Media Skills: Online Etiquette

This is the first post in a new series in which we will explore a variety of essential skills for using digital, social, and visual media. We’ll present the information in ways that you can share directly with your students, and we hope this information will enhance your lectures and class discussions.

Digital media seem to be a breeding ground for poor etiquette that can harm companies and careers. Whenever you represent your company online, in any medium, you must adhere to a high standard of etiquette and respect for others. Follow these guidelines:

  • Avoid personal attacks. The disconnected feel of online communication can cause even level-headed people to lose their tempers.
  • Stay focused on the original topic. If you want to change the subject of an online conversation, start a new message or thread.
  • Follow basic expectations of spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Sending careless, acronym-filled messages undermines your credibility.
  • Use virus protection and keep it up to date. Sending or posting a file that contains a computer virus puts others at risk.
  • Watch your language and keep your emotions under control. A single indiscretion could haunt you forever.
  • Avoid multitasking while using messaging or other tools. You might think you’re saving time by doing a dozen things at once, but you’re probably making the other person wait while you bounce back and forth between tasks.
  • Don’t waste others’ time with sloppy, confusing, or incomplete messages. Doing so is disrespectful.
  • Never assume you have privacy. To be safe, assume that anything you type will be stored forever and that it might be forwarded to other people, analyzed by automated content-analysis tools, and read by your boss or the company’s security staff.
  • Be careful of online commenting mechanisms that aren’t related to work. For example, many blogs and websites let you use your Facebook login to comment on articles. If your Facebook profile includes your job title and company name, those could show up along with your comment.
  • Respect boundaries of time and virtual space. For instance, don’t use colleagues’ or employees’ personal social media accounts as a venue for business discussions, and don’t assume people are available to discuss work matters around the clock, even if you do find them online in the middle of the night.
  • When working from home, approach videoconferencing with the same professionalism you would exhibit in meetings in the office. Reasonable people appreciate the challenges of conducting business from the same location where you live, but do your best to create a business-appropriate background for video calls and to minimize disruptions and distractions.

With so much of business moving online these days, the need for thoughtful, audience-sensitive behavior is greater than ever. Being mindful of positive etiquette will be a definite boost to your career.

 

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, p. 63. This topic is also addressed in our titles Excellence in Business Communication, Chapter 3, and Business Communication Essentials, Chapter 2.

Back to Basics: Why Business Communication Matters

This is the first post in a new series in which we will revisit the fundamentals of business communication, from what it means and why it matters to tips and techniques for success. We’ll present the information in ways that you can share directly with your students, and we hope this information will enhance your lectures and class discussions.

As the fall term starts up in these unprecedented circumstances, we wish you and your students a healthy and successful learning experience—and we salute you for your heroic efforts to help students continue to develop in the face of these challenges.

Communication Is Important to Your Career

You can have the greatest ideas in the world, but they usually aren’t much good to your company or your career if you can’t express them clearly and persuasively. Some jobs, such as sales and customer support roles, are primarily about communicating. In fields such as engineering or finance, you often need to share complex ideas with executives, customers, and colleagues, and your ability to connect with people outside your field can be as important as your technical expertise.

If you have the entrepreneurial urge, you will need to communicate with a wide range of audiences—from investors, bankers, and government regulators to employees, customers, and business partners.

If you move into an executive role or launch your own company, you can expect communication to consume the majority of your time. Top executives spend most of their workdays communicating, and businesspeople who can’t communicate well don’t stand much chance of reaching the top.

The changing nature of employment is putting new pressure on communication skills, too. Companies such as Uber and Lyft are the most visible in the gig economy, where independent contractors work without many of the advantages or disadvantages of regular employment. Many other companies now supplement their permanent workforces with independent contractors who are brought on for a short period or even just a single project. Chances are you could spend part of your career as one of these independent freelancers, working without the support network that an established company environment provides. If you take this path, you will need to “sell yourself” into each new contract, communicate successfully in a wide range of work situations, and take full responsibility for your career growth and success.

Telecommuting and virtual teamwork are becoming the normal mode of work for many people in these challenging times, and working at a distance puts even more pressure on communication skills.

No matter which direction your career takes, keep in mind that the world is full of good marketing strategists, good accountants, good engineers, and good attorneys—but it is not full of good communicators. View this as an opportunity to stand out from your competition.

