By Gary Hernbroth

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ― George Bernard Shaw

Are you as frustrated hearing about “poor communication” as I am? I can’t think of a coaching client or organization I’ve worked with that didn’t have the area of achieving better communication at or near the top of its list of concerns.

Adding to that, we heard a constant dose of the battle cry “We’re in this together!” from many different places in the industry when the Covid-19 pandemic was raging. Considering that so much of our ongoing communication between buyers and sellers still needs serious work, the question is – are we still truly in this together?

Let’s “business up” for better communication with each other

There is no denying that communication of one type or another permeates every corner of our lives and businesses. We NEED effective communication – just imagine life without it. Whether we are talking, listening, reading, writing or signing, it is like the air we need to breathe, an absolute essential to doing good business together.

With the waves of new people entering the industry’s ranks, modes and styles of communication are changing – but is it all necessarily for the better? The barometer of success for effective communication is not in how cute or fancy or brief we make it. Instead, it must stand the litmus test of whether it is clear and understood by both parties.

We know that while some communication can be wonderfully clear and easily understood, at other times it can be fraught with errors and confusion. That’s why we have to keep working at it.

So let’s work smarter – let’s “business up” as I call it. We can all stand to clean up our communication toolboxes in some way or another. And we don’t need advanced degrees to do it, either. It’s a two-way street with customers and their supplier-partners, and it works best when the parties involved share the responsibility of making it work. Both senders and recipients share the responsibility for successful communication.

Be accountable and own the issue

I’ve employed a classic phrase to help remind me that I need to do my part first and make sure my own communication house is in order: “If it is to be, it’s up to me.” That focuses me on doing everything within my power to do the right things: listen fully, write plainly, respond quickly and speak to be understood.

One of the most frustrating things about achieving sparkling clear communication is that even when we do all those things correctly, the other party can still ignore us, not listen, misinterpret our messaging, miss important details, etc. It’s maddening!

Still, I suggest we strive to help the other parties be successful. By helping someone communicate with you better, you get the win, too. I once offered to a client that if he responded to my emails sooner – he apparently had a rabbit hole in his inbox where things went to die – I would be able to get my part completed quicker and we could get our combined project finished – to the benefit of both of us. He saw great advantages in that and kicked his responses into higher gear.

Your communication moments of truth can make or break the mission

As meeting professionals, there are a million moments of truth involved in your many roles, from initial conception of your events to paying the final invoices. And along those paths most of those moments tie back to the need for effective communication with others. It’s mission-critical. How do you and your business colleagues stack up?

Here are a few key questions to help avoid the classic communication pratfalls, or at least keep them to a dull roar:

•  Do we give each other our full attention when communicating – are we active listeners or just passive listeners? Both event planners and sales reps have relayed episodes where the other person took multiple phone calls while driving together in a car around a destination on a site visit. What gives? 

•  Do you clearly express yourself in order to be understood when speaking and writing? As the sender, your messaging may seem crystal clear to you, but do the receivers see and hear it the same way? Remember: people don’t process and comprehend information at the same levels. Write and speak plainly. 

•  Do we often interrupt the other party, finishing their sentences for them? 

•  Do we avoid jumping to conclusions or making assumptions when someone is communicating with us, either verbally or in writing? Don’t let your personal notions cloud what the other person is sending to you. Hear them out. Take time to comprehend.

•  Do we assume that the other party will totally understand our exact meaning behind our emojis and “lol” responses?

Meeting professionals and supplier-partners need to pitch in together and make the commitment to do better. It’s not rocket science. Pick up the phone. Return calls, emails, virtual appointment requests and voice messages. Write better emails, RFPs and contracts. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

The “No Update-Update”

This is a term I came up with many years ago after hearing countless salespeople and planners in my audiences say that responding back to people had become a lost art. Those “crickets” are still prevalent across the landscape. It’s happened to me and it’s frustrating. So I started imploring my audiences to use the “No Update-Update.”

Simply defined, it’s the courtesy of getting back to someone – even if there is no tangible update on the RFP, vote, contract, negotiation, etc. – to at least acknowledge their attempts to reach you. This thoughtful step lets the other party know that you are alive, even though there is no progress to report yet.

Give them your best guess as to when they should loop back or when you will be contacting them. It’s not a hard thing to do, really. It’s thoughtful and polite. At least they know you are paying attention to them.

It’s the Golden Rule. And the current state of communication could use a good dose of it.