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Improving Communication With Marlise van der Merwe

Improving Communication Skills With Marlise  van der Merwe

We're going to be talking about talking and body communication, verbal communication and the right time to communicate, how to communicate in business and why it's important. We've got Marlise van der Merwe from the Alternative Board, and she's going to be talking about exactly that. 

Why is communication in business important?

Why is communication in business important and how does it vary?

Marlise: Communication is a process and you have to consider the message you want to send to your audience as well as the different listening styles because different people communicate differently and they have a preference to be communicated to. 

Some people like more details. Some people would like the communication to be slower. They need time to process what you're saying and feel safe and have that comfortable, calm feel around them. Some people prefer to read through things and process the material in that way.

There are various options on how you can communicate. The important part of it is to consider the intent of the message. What is it that you want to communicate and why?

What are the most common communication challenges, and how can you avoid them?

Happy employees having a meetingI remember many years ago, I was doing a meeting with a business north of Brisbane and I spoke to them at the rate that I normally talk, which is quite quick, people say you must have 15 coffees before you get here and I don't actually drink coffee at all. That's no caffeine doing this. It's just how I talk.

At school, I could get in trouble. I needed to slow down with what I was saying, and it feels like I'm going in slow motion sometimes when I'm talking. But I know that for people to listen, people are only hearing a certain amount of what you're actually saying and a lot of that comes down to the body language in the way that you're talking, eye contact, etc.

How do you pick the right audience or how do you know what other people are going to be listening to? Like, if you've got ADHD, a lot of the time, you listen or talk really quickly. Other times, if you might be talking to someone who's a country fellow that likes talking a bit slower but just enjoys the conversation and every single word is meaningful, how do you make sure that the words that you're saying have meaning and you're not just dribbling and that while you're talking, you're using the right style for the person that's listening?

Marlise: The general rule of thumb is to use easy language at a general age of 15 years old. If a 15-year-old is listening and he or she understands the message, you can use this type of language to communicate with people. Not everybody knows a specific industry talk, the jargon and the abbreviations they use.  

When you use those terms, make sure that you also give a proper explanation of what it means and put it in context. When you're going to talk to people, say, at an old age facility or a specific city, you should do a bit of study of who your audience is—what is the general age, what's the culture, what are the language that's spoken, is English the first language, is it younger generation? Do a bit of research around that region: what's the history like, what technology trends are going in there, what type of firms and technology are they used to.

Once you've got a bit of a background regarding that, you can then work on how am I going to send a clear message? What is the best medium to reach them? Would it be an email? Would it be going on one-on-one talks? Would it be broadcast media?  

Business Communication and Cultural Differences 

You've touched on a couple of things, including cultural differences, like if you passed your business card to someone in Japan and you handed it with one hand, it would be seen as very disrespectful. Hold it using both hands when passing a business card. Similarly, in a business meeting, the first few minutes are meant to be friendly banter. You don't just start talking about business straight away.

Did you know that simple business communication solutions can help boost your team productivity and improve customer service?

When you came to Australia, how did business communication or communication in general change? Has that been a big shift and change for yourself? How did you fit in or make sure that you were doing the right things? 

Marlise: I'm from South Africa. In general, South African people are pretty straightforward. They will tell you a spade is a spade. 

When I got here, I had to learn Australian English or the terms and things like, 'No worries' and 'Do you want a cuppa?' I thought, 'cup of what?' Getting used to the terminology was quite interesting. It took about a year to adjust but before coming here, I already started to look out for what certain words mean in Australia. For instance, Brisbane's talk is different from the outback. People use different terms and you pick that up when you talk to people. 

By being honest and asking, 'What do you mean by that?' helps them to also understand what might be misinterpreted. Australians love to explain or put a story to the meaning of the word. 

I think in Australia we say 'I blew a thong' and it means you've busted a sandal as opposed to in America mother’s would be holding their hands over their child’s ears. 

When I was in Vegas, I said, 'Can I have a jug of beer?' He said, 'What? You want a jug of what? You want to see someone's jugs?' And I said, 'No, no. That's definitely not what I want to see.' I pointed to it and he said, 'Oh, a pitcher of beer.'  

What are ways to make communication more effective?

Contextually, you need to know what it is that you're talking about and who your audience is. Talking in gigaflops and terahertz to someone who is not in the know isn't going to make you look smarter. It's going to make them feel stupid. And that's not necessary. 

A lot of the business communication stuff comes down to not just talking but also the way your marketing is felt. You might talk about marketing in a way that's not recognised by the people. 

1. Use Terms That People Will Understand 

woman writing on a notebookIf you're writing about the features and benefits or specifications of something, some of the readers might not know why that's important to them. You might be writing it fully as a really passionate business owner, but a lot of the time, you're not your customer. That means that they're not necessarily understanding what you're writing, so they're not going to call you up.