Communication Is Important to Your Company

Aside from the personal benefits, communication should be important to you because it is important to your company in three essential areas:

  • Operations. Every company needs fast, effective communication between managers and staff, within departments, between departments, and between the company and its external business partners. Communication carries everything from high-level strategic plans down to minute technical details, and any bottlenecks or breakdowns can reduce operational efficiency and create problems with quality or safety.
  • Intelligence. Companies need to keep a constant “ear to the ground” to be alerted to new opportunities, risks, and impending problems—both internally and externally.
  • Relationships. Just as in personal and social relationships, business relationships depend on communication. Effective communication strengthens the connections between a company and all its stakeholders, any persons or organizations significantly affected by the company’s business decisions and operations. Stakeholder groups include employees, customers, investors, creditors, suppliers, and local communities. Individuals within companies also rely on communication to foster the emotional connections that create a healthy work environment.

Put simply, no business can function without effective communication, and the better the communication, the better every part of the company is likely to run.

 

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, pp. 4–5. This topic is also addressed in our titles Excellence in Business Communication, Chapter 1, and Business Communication Essentials, Chapter 1.

Photo: Unhindered by Talent on VisualHunt.com / CC BY-SA

Resources for Discussing Racism in the Workplace

Current events have put renewed emphasis on the subject of racism in contemporary society, and the workplace is one of the most important aspects of this vital conversation. To provide ideas for class discussion, particularly as it relates to business communication, we have pulled together a variety of articles that you may find useful. 

Harvard Business Review assembled a reading list of the articles that it has recently published on the subject.

The World Economic Forum has compiled a comprehensive, interactive guide to dozens of articles on racism. You can explore major subject categories and drill down to specific topics, such as entrepreneurship, corporate governance, and employment. By clicking on the thumbnail image in this post, you can see what the interactive feature looks like. (The site requires registration to access this feature, but it's free.)

In addition, here are some individual articles that offer other perspectives:

How Should You Be Talking With Employees About Racism?

For Black CEOs in Silicon Valley, humiliation is a part of doing business

How to build an actively anti-racist company

Beware of burning out your black employees

Taking Steps to Eliminate Racism in the Workplace

7 ways your organisation can start to uproot systemic racism in the workplace

To Improve Workplace Diversity, Undo Workplace Racism

Discussing Racism In The Workplace: Using Positive And Persistent Pressure To Enable Honest Dialogue

Companies are speaking out against racism, but here’s what it really looks like to lead an anti-racist organization

How to Begin Talking About Race in the Workplace

 

 

 

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Resolving Conflict in Teams

Even in the best of circumstances, people will occasionally disagree or rub each other the wrong way. Conflict can be a particular issue in team situations, where people are expected to prioritize team goals over their own individual interests. Conflict can arise for a variety of reasons, from competition for resources to disagreements over goals or work methods to personality differences.

The conflict-resolution skills your students are learning in class can benefit them now in both their academic and personal lives, particularly if they’re adjusting to virtual teamwork and learning from home for the first time. If they encounter conflict in a team setting, encourage them to follow these five steps to resolve it in a positive and constructive way:

  1. Decide if the conflict is worth addressing. Resolving conflict takes time and energy and can temporarily disrupt activities and relationships. If the conflict is minor or will disappear on its own (such as when a temporary team disbands), it might make more sense to live with it.
  2. Examine your own beliefs and behaviors. If you are involved in a conflict that you want to resolve, examine your own stance before taking any action. You might be contributing to the conflict in ways you hadn’t considered.
  3. Identify where the conflict truly originates. As you have probably experienced in your personal life, conflicts aren’t always about what they appear to be about; the real difference may lie below the surface. For example, two team members might be arguing about work methods when their real conflict is deeper. They could have different cultural priorities, for instance, such as the importance of group harmony versus individual success.
  4. Establish common ground Figure out what everyone does agree on, and then use that foundation to build a solution. For example, if people disagree about the team’s work methods, dig deeper and find out if they agree about the team's overall goals and strategies. If they agree at that level, you can use that to launch a discussion about how to adapt work methods to everyone’s satisfaction.
  5. Choose a strategy for resolving the differences. You have four basic choices here. (1) You can avoid the circumstances that create conflict, such as not assigning people who don’t get along to the same tasks. Avoidance isn’t always possible and doesn’t solve the underlying conflict, of course, but it can be the most efficient solution in some cases. (2) One side can choose to accommodate or sacrifice for the good of the team or to maintain harmony in a relationship. If two people disagree about the best way to approach a project, one might decide to accept and support the other’s approach. (3) The two sides can choose to compromise, with both sides giving up something. Balanced compromise is one of the hallmarks of successful teams. (4) Both sides can choose to collaborate on a new solution that satisfies everyone’s needs and expectations—a win-win strategy. Collaboration in this sense can be a rewarding experience because it makes conditions better for everyone and gives a team or group the satisfaction of a shared accomplishment.

