Communication is a two-way process that can deliver immense benefit.

Ranjini Manian

In my last column, I shared with readers the e-mail Barack Obama sent his supporters thanking them for their efforts. This week I am back with some more lessons on communication that can be learnt from another US president, this time a former president.

It’s all about communication. With technology advancing in leaps and bounds, communication of the wired and wireless sort is virtually a button away. Accessibility has increased beyond anybody’s imagination and you can almost instantly get anyone’s ear, from the president of your country to the booking clerk at the nearest railway station.

Ideally, communication is a two-way street. As business people, we need to put ourselves across to our clientele. How else will they know what we have to offer? Equally, our clientele needs to reach us; how else will we know what they have to say?

In the West, people appreciate the importance of two-way communication better than people in India do at present. Consider this e-mail sent from the former US President Bill Clinton’s address to those who had backed Hillary Clinton’s candidature as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee:

Dear Kamini,

I am sure you have heard the exciting news: Hillary Clinton is nominated to be our next Secretary of State! This is great news for our country. She understands the challenges we face and her experience and judgement will help President Obama restore America’s reputation in the world and make our nation more secure. Take a moment to celebrate this wonderful news by sending Hillary a message of congratulations. This nomination would not have been possible without the hard work of everyone like you who has supported Hillary throughout the years. I know I speak for her when I say thank you for everything you have done for her.

Sincerely,

Bill Clinton

A link in this mail takes you to a site with a button which says ‘Congratulate Hillary’. By clicking the button, you can do just that and type out your message.

Wouldn’t you be excited to receive such an e-mail and wouldn’t you have used the link straight away? Hillary Clinton’s core team is ensuring that communication channels between Hillary and her supporters are kept open because the team understands the value of a two-way flow.

L-A-C-E

Too often in our busy schedules, we limit our communications to a single direction. But this way, we’re cutting off an important resource. For best results on both sides — company and client — experts advocate that the company’s representatives follow a procedure with the acronym LACE — listen, acknowledge, clarify, explain.

Not only allow, but also help the client/customer talk to you. Listen to the concerns/views that he or she expresses, acknowledge the feedback, clarify the situation if you have to and explain your position. This interaction will work to help the two sides understand each other better and ensure better results and mutual satisfaction in the future. No customer/client should be considered too small or unimportant to be a part of this exercise. Bill Clinton’s e-mail was sent out to each and every person who played a part in Hillary’s campaign, no matter how minor.

I know you will wonder: Won’t important messages get lost in the flood? Ease of accessibility is a good thing from the point of view of those who want to be heard. But those who are doing the hearing often wonder if it’s not more of a bane than a boon. But even this can be tackled if thought is put into writing the e-mail, to leave an impression and to get the desired responses.

Since e-mail is now more or less the preferred form of both inter- and intra-office communication, let’s take a simple example. This is an e-mail from an employee requesting leave of absence for a few days:

“I am writing to ask your permission to take a few days leave over Christmas and New Year, (note that she states the purpose of the e-mail in the very first sentence, respecting the importance of time for a busy person) as I hope to discover some areas of Rajasthan during this time (she gives the reason clearly).

More specifically, the period in question is from Thursday, December 25 to Sunday, January 4, which amounts to five working days leave (she makes the number of days clear and recaps so that there is clarity in the message).

All my work that needs to be completed before January, I can coordinate together with my manager (she takes responsibility and addresses the issue that is bound to be on the boss’ mind, thus making the decision to say ‘yes’ easy). I hope that this will be possible (the tone is polite and respectful without being overly humble).

Thank you,”

Official communication that meets the parameters like this exemplary e-mail leave application does is sure to hit the spot. I for one granted the leave and even gave the trip as part of a bonus gift I had planned for this hard-working and focused employee.

Communication is a powerful asset, and like any other resource, if harnessed correctly, can power huge progress. If you are precise, coherent, polite and pro-active on the one hand and receptive on the other, this tool can only be a two-way boon.

(The writer is Founder CEO of Global Adjustments, a relocation and cross-cultural training company and author of Doing Business in India for Dummies. She can be contacted at info@globaladjustments.com)

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated December 15, 2008)
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