2. Ask for Feedback

Effective business communication is very important. How do you know if you've got good communication or you don't? How do you benchmark yourself or how do you do that? 

Marlise: Get trusted resources. If you know someone that's got a bit of a background, such as culture, or if you can approach someone that can give you a bit more context, go and look up a few people. There's usually someone in your circle. There's always someone that might know someone that you can reach out to and bounce your ideas with. 

I would say go to an expert in a specific field. If it's communication and you've got a specific message you would like to say to Western Australia, talk to a contact over there and you could be introduced to someone in the marketing space that's been operating there for a few years and that might know the demographics of that area. It's always good to test your message with someone to just get a bit of feedback into the message you want to send and they will give you some input into that. 

If you've got an important message to share with someone, check it with various people. Check with someone from the Asian culture. Check with someone with South African culture because Australia is so diverse. I read something the other day that the original Australians were like third and fourth generation. There is always be that you could reach out to, and remember to study your target audience. 

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If you're going to do business marketing and you consider doing a radio advert, talk to the radio owners and ask them what your demographics are like. What's your reach and who are your listeners because they know the market quite well. You don't want to talk to the audience in the 45-65 age group in a young language.

3. Utilise Your Target Audience’s Platform 

Do a bit of research on the platform that you want to join. If you're going to talk to teenagers, you might consider talking to them through Snapchat or the newest one that they're talking about: TikTok. Who would have known that Facebook is actually used more by the older generation, like 45 to 65. 

It depends on who you would want to reach. Consider their platform and the type of users. Some people don't want too many words, and you have to send the same message in different ways. Some people would like to have a bit more explanation of your intent in a certain way. If people want to know a bit more detail, then prepare a message in that regard. If people prefer a short message, do so but with the purpose. Bring that across like in a picture and you will publish that in different areas.

I'm going to think of a scenario here and you tell me if I'm right or wrong or if I've missed the mark. Let's say I run a sandwich shop. You could say that everyone's your customer because everyone eats sandwiches, but if you were to advertise your sandwiches on Instagram, you'd be wanting to have a really nice photo that's going to be relaying the message and getting people's mouths watering. They'll be seeing the crisp lettuce and the steam coming off of it and things like that. 

If you were to advertise on Facebook, you could still use a similar photo. But because the audience is more likely to be parents, you might be talking more about the nutritional value of it as opposed to just quickly grabbing a sandwich on your way to work.

Advertising a sandwichIf you were to advertise exactly the same sandwich on LinkedIn, you might be talking about big platters and the cost-effectiveness of how this would work and how quickly they can deliver and cater for businesses.

If you talk about catering for businesses on Instagram, no one is going to pick up on that. Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn have their own purpose. Does that pretty much sum up how you'd want to make sure that you're adjusting your message accordingly?

Marlise: Yes, that's right. Good example. Do you know that McDonald's advert? I think it is 'Shut up and take my money.'  

We went to a marketing company a couple of years ago and they looked at our marketing stuff and they said some of the stuff we got there were a bit offensive. I said, 'Really?' 

He said, 'Yes, it is. Your email signature has "Leave us a Google review for a free six-pack" and a six-pack relates to alcohol, which means you're completely missing the whole Muslim community who are very much against alcohol.' 

I thought about it for a while and thought that's cool, except we just don't happen to have many Muslims that are working with us. So we kept it even though it's grossly offensive. I guess it's about knowing your audience and you can't be friends with everyone. There are too many different ways that people might misinterpret what you're saying, and that comes down to how to know who your clients are and the advertising platforms that you might be using.

4. Communicate to Understand and Be Understood 

Even if you were stepping away from marketing and business communication, like knowing your family and knowing your business. You see all the time in shopping centres, a child throws himself on the floor, 'I want that lolly.' And then the mother's yelling or the father's yelling, 'No, you're not going to get the lolly now. Get up.' If you have a look, the child is communicating exactly the same way as the parent—yelling—as opposed to effective communication. How do you make sure that you have effective communication? 

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Marlise: I would say upskilling on one-on-one communication is really important, especially if you're in a leadership position. If you want to be better at communicating, you would have picked up body cues, like yawning or they just want to interrupt you the whole time. If someone interrupts you the whole time, it is like, 'You're oversharing information with me.' 

Those types of things will give you an indication, especially in your family members and close relatives. Sometimes they are brutally honest and they will tell you if you've got to speed up what you're saying or they don't get what you're saying. Practise with them and ask for feedback. There are organisations that can help you work on effective communication and they generate more awareness of the different types of communication with people. 

How would you communicate with someone who has a specific disability? What if a person can't really observe what you're doing with your hands? You've got to consider that context as well so that your message comes across properly. That also makes the medium that you're going to use. 

