Communication Made Easy — Speaking, Editing, Writing, Marketing, Networking Answers

A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but words themselves are at the basis of all communication. Whether we are communicating for business or personal reasons, our spoken and written words matter. These posts will address issues and answer questions related primarily to business communications, as they affect writing, credibility, marketing, and networking.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Finding the Need Beneath the Need

Had an interesting conversation with a man I’ll call “Client A” yesterday, which caused me to rethink a recent success with another individual I will call “Client B.” The discussion was about clarity . . . as service providers, whether we take the time to clarify the precise needs of our clients, to be exact.

Regardless of the business you’re in, a lot of what you’re selling has little to do with the product or service you supply; it has much more to do with the emotional and psychological effects achieved through those products or services. This is a tough thing for many business owners to grasp, but its impact is unbelievably significant to our overall success or failure. Although I’ve understood this concept theoretically for some time now, it was only recently that it came home to me, in real terms, just how important it is for me – and for all business owners – to understand this psychological component to our businesses.

Client A is a graphic designer who is writing a book in which he offers other designers insider tips on how to go from being “starving artists” to having thriving graphics businesses. The interesting thing is that two-thirds of his book is so universally applicable that it could be useful to people in almost any industry, the reason being that customer service drives the business. And Client A understands that as well as any business owner I have ever met.

Moreover, he gets that a significant component of customer service is understanding the client’s psychology. What is it that’s causing them to need your product or service right now? How big is their pain? And how much are you able to put yourself in their shoes to (a) truly understand their pain, and (b) be able to offer a customized solution that fits all their needs, both the readily apparent needs as well as the deep, dark, unspoken needs that neither you nor they may initially recognize at the outset of your relationship?

Client A said that in his explorations of existing texts, articles, and Web posts on the subject of running a successful graphic design firm, the one piece that seems to be consistently overlooked is the psychology behind an individual’s need to hire a designer in the first place. Whether the client’s goal is to build brand identity, find a more useful tool for connecting with their customers, or develop a unique way to truly set themselves apart from everyone else in their industry . . . there’s a psychological need driving their engagement of the graphic designer. And the same is true in virtually every industry.

Financial planning comes to mind as I think of this. Say a person decides they need professional advice as they begin to think about retirement and planning for their future. During the exploratory conversation, however, it turns out that they’re having a bitter battle with family members over their recently deceased father’s estate . . . and it was that battle that ultimately ignited their desire to get their own finances in order now. They didn’t make the connection when they called the planner; but once the planner begins asking questions and drilling down past the surface needs, the psychological components reveal themselves.

In my case, the issue arose when Client B was trying to decide between hiring me and another editor to work on her book about a subject that comes out her own intimate, personal experience. She underwent an excruciating ordeal that tried her marriage and made her question her own self-worth as a woman, and is now writing this book with a goal of helping others who may be experiencing something similar.

Client B forwarded to me some of the comments the other editor had made about her work, asking my opinion of both the other editor’s analysis, and whether or not I would be able to offer similar skills as a part of my editing service. The interesting part was that the other editor’s comments were technically very, very strong. In fact, I think I might in the future borrow a page from her playbook, with regard to the way she addressed certain aspects of my client’s writing. The problem was that her feedback sorely missed the mark when it came to addressing my client’s actual needs, which turned out to be deeply psychological in nature. Yes, my client wanted proof that the editor she would hire had the functional skills to do a good job with her prose. But it was far more important to her that this person also would be able to understand the human side of the brand-new-to-her process of sharing such an intimate personal experience in a book she would publish and make available for the
whole world to read.

It can feel like it would be easier to walk
down the street naked than to hang your words,
thoughts, and opinions out publicly.
If you’ve ever written a book – or even an article – you know what it’s like to put your words out there for other people to read, digest, dissect, comment on, and agree with or disagree with. And when you’re new at it, it can feel like it would be easier to walk down the street naked than to hang your words, thoughts, and opinions out publicly, for everyone to see . . . and, potentially, take a swing at. The good news is that it’s not all that often that people actually want to take a literal or figurative swing at you. Unless, of course, you write incendiary commentary, of the likes of Ann Coulter or Al Franken . . . but, generally speaking, such controversial writers have been at the game for a while.

It does get easier, as time goes on, although some writers will tell you they never entirely overcome that initial trepidation. And as many experienced writers will tell you, it’s a challenging thing to get over the desire for external validation about your work – which can come in the form of selling loads of books or having people Digg you or e-mail your blog posts around. However, the only way you can ever really begin to write true is by divesting yourself of that need for others’ approval so that you write strictly from your heart.

My client is still learning about writing true – and it was my recognition of this fact that landed me her gig. Can I do an equal job on the technical work that the other editor laid out for her? Sure. Was that the deciding factor in her choice to hire me? Not at all.

Whether you’re a carpet cleaner, a surgeon, a personal trainer, a wedding planner, a dog groomer, or an attorney . . . how well do you really understand the psychology behind your clients’ need to hire you? I have a suspicion that the deeper you can go, in terms of identifying the true, but often deeply buried need, the more value you will bring to your clients, the greater rapport they will feel with you, and the more likely they will be to both stay with you and recommend you to others.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Getting a Handle on the Truth

You can’t handle the truth!

