[More than two-thirds (69%) of SME employers consider good communication a key skill for graduates. This is according to research by Marbella International University Centre (MIUC).
The survey of 810 small to medium-sized employers suggests that soft skills are generally more valued than technical knowledge when assessing candidates for graduate roles.]
Let us try to bring this home: simply put, communication as a skill is superior in terms of value than technical skills. Put differently, it is better to be a good communicator and an average accountant, than to be a good accountant and an average communicator for instance. But imagine then if you could be a good technician and a good communicator. That is the focal point of this article.
Technical skills vs Soft skills
Now, before we start, we will not discount the hard work that goes into technical training. The message here is that either for a small business owner or even as an employee in a large enterprise, the ability to communicate effectively is much more valuable than your technical knowledge. At least from a business perspective.
And the reason is this: you can hire a good engineer or financial guru to work in the back office. But the face of your company must immediately say exactly what you stand for to your prospects and your existing customers. With prospects, you do not get a second chance to make a good first impression. Therefore, it is absolutely vital that you put your best man or woman forward.
It may sound unfair, but attractive, well dressed and articulate (well spoken) people always get heard first. People want to listen to them. Now, why are we introducing physical attraction and dress sense into a discourse about communication? Because we communicate verbally and nonverbally. In fact, many experts believe that nonverbal communication is almost 70% of how we are assessed.
What this means is that people will form an opinion about you or your representative (and therefore your company) within a few minutes of meeting with you or even hearing what you have to say.
Packaging, that word again!
Let us imagine 2 scenarios: Bank A sends 2 reps to your office both of whom are 1st class graduates in economics. However, they are both junior staff and have come to your premises on ‘okada’. So, they’re a little sweaty, a little disheveled. Interestingly, they both finished from a state university in a South West state, so their accents are a little on the strong side.
To get your custom, Bank B sends a middle manager and a junior banker, both graduates of a new swanky private university, both have gone on to obtain MBAs, one from abroad, the other from the Lagos Business School. They arrive in a smart-looking Honda Accord, hair, suits and makeup nicely in place. Oh yes, they both finished with 3rd class degrees in some Humanities degrees.
The truth is, before even fully engaging you, both banks have communicated very different messages, first about their respective brands, about their attitude to staff, and most of all, about their regard for you and your business.
While this story may sound funny or far-fetched, 2 banks who understood perfectly the power of effective communication as a prime business tool, used very similar tactics to win market share in the early ’90s and have remained dominant ever since – GTBank and most notably, Zenith Bank.
Thankfully, effective communication is learnable
It is a skill anyone can acquire at any age. It only takes commitment and a sense of purpose.
The devil is in the detail: every little counts – how you match your ties to your suits, are your shoes ALWAYS polished? Do you eat with your hands, or do you know how to hold cutlery? Is it obvious that your first language is not English? Maybe your accent is a little hard? Do you frown often, are you friendly?
Are you an avid reader who keeps abreast of trending news and current affairs just so you can engage people in conversation? Do you have a hobby or are you only about church? And when in church, do you mingle? do you put yourself about and utilize the network?
These may seem inconsequential, yet there is enough research to show very clearly that effective communicators are far more successful at business. Any business, from banking to trading to neurosurgery!
So, first, decide on what you want to communicate. What do you want to stand for? While it is not necessary that what you say and what you mean should tally, it is better if you believe in your own message. It’s easier to sell a message if you believe the message.
Do you want people to see you as open and friendly? Then dress accordingly. Discuss matters which reflect your persona – sports, light politics, travel, entertainment. Speak accordingly with a ready smile and open disposition.
As a full-time professional, you should be taken seriously
An accountant, business analyst? Invest in a few suits. Wear polished black shoes exclusively. No suede, and certainly no plastic. Dark colours only. Make people ask you about your dressing and then you would have communicated. It’s an opportunity to seal the package: ‘I dress like this because it reflects how I feel about my profession. I take my work and therefore my clients very seriously’.
The very same approach goes for hair stylists, barbers, fruit and smoothie sellers, the list is endless.
Learn about your field, first. Then learn about related areas. Then learn about general issues. A used car salesman must know the difference between a V6 and a V8, and be able to sell the advantages of one over the other. What does the future hold for your chosen industry? In what way does the recently announced government policy impact on the country, on your sector, on your business, and most of all on your customer?
Product knowledge is a key skill for effective communication
Do you sell computers but cannot differentiate between a motherboard and keyboard? Do all monitors look the same to you or can you speak confidently about pixel density and AMOLED and QHD screens? To communicate effectively, you must first know what to communicate.
There is a very knowledgeable wine seller in a mall on Muri Okunola street. Obinna has been in business a long time and he has built up quite a solid clientele. Obinna is able to discuss on just about every single bottle of wine or liquor in his store. But he’s not the nicest person in the world. No doubt, his already successful business would be bigger still if he simply scowled less!
By now it must be clear that effective communication is an all-encompassing pursuit and it is not easy to master. It requires a great degree of learning. Learning about one’s self, learning about your business or field, learning about the different interactions in the local or global economy, especially as it pertains to your business.
It is well worth doing, and best of all it is habitual
In other words, effective communication becomes a way of life, a part of life, once the decision is made to be an effective communicator.
The thing to do is make the commitment and START. A note of warning, however: prepare for initial ridicule. People ‘who know you’ poke fun at the changes you are trying to effect in your life. It will pass, but only if you stay the course. Persevere in what you have come to believe to be positive change for you as a person and for your business. Those people will come round and embrace the new improved you.