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Types of Communication in the Workplace

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Many types of communication can occur simultaneously.
No matter what industry you are in, communication is key in the workplace. Without proper
communication, your company is not going to achieve its objectives. Within a standard
company, communication can take the form of internal, external, formal and informal, upward
and downward, lateral and diagonal, small group and nonverbal. All these types of
communication come into play in order for the company to convey all necessary information.
1. Internal Communication
o Internal communication is any communication that occurs inside of the workplace. This
type of communication is achieved through any medium (for example, email, phone, fax
or face to face).
External Communication
o External communication is any communication between a member of your company and
someone outside of your company. When you talk to a customer, send an email to a
potential client or call a supplier about an order, you are doing external communication.
Formal and Informal Communication
o Communication in the workplace is either formal or informal. Formal communication is
any communication that promotes the workplace objective. Informal communication
involves discussing topics that do not pertain to work. Informal communication is
harmless if it is appropriate and you only talk about non-work topics on your lunch break.
Informal communication can cause serious problems if it is inappropriate (for example,
rumors, gossip or crude jokes).
Upward and Downward Communication
o Upward communication is the questions, inquiries and even complaints that employees
direct toward their superiors. Downward communication is the guidance and leadership
management gives to employees. If a manager explains an assignment to a
subordinate, that is downward communication. If an employee asks her boss questions
pertaining to that assignment, that is upward communication, according to
Communication Skills for Professionals.
Lateral and Diagonal Communication
o Lateral (or horizontal) communication is the messages exchanged between employees
on the same hierarchical level. When two board members hold a discussion or when two
secretaries hold a discussion, this is lateral communication. Diagonal (or cross-wise)
communication occurs when messages are exchanged between employees of various
different hierarchical levels. If a vice president holds a discussion with a human
resources manager, this is diagonal communication.
Small Group Communication
o Small group communication occurs when a meeting is held. This can be a staff meeting,
a board meeting, a sales meeting or any other type of meeting where a group of
employees meets and exchanges messages. Usually, one or two individuals lead the
meeting and initiate the topics for discussion.
Nonverbal Communication
o Eye contact, facial expression and other forms nonverbal communication are signs that
your boss or another employee is pleased (or displeased) with your work. If your co-
worker rolls her eyes at you, you are probably going to feel like she is unhappy with you.
On the other hand, if your boss smiles at you after your presentation, you'll feel secure
that you did a good job. Sometimes, a smile is worth a thousand words, according to
Workplace Communication.
Types of Communication in the Workplace to Increase Efficiency and
Productivity
See below for four types of communication and other communication techniques
and ideas.
There are four types of communication:
1. Visual Communication
2. Written Communication
3. Verbal Communication
4. Non-Verbal Communication

Besides these four types of communication - which are explained below you can
also click here to read more articles on effective workplace communication tools
and techniques.
It is essential that you always place emphasis on communication skills in the
workplace. By consistently striving to improve your skills in this area, you will be
able to successfully establish strong business relationships with those that you work
with.
There are many negative consequences that may occur as a direct result of communication
challenges within a business. Examples of these consequences include decreased productivity,
misunderstandings with regards to policies and procedures within the workplace, as well as
employee dissatisfaction.

Naturally, all of these consequences could result in lower profits and high rates of
employee turnover. In this guide, you will be introduced to the four types workplace
communication that are absolutely essential to the success and efficiency of your
business.

What is Communication?
Before developing an understanding of the four types of communication that are
vital to the workplace, it is important to gain an understanding of communication.
Many believe that this is simply talking. While talking is an important element of
communication, it is not the only component of communication, nor is it the most
important aspect of communication.
Communication is a process. It is where each one of us specifically assign and
engage in the act of conveying a certain meaning so that two or more individuals
create a level of understanding that is shared among all parties.
Communication experts agree that there is a vast repertoire of specific skills
involved in successful communication.
These include, but are not at all limited to:
 Processing skills that are interpersonal as well as intrapersonal are essential
elements to successful communication.
 Individuals must be able to listen and appropriately evaluate what is being
shared.
 Basic observation and analytical skills are also required when it comes to
productive levels of communication.
 The way that we each hold our body is a means of communication.
 Last, but not least by any means, communication is also questioning what is
being said for understanding and speaking as well.
Four Types of Communication Methods Number 1:
Visual Communication