Whichever approach you take, practice and encourage respectful, calm communication. Everyone should choose their words and nonverbal gestures carefully to maintain focus on the problem at hand and to avoid further inflaming an already uncomfortable situation. Use active listening to better understand what other people have to say.

Note that this approach isn’t limited to formal teams. It can work with roommates, marriages, partnerships, and any other relationship in which people need to coordinate their efforts for a common good.

Previous Posts in the Apply Your Skills Now Series

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Five Tips for Better Listening

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Making Difficult Requests

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Writing Professional-Grade Email

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Make QA a Routine Part of the Writing Process

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Think Now, Write Later

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Preparing for Difficult Conversations

Encourage Your Students to Put Their New Skills to Work Right Away

 

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, pp. 39–40.

 

Photo on Visualhunt.com

Five Essential Steps Before Starting a Job Search

Students who haven’t yet engaged in a professional-grade job search might be surprised by how much work is involved and how long the process can take. Starting late or diving in without a plan can make this challenging project even more hectic. In contrast, approaching it thoughtfully can reduce stress and smooth out bumps along the way.

Share these tips with your students to help make the process easier and more efficient:

  • Get organized. Your job search could last many months and involve multiple contacts with dozens of companies. You need to keep all the details straight to ensure that you don’t miss opportunities or make mistakes, such as losing someone’s email address, forgetting an appointment, or overlooking an application deadline. If you don’t have a favorite already, explore some of the many to-do list apps now available.
  • Block out a schedule that gives you plenty of time. Depending on the state of the job market when you start looking, you should expect to spend at least several months doing your research, preparing your materials, and going through the interviewing process with multiple companies. Even if you are a year or more away from graduation, now is not too early to get started with some of the essential research and planning tasks. If you wait until the last minute, you might miss opportunities and you won’t be as prepared as other candidates. Also, don’t count on employers to move at a rapid clip through the hiring process or stick to their own deadlines. You need to be the flexible party in this process, and the more time you give yourself, the less stressful it will be.
  • Think about stepping-stone opportunities. You might not be able to find the opportunity you’re looking for right away, and you might need to take a job that doesn’t meet all your expectations. Even though such positions aren’t necessarily the ideal that you have in mind, view them as opportunities to learn workplace skills, observe effective and ineffective business practices, and fine-tune your sense of how you’d like to spend your career.
  • Expect to interact with intelligent technology throughout the job-search process. To find the best employees and reduce the demands on their recruiting staffs, many companies now use a range of artificial intelligence (AI) tools to find potential hires, filter applications, interact with candidates, evaluate résumés, and even conduct screening interviews via chat or video. You may receive unsolicited messages from bots or “virtual agents” inviting you to apply for jobs, too. (Make sure these are from legitimate companies before responding.)
  • Clean up your digital footprint. If there is anything about you online that could harm your job prospects, chances are an employer will find it during the recruiting process. Review all your social media profiles and posts, and consider removing anything that might be worrisome to recruiters (human or AI). Recruiters even have tools that attempt to analyze your personality based on your social media activity, so make sure your public digital presence reflects who you intend to be as a professional.

With this foundation in place, you’ll be ready to get busy with your résumé, LinkedIn profile, and the other tasks that will lead you toward success.

All three titles in the Bovée-Thill Business Communication Series offer in-depth advice on the full range of job-search communication, from researching job opportunities to crafting effective LinkedIn profiles. This coverage includes unique perspectives on personal branding, writing "the story of you," and the Build Your Career activities that guide students through the entire process of developing employment-related messaging. (Build Your Career is available in Excellence in Business Communication 13th Edition and Business Communication Today 15th Edition.)

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, pp. 518–519.


Image: Photo on Visualhunt.com

Seven Tips for Succeeding in Video Interviews

Students should prepare to be interviewed by video as they move through the job search process, and these interviews require some special consideration. Video interviews can be conducted via Skype or similar services, video conferencing systems, or automated interviewing systems in which candidates respond to prerecorded questions.

