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Business Conversation

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



In good social conversation we found that attention must be focused outside one's self. This is true of business conversation also, but in a slightly different way. In the social world you will be considered a good conversationalist if you have the ability to stimulate your companion to talk. Provided that you both remain interested, it does not matter how the conversation may ramble. Business conversation, on the other hand, should always get somewhere; it must be held to its course. It is true that some successful salesmen, for example, have the gift of carrying on conversation in a leisurely manner, as if talking for pleasure only, but in reality they are working toward a goal. They will not let the talk drift so far that they cannot lead it back to the point.

In business conversation, then, you must have something definite to say and you must direct that message to your hearer. Vague ideas are not enough and simply thinking aloud or talking to yourself will accomplish nothing. To be fully effective you must know well what you are talking about; you must make yourself understood; you must hold the attention of your listener, and create in him a desire to act as you wish.

How to Make Yourself Understood

Does anyone ever say, "What did you say?" or "I don't quite understand what you mean," after you have given instructions or made a comment? Has an employee ever done something contrary to your instructions because he failed to understand just what you were trying to tell him? You think he didn't listen carefully? That may be true, but before you blame him, ask yourself whether you spoke as clearly as you could, whether your instructions were definite and comprehensive. If others misunderstand you, or if you are frequently asked to repeat or explain your statements, the fault must be yours.

Is your enunciation slovenly? Do you dictate or give instructions without removing your cigar or cigarette from your mouth? Perhaps a little attention to speaking more distinctly will make your speech more effective. Do you talk too fast for your slow-minded employees to grasp your meaning? Remember, you know what you are going to say, but your listener must have time to grasp the idea before he can act intelligently.

Do you suit your vocabulary to the understanding of the person you are addressing? Subordinates are often afraid to admit that they don't understand the meaning of a word or expression, and as a result they fail to carry out instructions properly.

If you have a number of persons working under your direction, you are responsible for their work. The way in which you give instructions will, in large measure, determine the final results.

No less important is the ability to ex-press yourself clearly when reporting to superiors. The subordinate must keep those above him in-formed of matters in his charge. The larger the organization the more must its officials depend for information and suggestions upon those employees who hold key positions.

A word of caution is needed here. Don't talk too much. Speak concisely and to the point, for time is at a premium.

Another situation which calls for the ability to talk clearly and to the point is the business conference. Here men meet as equals. It is the ability to speak and not a man's position that wins for him the right to be heard.

You may have in mind a plan that you wish to propose, but as long as the plan is merely in your head, it is of no use. You must communicate the idea to others; you must be able to make a clear and graphic explanation.

In a conference of equals you are not faced with the difficulty of "speaking another man's language"; you do not have the problem of making an explanation in terms that a person with less training can understand, as in giving instructions to a subordinate; you do not have the feeling that you are, in a sense, on trial before a superior and must be careful to do justice to yourself. Nevertheless conferences are often very unsatisfactory. Usually a great deal of time and energy are wasted in getting under way; there is much aim-less, rambling talk that gets nowhere. Much time could be saved and much heated argument could be avoided if the reason for the conference were clearly stated by the leader at the opening of the meeting, and if each person in the group gave his views briefly but clearly.

If you are a salesman, it is of the utmost importance that you make yourself understood by speaking distinctly, by explaining carefully, and by using words that are accurate and understandable. The importance of suiting your vocabulary to the understanding of your listener is well illustrated by the following incident:

"I don't see why Abbot doesn't make more sales," re-marked a sales manager. "He knows our line better than anyone else in the organization, he has a good personality, and he is a fluent speaker. But he misses the mark when it comes to persuading people to buy our product."

Determined to discover the cause of Abbot's failure, the sales manager found excuse for calling on some of Abbot's "failures" and in every instance was told that Abbot "rattled off a lot of catalogue numbers and technical terms" that meant nothing to the prospect. Abbot had overlooked the fact that in order to arouse interest we must first of all speak the language of the person whose interest we wish to arouse.

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