I love that when we look at the news, they've got an interpreter for people who are deaf. They can see and do sign language. Did you know that there are various languages in sign language? I never knew that. I found out by speaking to experts in that field. If you have a hearing disability, you must consider that you've got to know maybe more than one dialect. That's so interesting.

5. Listen Twice as Much as You Speak

two men talkingI've been taught you have two ears and one mouth and use them in that ratio—listen twice as much as you speak. Many years ago, I was working at a shop called Jaycar Electronics and I was one of their highest skilled audio engineers. I've gone to university to study it all.

I was selling speakers for certain applications to people that really needed them. I wanted to do really cool stuff, maybe on a budget. I was able to say, 'Can you hear the difference between this and this one?' I was a salesperson, a sales assistant, and I was able to say this is why this one is better and that's why you want to spend the money on this one instead of this one. 

Someone came in and he's deaf and he was looking to buy speakers for his son. When he came in, it nearly made me cry because he just completely entrusted everything on what you had to say. I helped him out, but it definitely gave me that you don't know when you're doing something wrong or you might take it for granted that you might be saying things wrong or you might be being rude to people and not even know, which is obviously very different to being deaf.  

I guess I was effective at communicating the product, even to someone that was not necessarily able to hear the same way as me. 

How can communication be improved in business?

If you're yelling at your kids at home, does that mean you're bad at communication at work? Are there ways to know that you've done one thing wrong or there are things that need to be adjusted? Where would you go to make sure that you're improving on yourself?

1. Establish a Safe Environment 

Marlise: Usually, when you look at your business processes and company's performance and a specific department or certain areas that are not doing as good as they should but some areas are great, you're expecting more from that specific area. About 90% of the time, it is because you are not having a crucial conversation with someone even if you have all the processes documented. Making sure people are doing what they are supposed to be doing by having that crucial conversation has a big impact on your legal and financial environment. 

For instance, when you're having a crucial conversation with someone, he or she will not be honest if the emotional environment is perceived to be not safe. So how do you create a safe environment? 

What if there's a way to improve your team communication and productivity at the same time? Learn more!

Make sure that they understand that all emotions are accepted. Sometimes when you say something, it might come across as being dictative or aggressive. They say there are two cues when people perceive it's not a safe environment. It's either silence, that is, people don't say what they want to say because they don't feel emotionally safe, or the conversation becomes aggressive. That's when they become intimidating and start shouting. Find the balance to create that safe environment to speak with people. 

2. Understand Nonverbal Cues

Marlise: We talked about body language earlier. When people talk to you but don't make eye contact with you, there are various reasons why they wouldn't do that. Figure out which is applicable. You can say, 'If this discussion is too much detailed for you, how can I communicate more effectively with you? What works for you? 

You should know your team. If you're in a leadership position, know what motivates your team. There are various tools that you can use to figure that out, the DiSC Profile method is easy to use. 

You can get an expert to coach your team and help you with general cues. An interesting thing I've heard is dealers know when a poker player has got a good deal just by looking at their facial expression. 

Have you heard of Paul Ekman? He's got a book called Emotions Revealed that reviewed hundreds of different court cases where people have sworn an oath that they're not going to lie. He looked at these microexpressions as they're answering questions. He's also known as the human lie detector and inspired the TV show called Lie to Me. His books have been used in a lot of police academies to teach police how to pick up if there's someone who's lying or not telling what they meant to be saying. I've read some of his books, and it's amazing. As you said in poker, your facial expression can potentially be the giveaway of thousands of dollars if you've done it wrong.

a disinterested woman sitting with her arms crossed legs crossedMarlise: Listen to cues. Cues like 'uh-huh' mean they are listening to you. When they're silent and sitting with their arms or legs crossed, they are not engaging with whatever you're saying. Adjust your message a bit and use communication tools to make things a bit more interesting.  

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

It takes practise. The more you do it, the better you get at it. Practise and talk to your family and even strangers and see how that works for you. Join networks. Have you heard about Lunchclub? It's a networking platform for practising your communication skills, but it's like a networking setup where you get to meet people. They facilitate the introduction, and I use that to meet interesting people. There are various reasons why people do that. It could be to be in contact with people that advance your business in a different area or a country, for instance. They match those needs with other people's similar.  

The conversations I've had with those people are very interesting. For me, I've got to practise my communication skills and I've used different platforms to practise my skill set. 

For instance, I've joined Toastmasters, and I found that it's a really good platform. I go to various networking events and I listen to what people say and I try to repeat what I heard.  

Asking for complex response questions and then say, 'Does that make sense?' The answer is very close, yes or no. Most of the time, people are going to say yes to that, especially if they're not engaged. 

Marlise: In business, something that will indicate that your communication isn't effective is productivity levels go down. It could be ineffective communication and leadership, people not holding people accountable for what's happening in that space. They're not having those conversations they're supposed to be having or maybe they're having those conversations but it's not effective. It doesn't come through or across to the individuals. It's very important to have those good communication skills developed.