Most of the advice outlined in Fourteen Tips for Succeeding in Phone Interviews applies to video interviews, and encourage your students to follow these additional tips:

  • Make sure your interviewing space is clean and uncluttered. Remove anything from the walls behind you and the area around you that doesn’t look professional.
  • Adjust your seating position and room lighting so that your face is clearly lit. As must as possible, adjust the lighting so that light is directed toward you, but not so much that it is glaring. Don’t sit in front of a window or other strong light source, which will put your face in shadow and probably cause the autoexposure function in your webcam or mobile device to reduce the light level in the video image.
  • If you are using a mobile device, don’t hold it in your hands. To eliminate shakiness, anchor the device in a desktop tripod or other mechanism to keep it still.
  • Make sure your video setup is ready to go. If the company asks you to use Skype or another public service, test your connection with a friend beforehand and get comfortable using it. If the company emails a link for a videoconferencing service, make sure you download and install any software that might be required well before the scheduled interview time.
  • Dress and groom as you would for an in-person interview. Unlike phone interviews, where you do this to boost your mood, with a video call it’s essential to look like the sort of person the company wants to hire. Choose solid colors and avoid hues that are too bright or too dark (both of which can throw off the camera’s autoexposure).
  • Maintain frequent “eye contact,” which means looking at the camera lens on your device, not at the person’s face on your screen. You’ll have the natural urge to look at the person’s face, but on the other end it will look like you’re staring off at an angle. If you’re on a computer, move the on-screen window that shows the other person’s image as close as you can to the camera lens. This way you can look into the camera while still feeling like you’re looking at the interviewer.
  • Don’t fidget or move around too much. This is distracting to the interviewer, and your microphone will pick up any extraneous noise you make.

All three titles in the Bovée-Thill Business Communication Series offer in-depth advice on the full range of job-search communication, from researching job opportunities to crafting effective LinkedIn profiles. This coverage includes unique perspectives on personal branding, writing "the story of you," and the Build Your Career activities that guide students through the entire process of developing employment-related messaging. (Build Your Career is available in Excellence in Business Communication 13th Edition and Business Communication Today 15th Edition.)

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, pp. 562–563.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay 

Fourteen Tips That Will Help Your Students Succeed in Phone Interviews

As your students begin the interview process, chances are good that their initial screening interviews and at least subsequent interview will be conducted over the phone. Employers treat telephone interviews as seriously as in-person interviews, so candidates need to be ready to perform effectively in these important exchanges.

Share these fourteen tips with your students to help them prepare and to ease the stress of getting ready for phone interviews:

  • Gather your support material. Have any materials on hand that will help you answer the questions you are likely to get. This includes your résumé, any correspondence you’ve had with the employer, your research notes about the company, the job description, and note cards with key message points you’d like to make and questions you’d like to ask. Don’t rely on notes on your phone; trying to pull them up during the call will be awkward.
  • Prepare your space. Arrange a clean and quiet space to be in during the interview. As much as possible, avoid distractions from pets, other people, television, music, and other audio and visual interruptions. Have a glass of water close at hand.
  • Practice your answers. Call a friend and rehearse your answers to potential questions to make sure you’re comfortable saying them over the phone.
  • Charge your phone. You don't want to run out of power during the call or stop to plug in your charger.
  • Talk on a landline if possible. If your mobile service isn’t clear and reliable, try to arrange to talk on a landline.
  • Schedule the interview, if possible. Whenever you can, schedule a time when you can be in your prepared space, safe from interruptions.
  • Dress for a business meeting. You don’t need to go full out, but don’t wear sweat pants and a T-shirt. Dressing up sends a signal to your mind and body to be attentive and professional.
  • Answer your phone professionally. If the interviewer will be calling you, answer with “Hi, this is —” to let the person know he or she has reached the right person. While your job search is active, answer every call from an unknown caller as if it’s a potential employer.
  • Maintain good posture. Whether you sit or stand during the interview, good posture will keep you alert and keep your voice strong.
  • Compensate for the lack of visual nonverbal signals. You can’t use facial expressions or hand gestures for emphasis, so make sure your voice is warm, friendly, and dynamic. Smile frequently—it changes the sound of your voice and lifts your mood.
  • Finish each answer in a definitive way. Don’t trail off and leave the interviewer wondering whether you’re finished.
  • Speak clearly. Remember that the interviewer can’t see you; your spoken words carry the entire message.
  • Write down essential information you get during the interview. Don’t rely on your memory for important details such as arrangements for a follow-up interview. It’s fine to pause and ask, “May I take a moment to write this down?”
  • End on a positive note. No matter how you think the call went, thank the interviewer for the opportunity and say you look forward to hearing from the company.

