotient or special talent. Harriet Beecher Stowe was not a literary sophisticate, but she painted word picture of slavery that were unforgettable, pictures which played a big part in freeing the slaves. That could not have been accomplished by the staid, solid, exactly truthful articles in the abolitionist journals.

Look at how cleverly the Communist Manifesto was put together by Karl Marx. It has all the allure of a fairy tale. Once upon a time, he says, there were patricians, knights, plebeians and slaves. Then there was a feudal society consisting of lords, vassals, build-masters, journeymen, apprentices and serfs. Then rose the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Marx loads is story with dramatic struggle. He gives his reader something to fight for. And he puts a happy ending to his tale: the classless society with everyone sharing in property. That is an especially beautiful and desirable picture to the man who does not now own property! He buys the picture because it is to his self-interest.

Your key to success in effective human relations may indeed be achieved through your better communication.


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