What if there's a way to improve your team communication and productivity at the same time? Learn more!

It is also very important to learn and figure out all of the skills that each individual needs to function. You wouldn't employ someone with English as their third language to do safety work, where safety is a high risk. 

If you have something slightly misinterpreted, it could affect people's lives. 

Marlise: Communication skills should be tied to your positions. Your position, skills and skill levels should be part of that. On the softer skills side of understanding the way people talk, they should have empathy. Those are the types of skills you can develop over time. But if it's a crucial role or position, you would rather employ someone that fits that profile. 

4. Determine What Motivates Your Employees

Marlise: People also have different motivational methods. What motivates Joshua and what motivates Marlise might be totally different. I like to learn new things and have different experiences, but maybe you like to have a journey through life and experiment with things and feel safe in that area to do so and then give feedback. 

Use what motivates people when communicating with them. If I'm going to talk to my daughter about something that she's done wrong, I won't be shouting. With my son, I have to make him realise the consequences of whatever he's going to do, like 'That's not a good idea because you're going to lose this and this.' 

It's about knowing the audience, understanding what motivates them, and adjusting the message. I know that some of the staff members at Dorks Delivered will be very passionate about telling me every single reason why they've done every single thing they've done, while others don't want to be mucking around, wasting anyone's time talking about things that need to be told. Some people really want to have that appreciation and be known. It all comes down to knowing who you're talking with and vice versa. It's not just about having the business owner having good communication. It's a whole team approach. 

Join the Alternative Board

If there are people out there that are looking to gain more information or more knowledge, tell me a little bit about the Alternative Board and what you do with them.

roundtable meeting board meetingMarlise: At the Alternative Board, we gather small business owners and medium-sized business owners with similar complexity and in similar stages of their business around a table for a safe, secure environment. 

The type of people that are there are not just open to receive input but also open to give input into someone else's challenges. We use those boards to have a more affordable option for people to talk about business and solve challenges using the room’s expertise.  

It's similar to a board of directors in public companies. It has the same structure. Each one gets a chance to present a challenge and then a round of questions goes to understand the challenge a bit more and make sure that the goals are addressed.  

And then they go into suggestion mode and then the person presenting takes suggestions and makes commitments according to the business and what he's willing to do, and then gives feedback in the next meeting. That happens on a monthly basis.  

They form a trusted environment because they meet with the same people every month and they get to know each other's environment. When they've got an idea, they would bounce the ideas and the way they want to talk with people inside that group. That's really the key to solving challenges and helping each other out and becoming trusted advisers in that regard.  

We also do one-on-one business coaching in terms of forming a strategic plan and then having goals in place to reach that specific personal vision of the owner. As you progress, you take those challenges and opportunities to your board. 

Sometimes it's really lonely for some people. I met someone who told me that his wife just wants to spend his money but doesn't want to know the challenges at work. He enjoyed joining the board. 

Other people from different walks of life join the board to prepare the next generation and someday distance themselves from the business. They want to prepare their team for different roles and responsibilities. Through the Alternative Board, you can meet very interesting people and become good friends. 

I've been in business for more than a decade, and sometimes you really feel very lonely over the years. You think you can't talk to your client about that because that might look like a weakness. You might not be wanting to talk to your partner, as you said, either because they have no interest or it's not their cup of tea. 

Having a soundboard or an alternative board to talk about this sort of things is really handy because you can really dive into business problems and talk to people. How much money are you making? How many hours should I be working? Am I working too much? Am I not working enough? Am I getting to where I should be for the many years that I've been in business?

Marlise: How do I employ someone? How do I write the job description? What should I be looking for? Do you know someone that can help me with this? 

Do you want to take your business to the next level?
Join the Alternative Board!

There are a lot of scary things for a lot of business owners, and that's cool. I like it. Do you have anything else you'd like to add before we finish up for today?

Marlise: The only thing I would like to add is when you have conversations, consider the relationship you have with that person. When you have a good relationship with someone, you want to keep that relationship and you would use different communication styles that suit that relationship.  

I 100% agree. You've got kids. Are you aware of the Captain Underpants books? 

Marlise: Oh, yes. 

I was only just introduced to the rally a couple of weeks ago, so I'm definitely late to the party. Talking to your kids about fart jokes might be appropriate, but not necessarily talking to a new business contact. They might not necessarily think it's very funny. Just make sure you're doing what you need to be doing, where you're meant to be doing it and being present. 

If you have enjoyed this podcast, make sure to jump across to iTunes, leave us some love, and give us some feedback. If you have any questions for Marlise, we're going to have her join our Facebook group so you can jump onto the group. If you have any questions, I'm sure she'd be more than happy to help you out. Well, thank you very much for coming along. Everyone out there in podcast land, stay good.


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