 

All three titles in the Bovée-Thill Business Communication Series offer in-depth advice on the full range of job-search communication, from researching job opportunities to crafting effective LinkedIn profiles. This coverage includes unique perspectives on personal branding, writing "the story of you," and the Build Your Career activities that guide students through the entire process of developing employment-related messaging. (Build Your Career is available in Excellence in Business Communication 13th Edition and Business Communication Today 15th Edition.)

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, pp. 562–563.

Image: Derek Robinson from Pixabay

Nine Tips to Help Your Students Build Effective LinkedIn Profiles

LinkedIn is the most important website for students to incorporate in their job search efforts. Employment recruiters search LinkedIn for candidates far more than any other social network, many employers now want to see LinkedIn profiles rather than conventional résumés, and companies doing background checks are almost certain to look for candidates’ LinkedIn profiles.

Encourage students to think of LinkedIn as a “socially networked multimedia résumé.” An effective LinkedIn profile includes all the information from a conventional résumé plus some additional features that help candidates present themselves in compelling ways to potential employers.

Here are nine tips to share with your students for building an effective profile:

  1. Photo. Add a photo that says “professional” without being overly formal. You don’t need to hire a professional photographer, but the photo needs to be clear and lit well enough so that your face isn’t in shadow. Stand against a visually “quiet” background that won’t distract viewers, dress appropriately for the jobs you are pursuing, and remember to smile.
  2. Headline. Write a headline that expresses who you are or aspire to be as a professional, such as “Data science major ready to make data come alive through leading-edge techniques in data mining, visualization, and AI.” Include keywords that target employers are likely to be searching for. As with other text fields on LinkedIn, you have a limited number of characters to work with here, so focus on your most valuable attributes.
  3. Summary. Write a summary that captures where you are and where you are going. Imagine that you are talking to a hiring manager in a personal and conversational tone, telling the story of where you’ve been and where you would like to go—but expressed in terms of meeting an employer’s business needs. Highlight your job experience, education, skills, accomplishments, target industry, and career direction. Unlike the introductory statement on your conventional résumé, which you can fine-tune for every job opportunity, your LinkedIn summary offers a more general picture of who you are as a professional. Be sure to work in as many of the keywords from your research as you can, while keeping the style natural. Employers can use a variety of search tools to find candidates, and they’ll look for these keywords.
  4. Experience. Fill out the experience section using the material from your conventional résumé. Make sure the details of your employment match your résumé, as employers are likely to cross-check. However, you can expand beyond those basics, such as by including links to photos and videos of work-related accomplishments.
  5. Recommendations. Ask for recommendations from people you know on LinkedIn. You may have a limited number of connections as you start out, but as your network expands, you’ll have more people to ask. A great way to get recommendations is to give them to the people in your network.
  6. Featured skills. List your top skills and areas of expertise. As you expand your network, endorse the skills of people you know; many users will endorse your skills in return.
  7. Education. Make sure your educational listing is complete and matches the information on your conventional résumé.
  8. Accomplishments. LinkedIn offers a variety of categories that let you highlight academic achievements, special projects, publications, professional certifications, important coursework, honors, patents, and more. If you don’t have an extensive work history, use this section to feature academic projects and other accomplishments that demonstrate your skills.
  9. Volunteer experience and causes. Add volunteering activities and charitable organizations that you support.

For the most current instructions on performing these tasks, students can visit the LinkedIn Help center at www.linkedin.com/help/linkedin. Remind them that the more robust they make their profiles, the better their chances are of catching the eye of company recruiters.

All three titles in the Bovée-Thill Business Communication Series offer in-depth advice on the full range of job-search communication, from researching job opportunities to crafting effective LinkedIn profiles. This coverage includes unique perspectives on personal branding, writing "the story of you," and the Build Your Career activities that guide students through the entire process of developing employment-related messaging. (Build Your Career is available in Excellence in Business Communication 13th Edition and Business Communication Today 15th Edition.)

 

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, pp. 540–541.