What mildly informed filmgoer over the age of 25 doesn’t instantly recognize Jack Nicholson’s line from A Few Good Men? The fact is, however, that it’s more difficult than ever to know the truth, let alone handle the truth.

I was having a conversation the other night during a happy hour get-together for my Toastmasters club. One topic of discussion that frequently arises in our club, as a subject for prepared speeches and Table Topics* alike, is global warming. A member who has become a good friend of mine is firmly of the mindset that Al Gore and his cadre of followers, while seemingly well-intentioned, are oh-so-ever misinformed. Others, vocal environmentalists, believe we need to heed Al’s message and change our ways before we destroy ourselves. My feeling, personally, is that the truth lies somewhere in between.

During the happy hour conversation, I related my opinion that although we humans certainly have a huge impact on our dear planet, the climate cycles of our solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and the universe en toto, are just that: cyclical. Temperatures continue to increase, and decrease, as they have for millions of years . . . and my intuitive response is that our impact is minimal, when you look at it from a cosmic perspective. This is not to say we should ignore the obvious and overt pollution our cars and factories are wreaking on the planet. Yes – humans are having an impact. It's about the degree – and the focus – of the impact where the conversation seems to get muddled.

The problem is that we don’t really know the answer, the truth. If the scientists themselves cannot agree – and when has science ever agreed 100 percent about anything? – how can we, the members of the General Public, expect to know the truth? Actually, we can’t know. And more to the point, we will never know. Not just about the greenhouse effect, but about almost anything, really. What causes cancer. Why some people are prone to diabetes. Whether a vegetarian diet is healthier than a meat-based diet. Whether salt actually increases cholesterol. Truisms about all of these abound . . . but the facts prove tricky to prove. Statistics are malleable. "Experts" are available for hire to the highest bidder. One lab test proves one thing, while the other has rock-solid evidence to the contrary.

And the funny thing is, in spite of all that, we actually have the hubris to believe we do know, can know, should know . . . about everything. From what kind of underwear the President wears to this athlete’s sexual preference to that minister’s financial profile. It’s the Information Age, for heaven’s sake – of course we can and should know the truth about everything! It’s not only our duty, it’s our right!!

“You can’t handle the truth.” I have to say, I don’t think a truer movie line has ever been uttered. Seriously. We can’t handle the truth. We think we want to know who, what, why, how the Iraq war was engineered. But do we, really? And what would it help if we knew that we truly are engaged in a war for oil? What if we knew Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code was more fact than fiction? What if the VP’s hunting “incident” and Pat Tillman’s friendly fire death are only tip of the iceberg, in terms of what the current administration has been covering up for the last six years? What if we knew that Flight 93 was really taken down by a ground-to-air missile? What if we knew that George Bush had really been “in on” the planning of 9/11?

They are all fantastic ideas, with smart, serious people who believe them. And I have to tell you that following the Y2K debacle – in which we spent between $200 and $600 BILLION worldwide to fix a problem we’d known was coming for 100 years – no conspiracy theory is truly too outrageous to be possible. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, mind you. But I don’t dismiss anyone because, at the outset, their theory seems implausible at best, or completely nuts at worst.

In a recent column describing his reaction to the death of journalist, David Halberstam, The New York Times’ Bob Herbert writes:

If there was one thing above all else that David taught us, it was to be skeptical of official accounts, to stay always on guard against the lies, fabrications, half-truths, misrepresentations, exaggerations and all other manifestations of falsehood that are fired at us like machine-gun bullets by government officials and others in high places, often with lethal results.

There it is from the horses’ mouths: Don’t believe everything you read. Don’t believe everything you see. Don’t believe everything you hear.

In this day and age of technoeverything, a picture may still be worth 1,000 words, but it’s no longer conclusive proof of anything. Fingerprints, voice data, government-issued IDs . . . all the things that used to represent proof now require our utmost scrutiny. And thinking this way can be a scary concept.

No doubt, it was easier when we could believe every word uttered by the likes of Walter Cronkite . . . but those days are long gone. Almost all media is in some way now beholden to advertisers – and when money’s at stake, truth inevitably gets compromised. It remains debatable whether our government officials ever really had the people’s best interests at heart, but the optimist in me wants to hold onto the idea that our Founding Fathers truly did believe in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. They just didn’t have the crystal ball to see where we would be today, when trying to implement such a rustic, holistic, seemingly clear-cut concept.

Knowing the “truth” comes down to one simple thing: you. My friend Vickie Champion once said that we all know everything. It’s a radical concept – but I believe it’s correct. When we get still, turn off the noise that is the TV, the cell phone, the Internet, the newspaper, the iPod, the chatter at Starbucks, we really do have an innate knowing that can guide us in all things. Whether it’s the big, big stuff, in terms of the future of our planet; whether it’s about a personal situation, like paying attention to the clues that our mate is cheating; or whether it’s the simple things, like deciding what to eat for dinner, we all know the truth. It remains up to each one of us, though, to decide if we want to listen – and what we will do, once we hear the answer.

*Table Topics is the portion of a Toastmasters meeting where participants take turns answering questions posed by one member on a given theme or subject. The purpose is to practice one’s impromptu speaking skills, as the participant must form an intelligible answer of the top of his/her head and speak for somewhere between 45 seconds and two minutes.

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