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  Management Feature

Communicating Effectively In Your Shop

Posted 7/8/2010
By Matt Winslow

Good communication is more than just words.
It's tone of voice, eye contact, nonverbal gestures and more.

Good communication is more than just words.  It's tone of voice, eye contact, nonverbal gestures and more.It's Monday morning. Time for your shop meeting. The rich aroma of hot coffee and pastries fills the air. Your employees sit down, rub the sleep out of their eyes and stop talking. You begin. You discuss last month's results. You review successes and challenges. You talk about changes you'd like to make and what you need your employees to do differently. You smile, thank them for coming and end the meeting.

A few hours later, you overhear your employees discussing the meeting. One says, "We did really good last month." Another says, "Didn't you hear what he really said, we're going broke." The third says, "What did he ask us to do?" The other two say, "I don't remember." Weeks go by. Nothing changes. Sound familiar? Effective communication is more complicated than just saying the right words.

We're overloaded every day with demands for our attention. Getting heard is a constant battle and even if you are heard, there's no guarantee they'll remember any of your conversation later, let alone act on it. So, what can you do to get action? BLUF.

Speaking and Writing More Effectively

BLUF stands for Bottom Line Up Front. People tend to remember the beginning and end of a conversation, so state your most important point or desired action at the beginning and restate it at the end.

Ever notice how most people read the newspaper or read a website? They scan the headlines and subheads looking for content that interests them. Then they only read the details below the topics that interest them. Steven Covey says, "Start with the end-in-mind." Chubby Frederick, founder of the Automotive Training Institute (ATI) says, "Good idea, but state the end-in-mind first when communicating with other people and then state it again at the end so they remember it."

Another thing you can do to make your message more effective and get the action you want is to clearly define the action you want from them before you start speaking. If you've got a blurry picture of what you want, you can bet your folks won't see it clearly or act on it either.

Write down what you want them to do and be sure to be specific and start with a verb. Remember, a verb is an action word. "Better courtesy checks" is not actionable. Here's an example of an effective actionable request: "Please inspect the car thoroughly. Record items that are OK, need to be serviced soon or serviced now. Give specific details for each recommended item. Sign the form and review it with our service adviser."

Are You Sending Mixed Messages?

Have you ever said something one way but your team interpreted it a completely different way? Maybe you're sending mixed messages! In-person communication is far more complex than just the words you say. In fact, the words you choose convey only a small part of the meaning of your message. How is real meaning communicated between people? Well, you communicate about 7 percent of your meaning through the words you choose, 38 percent of your meaning through your tone of voice, and a whopping 55 percent of your meaning through your body language!

Have you ever heard someone use sarcasm? Their words say one thing but their tone says the exact opposite? That's incongruent communication. Communicating effectively requires your words, tone, and body language to all say the same thing at the same time.

Your Tone Conveys More Than Words

Your tone of voice communicates the true intent of your heart. In fact, your tone conveys 84 percent of your meaning over the phone.

Pitch, speed, rhythm and emphasis have a big impact on what your listener hears and believes. You might talk fast to convey excitement, then slow down and pronounce your words clearly to emphasize your most important points.

Your tone can convey whether you're happy, sad, angry, interested, helpful, uninterested, or even threatening. Does your tone say you're excited to help your customer or you feel they're an unwelcomed interruption to your day?

Your Body Language Is Important

Standing straight with your heart facing theirs and maintaining eye contact shows your listener you care about them. Slouching, standing sideways with your heart not facing theirs, or looking anywhere other than at the pupils of their eyes says loudly and clearly you don't care about them and are not interested in their views.

The old saying goes "The eyes are the window to your soul." Looking eye to eye says "I'm interested in what you have to say." Looking up while replying says you're thinking of an honest response. Your eyes looking down say you're being dishonest or hiding something. Looking to the side says you're distracted; something else is more important than the person in front of you.

Do you smile effectively, not with your mouth, but with your whole face? When folks are really glad to see one another, their mouth smiles, their eyebrows rise together, and they look each other right in the eyes. Smiling with your mouth alone seems insincere and patronizing. Smirking shows contempt and is downright rude!

Arms crossed across your chest say you're not interested or argumentative. Hands in your pockets say you are not engaged and hands on your hips make you appear cocky. Standing with your feet apart and your hands behind your back, like you're General George Patton addressing his troops, says you think you're superior to your listener, and creates resistance.

Hand gestures have a big impact on in-person communication. Gesturing with your palms facing the listener, thumbs facing outward, says you're honest, open, friendly and welcoming. Gesturing with your palms facing the listener, thumbs facing inward, says you're argumentative, dismissive and are pushing the person away. Using one hand to gesture says you're making a point. Using both hands to gesture says you're making an important point. Large wide gestures beyond your shoulders say you're dynamic and outgoing. Small narrow gestures within your shoulders say you're quiet and reserved.

Context is critical!

Cultural context has a huge impact on how your listener interprets your meaning; for example, if you say your technician went "postal" with a customer's car, do you mean he became extremely agitated and threw wrenches or do you mean he delivered mail with their car? Or maybe you say, "Things haven't been the same since 9/11." Are you referring to a Porsche, a call to the police or the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City? Peter Drucker said 50 years ago, "Communication is what the listener does." If your listener doesn't understand the cultural context, they won't understand your point and are unlikely to give you the action you want.

It's Monday morning, a month later, and time for your shop meeting. The rich aroma of hot coffee and pastries fills the air. Your employees sit down, rub the sleep out of their eyes and stop talking. You begin.

This time you use congruent communication techniques. You state what you want them to do first. You use effective words, tone of voice and gestures. You discuss last month's results. You review successes and challenges. You talk about changes you'd like to make and what you need your employees to do differently. You smile, thank them for coming, and end the meeting.

A few hours later, you overhear your employees discussing the meeting. One says, "Wow, that's the best meeting I've ever been to." Another says, "Yeah, I'm really excited about the changes we're going to make." The third says, "Me too, let's get started right away." Weeks go by. They're more effective. Morale improves dramatically. You find getting your team to follow your instructions is a lot easier. What a difference good communication makes.

Editor's note: This article is one of several management articles that are being contributed to AutoInc. this year by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit www.AMIonline.org.

Matt Winslow is the director of speakers and content for Chubby Frederick's Automotive Training Institute (ATI) in Savage, Md. Winslow has more than 23 years of experience as an instructor, presenter and training course developer. He's written and published many training course manuals on everything from wheel alignment fundamentals to advanced service adviser training. He is also the inventor of the patented Wintoe™ and Automatic Bushing Calculator™ adjustment features shipped with state-of-the-art alignment systems by Hunter Engineering Company.

He teaches various ATI courses along with course research and development. He's passionate about helping shop owners and service advisers improve their businesses and their lives.

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