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Five Tips for Better Listening

Much of the business communication course focuses on improving one’s skills as a sender of messages, but successful communication requires the mindful and skillful participation of both the sender and the receiver. When we are engaged in a conversation, attending a presentation, or listening to a podcast or video, the success of the communication effort hinges on our performance as listeners.

Listening more effectively will help your students in every aspect of their personal and professional lives. To help you summarize your course coverage of listening, here are five handy tips your students can put to work right now to improve their listening habits.

1. Minimize the Barriers to Physical Reception

Before you can listen to someone, you obviously need to be able to hear the other party speak. Missing even a single word can lead to confusion and misunderstanding. Poor hearing can originate on the speaker’s side (such as when someone mumbles), on the receiver’s side (such as when someone is listening to music during a conversation), or in the surrounding environment (such as when other people in an open-plan office are talking). You might not be able to control all the barriers that get in the way of effective listening, but the more you can reduce them, the more satisfying the experience will be for everyone involved.

2. Manage Your Emotions

Communication suffers if listeners fail to monitor and manage their emotions during a conversation. During hectic periods or when emotions are running high, listening calmly and mindfully can be a challenge. However, these are the times when it is most important to exhibit emotional intelligence, including the ability to recognize when your emotions might be getting in the way.

As part of this challenge, selective attention and perceptual biases can lead listeners to mold messages to fit their own beliefs and conceptual frameworks. Listeners sometimes make up their minds before hearing the speaker’s full message, or they engage in defensive listening—protecting their egos by tuning out anything that doesn’t confirm their beliefs or their view of themselves. Feeling angry or annoyed during a conversation limits your effectiveness because you’ll be more likely to judge or reject what you hear.

3. Focus Your Attention

Your brain can process language three or four times faster than people typically speak, which means your brain has a lot of idle processing capacity while you are listening. If you don’t take active steps to stay focused, or if you divide your attention by multitasking, you might miss vital information and nonverbal signals that can help you interpret what you're hearing. Moreover, not paying attention is disrespectful and sends a message to the other person that what he or she has to say isn’t important to you.

4. Adapt Your Listening Style to the Situation

Effective listeners adapt their listening styles to different situations, including switching approaches during the course of a conversation or presentation if necessary. You can use three distinct styles:

  • Content listening focuses on understanding and retaining the information in the speaker’s message. It doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree, approve or disapprove—only that you understand. Filter out anything other than the information itself, including the speaker’s appearance, vocabulary, level of experience, or position in the relationship. If appropriate, ask questions to clarify any points you don’t understand or to get more details. However, don’t challenge or correct the speaker. Remember that your goal with content listening is to get the information that another person has to share. If the exchange starts to feel confrontational, he or she might “shut down” and hesitate to disclose valuable information.
  • Critical listening goes beyond information gathering to evaluating the meaning of the speaker’s message on several levels: the logic of the argument, the strength of the evidence, the validity of the conclusions, the implications of the message, the speaker’s intentions and motives, and the omission of any important or relevant points. If you’re skeptical, ask questions to explore the speaker’s point of view and credibility. Be on the lookout for bias that might influence how the information is presented, separate opinions from facts, and watch for logical fallacies that could undermine the speaker’s arguments or conclusions. (Note that “critical listening” does not mean you are listening with the intent to criticize but rather to understand the full meaning and implications of the speaker’s message.)
  • The goal of empathic listening is to understand the speaker’s feelings, needs, and wants so that you can appreciate his or her point of view, regardless of whether you share that perspective. Importantly, this style of listening gives the other person the freedom to share without fear of being judged or evaluated. In this sense, empathic listening is a complementary skill to critical listening because you need to silence your critical faculties and focus your attention on the other person. In fact, the information exchanged in an empathic conversion is sometimes less important than simply giving someone the opportunity to be heard. Be aware that empathic listening can be a difficult habit to get into, particularly for people who are used to solving problems and taking charge of situations.

Note that all three of these styles are forms of active listening—and taking action is a crucial point. Don’t sit back passively and place the entire burden of communication on the speaker. Put yourself in an open and positive frame of mind where you are ready to accept new information, manage your emotions and attention, and keep yourself engaged throughout the conversation.

If appropriate, help the speaker formulate and express ideas by asking insightful questions. However, don’t automatically jump in at the first moment of silence. Sometimes silence is an important part of the conversation. The other person might be collecting his or her thoughts or looking for a clearer way to express something. Also, if someone pauses in the middle of a sentence, don’t rush in to complete it—particularly if your real motivation is to demonstrate superior knowledge or intelligence.

