Okay, so let’s be honest. The purpose of working from home is to be with our families while making money. For me, effective communication is right up there with time management and self-discipline. How you communicate with others is the catalyst that determines whether someone wants to do business with you (or continue to do business with you). While I’m going to reveal some practical communication tactics that will help you sell more, it’s important that you remember that no one is perfect when it comes to communication. I am an excellent writer. I do well with public speaking IF I have plenty of time (at least 24 hours) to prepare. If I’m talking off the cuff, it takes good questions from another party or it’s likely I will sound like a drowning goat. I am a professional writer for a reason – writing is a special form of communication. I can write and rewrite something (more formerly known as editing) before I turn it over to the client or publish it. Fact is, I know how to make people feel all the things or to educate them on whatever subject I’m writing about. So, why I am I telling you that I am great writer and not so great at things like being on the phone? Because no one is perfect. When it comes to phone meetings, I can put on a brave face and do them because I practice, practice, practice basic things…but I can also come off as extremely fucking awkward.
Yet, even with that said, the same basic communication tactics can be used (you know, if you can get the fuck out of your own head, amirite?).
Read All Written Communication S L O W L Y
Seriously. Slow the fuck down when you’re reading emails, project listings, private messages, or whatever. Oh, and contract. Please, for the love of baby goats and baby Jesus read contracts before you sign them.
“But, Robin, you’re supposed to be explaining how I can better my communication skills to make money…”
Indeed…and this is one of the most important things you can do…because it stops you from missing a critical piece of information. Slow down. Read the whole thing. That 45 extra seconds you spend reading the whole thing will benefit you. It can keep you from saying something stupid…or from bidding too low on a project because you missed something crucial.
Reading for comprehension is your friend. Oh, and yes…I am just as guilty as speed reading through something as anyone else and I’ve wanted to kick my own ass more than once over it. Okay? Okay.
Oh, and re-read your own response BEFORE you send it.
Listen More Than You Talk
So, I take more phone calls than I’d like…I really, really hate being on the phone. Of course, I understand why people want to talk to me. I’ve had people eventually contract with me after they were seriously screwed over by someone pretending to speak English. For the record, I have no problem with contractors with English as a second language or in other countries. It becomes a problem for the client when the contractor actually just uses Google Translate and the client gets a big steaming pile of shit. So, I understand why people want at least one phone conversation.
First, let’s go with Grandma’s guideline (and my grandma was super fucking smart)…you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Shut the fuck up and learn something. Yes, the potential client is coming to you because you’re the expert…but they don’t want to be overshadowed (or overwhelmed) by your knowledge. Just shhhh….listen, make notes, and you can formulate the right response.
Second, I’ve found that when I’m just listening and letting the potential client talk themselves out, something magical happens. Like…unicorn magical. They get kinda antsy because I haven’t interrupted them. When they realize (or I explain) it is because I want to get the full picture of who they are, what they need, and their ultimate goal (as a business or individual) they are just…enamored. This very basic courtesy of letting people finish what they want to say has become so rare that people are drawn to it. So, again…just shhhh….
Active Listening Is Your Friend
This is something I use as a pro-writer, used as an educator, and used as a paralegal. Active listening has several steps…but the goal is to get the info you need and to make the other person genuinely feel like you heard what they said. It’s easy (yet complicated for many).
- Remember that talk we just had about letting people talk? Do that. Don’t interrupt. Not even to ask a clarifying question.
- Give cues that you are listening. For web-based chats, you can nod your head, take notes, and use “mmmhmm” and “I see” (or “yes” or “then what?”). If you’re on the phone, use those verbal cues: the “mmhmm” and “I see” (and the other two). You can even do active listening in email…by reading the whole thing and making sure you understand it before you reply.
- Do NOT think about your response while they’re talking to you. Look, I know that you want to look good. You want the money. You want the prestige. Whatever. I get it. But…if you’re too busy formulating your response, you could miss something important when they are talking. So, again, shh.
- When they’re done talking, ask any initial clarifying questions you may have. Don’t go overboard. Don’t talk about ultimate goals just yet. The purpose of this is two-fold. First, you show you’re listening (like the last major sub-heading). Second, you want to make sure that you’re on the same page. In my opinion, this is the most important step…because it cuts down the likelihood of miscommunication.
- Concisely state what you think they’re wanting. This is also extremely important (hell, this whole process is gold). I often state it this way on the phone, “Okay, so let me just summarize what I hear you saying…because I want to make sure that you and I are on the same page. If I’m wrong, you can clarify to help me out.” Notice my words – I never ever blame the potential client for miscommunication. I put it all on me. And…I tell them how they can help ME if *I* am wrong.
After that, you just continue to repeat the process until you both feel like your goals for the conversation are settled.
Be Careful with Slang and Humor
I have a very, very, very, very…did I mention very…..dry sense of humor. Not everyone does (although sometimes lawyers fucking surprise me). I don’t care if you’re on the phone, in a video conference, using a messenger, or an email…be careful with slang and humor. It’s hard to know the tone that someone will apply to your joke if it’s in writing. If they’re not having a good day, they could take it in a way that is negative. You could just come off as a weirdo. I generally keep my humor and slang to myself unless clients add it first. I have some long-term clients that I’ve worked with for years and they know about my dry sense of humor, but I am still very careful about what I say or write because the last thing I need is for someone to fire me (although I have a waiting list at the moment) and miss my damn car payment or something. So, I just subject my friends to my awful attempt at comedic gold. (In fact, one of these days, I will get some of them on my podcast for a BFF show….)
Seriously, though, just remain professional and friendly. It is possible.
Learn How to Navigate Conflict
So, for the most part, my pro-writing career has gone alright. I’ve had a few issues, but nothing that’s been, you know, devastating (except maybe emotionally for like…10 minutes). Yet, there have been some moments that seriously tested my patience. It takes a lot to really piss me off.
Navigating conflict takes some research, practice, and work. First, you need boundaries. There are some things I just won’t deal with. I’ll talk about those some other time.
For me, it depends on the contract, the client, and what’s happened.
I have some magic phrases I use for conflict that I use to help minimize the stress. One of those phrases is, “I am so sorry you feel that way.” Because a lot of times, the conflict happened because….we weren’t on the same page (although I’ve dealt with dishonest fuckers a few times).
My keys to navigating conflict is trying to figure out if I was the problem and what I can do to make it better. Now, I provide two free edits or rewrites (depending on the content) to help resolve the matter. In the past, though, I’ve also discounted work or given free work to make sure that I had happy clients. Why? Because unhappy clients are the kiss of death.
Faster Response Time
When you’re contacted via messenger of some sort of email, improve your response time. My personal standard? I do my utmost best to respond to all inquiries within 24 business hours. Why business hours? Because I’d prefer to spend time with my family. Bull said by hour 22, I’m usually shaking and foaming at the mouth…and in all honesty, that’s because of my moderate obsession with time. So, send that email. Make that return call. Get that money. Remember, you’re likely not the only person they’ve contacted. Even if you are, treat them like you’re competing for their attention. They love the attention.
Act Like You Give a Damn
I don’t care about your gender…but…most of us women who have a best friend? We say things like, “THAT SONOFABITCH!” when our besties are angry. If you really want to wow potential and current clients, act like you give a damn. There will be some clients and projects that you really do care about. If you really want to make the money, act like you give a damn about their project and their ultimate goal. Meet your deadline. Go just a tad above what is expect of you. Make sure that they come back.