When we meet with business partners face-to-face, we have the best opportunity to communicate our key messages clearly and concisely. We can communicate with our bodies, with our voices and with our words. But even then, sometimes misinterpretations arise that can seriously block the way forward.
Case in point: I recently met with a potential training partner. We were to agree on co-training a two-day seminar. I would deliver half of the material and he would deliver the other half. Within 30 minutes, I felt that this potential training partner had seriously misunderstood the message I was conveying.
How was I going to turn this situation around so we could make sure we came to a win-win arrangement on content and commercial terms?
The Four Sides
I realized that to communicate better, we would have been better off intentionally applying the “four sides” method to our communication, as put forward by Schulz von Thun. In this model, the sender “speaks” the message on four levels and the receiver “hears” the message on four levels.
These levels are:
- The Fact level: data, dates and other situational information;
- The Self level: information the sender reveals about himself;
- The Appeal level: what the sender wants the receiver to do or not do;
- The Relationship level: what the sender is saying about their relationship.
So when my potential training partner asked me to share all of the tools and techniques necessary for report writing success in one training day, and I responded, “I’ll do the workshop but I’ll have to limit the number of tools and techniques I teach”, what message did he actually hear?
If we apply the four-sides method, the possibilities are:
- Fact: I will teach the seminar but I won’t teach every tool and technique I know.
- Self: I am the expert and can decide which tools and techniques are most appropriate.
- Appeal: Don’t expect that every possible topic can be included in the day. There are too many!
- Relationship: I am conducting this part of the training and so am ultimately responsible for the content.
His actual reaction to my statement was, “But I want you to teach ALL of the tools and techniques available. Why is there a problem with this?” The voice and body language he used made it seem as though I was creating a block by limiting the topics. In fact, the block was the length of the training. I felt that the Appeal level of my message was not being heard.
After a quick assessment of what was happening in our communication, I went on to explain that there were simply too many tools and techniques to include them all in a one-day training session. Therefore, I needed to choose the most appropriate topics and tailor them to our specific group of participants. Because every topic requires both theory and practice, which makes for a very full day of interactive training.
Take aways from this experience
The simplest of statements can be misinterpreted and prevent or block you from building mutually beneficial business relationships. It doesn’t matter whether you are a controller, an auditor, a manager or a lead buyer for your company. If you listen for all four levels of the message, and try to respond to those different levels, you will be much more successful in your communication.
It’s not easy to do, and it’s a challenge “on the fly”, as the conversation is happening, but it can be very rewarding if you can put this model into practice.
A happy ending
Once we achieved a common understanding of the point in question, my new training partner and I were able to shake hands on the project and walk away with a well-defined path forward to mutual success.
P.S. If you want to know more about the four sides method, or share your experiences using it, get it touch with me. We would love to hear from you!
P.P.S. And don’t forget to join the conversation in our Facebook community at facebook.com/QualityAssuranceCommunication
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