5. Don’t Rely on Your Memory

Remembering information during a conversation is challenging because you need to store information you have just received while continuing to process new incoming information. This problem gets even more pronounced when the speaker is rambling or fails to periodically summarize what he or she has said.

If the information you are likely to receive is important, write it down. If you rely on memory, chances are you will forget or confuse important details. Naturally, the decision whether to take notes depends on the situation. If someone is sharing personal or confidential information or is asking for your advice, it might not be appropriate or necessary to take notes. If you are using a mobile device to take notes, make sure you can do so quickly enough to keep up with the conversation and in a way that doesn’t disturb others.

If you are unable to take notes and have no choice but to memorize, you can hold information in short-term memory by repeating it silently or creating lists in your head. To store information in long-term memory, four techniques can help: (1) associate new information with something closely related (such as the restaurant in which you had the conversation), (2) categorize the new information into logical groups (such as alphabetizing a list of names), (3) visualize words and ideas as pictures, and (4) create mnemonics such as acronyms or rhymes.

Self-Coaching Ideas for Your Students

  1. What steps can you take during a conversation if you feel your attention begin to wander or if you start to feel resentful or critical of the other party?
  2. Do you sometimes judge a speaker based on appearance, vocal characteristics, or other attributes unrelated to the content of a presentation, podcast, or converation? What can you do to overcome this tendency and keep your attention focused on the information and meaning the person is trying to convey?

Previous Posts in the Apply Your Skills Now Series

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Making Difficult Requests

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Writing Professional-Grade Email

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Make QA a Routine Part of the Writing Process

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Think Now, Write Later

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Preparing for Difficult Conversations

Encourage Your Students to Put Their New Skills to Work Right Away

 

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, pp. 52–57.

Photo credit: drain on VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

 

Intelligent Communication Technology: Social Listening Tools

Every day on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms, millions of consumers and business customers rant, rave, brainstorm, offer help, and ask for help. Smart companies recognize that this global chatter is a gold mine of valuable insights, and they use social listening tools to figure out what people are saying about them and their competitors.

Companies listen to social media traffic in various ways, including following hashtags and monitoring keywords, such as the company’s name, the names of its products, competitors’ names, and any terms that might suggest relevant conversations. These tools can often detect when a social media user is talking about the company, even if the company and brand names aren’t used or the company isn’t tagged directly.

Today’s smart listening tools take this mass of data and use artificial intelligence to analyze the conversations in which these terms appear. By using text analytics, the systems judge whether conversations are trending strongly negative, strongly positive, or somewhere in between.

Companies can then use these sentiment readings in a variety of ways, including responding to individual requests for help, gathering ideas for new products or new product features, and generating ideas for social media content. For example, if a company detects a surge of complaints that one of its products is difficult to use, it can reach out to individual users with advice, begin improving the design of the product based on this feedback, or perhaps create a video or other media elements with advice to help people use the product more successfully. By jumping on the situation quickly, the company might be able to contain the dissatisfaction and avoid a public relations headache.

Firms can capitalize on positive sentiments, too. For instance, a food company could monitor for discussions of where and when people enjoy particular snacks, such as while camping or on road trips. It might then launch its own hashtag campaign with #CampSnacks or something similar to tap into these positive vibes.

With consumers increasingly relying on social media for purchasing advice and customer support, social listening tools are becoming vital for any company that wants to protect its reputation and jump on emerging opportunities.

Class activity ideas

  1. Ask students if they ever complained about a company’s products or services on social media. If so, did they get a response from the company or from anyone else? How would they characterize social media’s usefulness in resolving customer satisfaction problems?
  2. Do your students think is it ethical for a company to “eavesdrop” on social media conversations? Why or why not?

 

Sources: Christina Newberry, “What Is Social Listening, Why It Matters, and 10 Tools to Make It Easier,” Hootsuite blog, 27 November 2018, blog.hootsuite.com; Dominique Jackson, “What Is Social Listening & Why Is It Important?” Sprout Social, 20 September 2017, sproutsocial.com; Patrick Whatman, “A Beginner’s Guide to Social Listening,” Mention blog, accessed 5 December 2019, mention.com.

Image credit: ky_olsen on Visual Hunt / CC BY

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