Strong communication skills are imperative to success in the financial planning industry. Whether it’s prospecting new clients, working well with employees, or dealing with vendors, what you say and how you say it can be the difference between success and failure. According to Dianna Booher, president of her own communications firm, “Companies lose employees and customers because they can’t teach people to communicate clearly and candidly with each other. Period. It’s that simple and that complex.”
In her new book, The Voice of Authority: 10 Communication Strategies Every Leader Needs to Know, Booher writes that the lack of straightforward, clear conversation is to blame for many problems. “Businesses delude themselves by thinking that the dissemination of information — whether on the Internet, through teleconferences or in meetings — is the same as substantive communication. Information is not communication.”
Booher knows the financial industry, with Merrill Lynch, Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase all as top clients. In the book, based on her work with hundreds of businesses, Booher stresses that honesty, clarity, consistency, and transparency are the keys to effective communication.
Do you think you’re an excellent communicator? Booher offers a few indicators that communication skills could use some improvement:
o Lack of input, questions or feedback on ideas presented in meetings;
o Inability to influence others to accept your ideas or change their viewpoint or behavior;
o Nervousness or hesitancy about presenting new ideas to your boss, clients or strategic partners;
o Ongoing conflict with others;
o Lack of positive feedback about your presentations or documents.
Some of the 10 strategies Booher details in The Voice of Authority include:
Is It Correct? Booher writes that it’s important to tell the truth without using clich?s, lies and exaggerations. “For instance, you overhear your boss lie to a strategic partner about the percentage on commissions other partners receive,” she writes, noting that off-stage lying — even when you’re not the victim, causes questions about other things you hear. “Trust builds over time. It can be dashed in a flash. It repairs slowly,” she writes.
Is It Clear? It’s important to be specific, writes Booher, and use simple, plain English. For instance, she suggests that you explain your reasoning behind decisions, particularly when people may not agree with your actions and decisions. Without such information, decisions and actions appear arbitrary.
Is It Purposely Unclear? Booher writes that tact and evasion make civilization and camaraderie possible. “But purposeful evasion as a rule, over time — where harmony is valued above honest communication –destroys trust, erodes morale and lowers productivity.”
Is It Consistent? Checking details, enforcing company rules and policies and following through with rewards or disciplinary action are essential for workplace communication. “As with overnight mail delivery, scheduled airplane departures or your favorite restaurant meal — in every aspect of personal or corporate communication, consistency counts.”
Are You Credible? Booher writes that there are five things that either contribute or detract from people’s inclination to believe you. They include appearance, (including dress, grooming and body language); language (words chosen and ability to express oneself); likeability factor (personality and chemistry); character (values and integrity) and competence (skill and track-record results). Booher tells readers to show some humanity, always be courteous and don’t be afraid to show some humility.
Other strategies treated deal with topics such as “Is It Circular?” and “Does Your Communication Make You Look Competent?” Of particular interest to financial planners is a section that details when it’s best to communicate via e-mail, letters, telephone or speaking face-to-face. For instance, if you want immediate feedback, have concern about the privacy of comments, or to build a relationship, Booher recommends face-to-face meetings. Overall, The Voice of Authority encourages readers to think about how they communicate with others now and provides ample suggestions on ways to improve.
Mary Scott is the co-author of Companies with a Conscience and can be reached at email@example.com.