In the workplace, it is common to incorporate visual communication in order to
share ideas that relate to the business, provide information to those that work in
the company, and to outline specific points that need to be emphasized for the
success of the business. Examples of this type of communication include specially
designed signs, electronic communication, documents, and even presentations. It is
essential that each individual has the capability of both implementing and
comprehending visual communication processes in the workplace.
Four Types of Communication Methods Number 2:
Written Communication
Written communication is also quite important when it comes to the workplace. This
form of communication involves either writing or typing out information, facts,
figures, and other types of necessary information in order to express ideas among
those in a business. Examples of this type of communication include reports,
evaluations, emails, instant messages, physical and electronic memos, training
materials, and other types of documents that are similar in
nature. In the workplace, this is a flexible type of
communication as it could be formal or informal - depending
on the message(s) that are being expressed.

Four Types of Communication Methods Number 3:
Verbal Communication
Verbal communication is a core component when it comes to
the overall success of a business. Verbal means that certain sounds, specific
languages, and the spoken word may be used. In today's world, there is a large
diversity of individuals that make up the standard workforce. There are employees
that are different ages, those that are from different cultures, and even a variety of
races. It is important that a company strives to create a basic foundation for verbal
communication so that each person in a company understands the others within
that business. See grapevine communication.

Four Types of Communication Methods Number 4:
Non-Verbal Communication
When it comes to communication in the workplace, it is important to understand
the significance of non-verbal communication four types communication (see
nonverbal communication articles and examples of non verbal communication).
When this occurs, it means that a physical manner of communication is being used
to share ideas and meanings among others.
The physical activities may include the way that you move your body, the tone that
is displayed when it comes to the tone of an individual's voice, and touching. In the
workplace, it is not appropriate to touch another individual, but it is possible to
ensure that the voice tone and the stance of the body is held appropriately so that
the ideas, information, and thoughts are successfully shared with the intended
audience. If you incorporate the four types of communication into your business,
you will quickly see positive results. These include lower employee turnover,
increased productivity, and a financial success.


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Effective Communication in the Workplace
How effectively are your executives, managers and supervisors communicating with
your employees? What was once considered a “soft” skill is now seen to have
“hard” business impacts. The costs to your business of poor employee
communication include:
 increased employee turnover
 increased absenteeism
 dissatisfied customers from poor customer service
 higher product defect rates
 lack of focus on business objectives
 stifled innovation
(See the results of research by Watson Wyatt, Gallup Consulting and Towers
Perrin.)
Employees will put in that extra "discretionary effort" when they are kept informed
openly and honestly on aspects of their job and the business and they feel that they
are being listened to with empathy.
Employee Communication Needs
What and how should you communicate with your employees? Communication in
your workplace should satisfy the three key employee needs before they can be
engaged and highly productive. Each and every employee needs to:
1. Know that …
–included here are facts about your organization and their specific job – what
business you are in, who your customers are, specific details about your
product or service, where forms are located, who to see when there is a
problem ...
2. Master that …
–included here are the practical skills required to do their job well – repairing
a machine, filling out an invoice, designing a building, writing a software
program ...
3. Feel that …
–included here are the interactions that give them a sense of belonging and
self-worth – being listened to, respected, trusted, valued ...
Managers predominantly concentrate on the first communication need – know that
– and pay less attention to the second need to master skills. The third need – feel
that – is what makes employees distinctly human and what drives them to
outstanding achievement in work and outside of work. And yet it is in this
dimension that employee communications are most lacking. Our practical eBook, 2
Way Feedback, can help you develop a constructive communication culture in your
workplace.
Look closely at the employee communication practices happening in your business.
Is it satisfying what employees need to be fully engaged and working productively?
Download our FREE Workplace Culture Checklist to check your progress on building
positive working relationships.
For an answer, it is also worth looking at the four fundamental levels of
communication in your organization:
1. Organization wide communication – involving all employees
2. Departmental communication – specific to one department or unit
3. Team communication – within one cohesive team or group
4. Individual communication – specific to one employee at any one time
Communications may be working effectively at higher levels, but fail dismally at the
more local level. The interpersonal skills of supervisors, team leaders and local
managers are especially critical at levels 3 and 4, as these are the people that
frontline workers develop working relationships with most personally and closely.
Just as important is the communication between and within levels. Gone are the
days when departments could stand as silos, isolated from the rest of the
organization by impenetrable barriers. Intra-national and international competition
is now so fierce that everyone in the organization needs to collaborate closely on
solving organizational challenges and on achieving agreed strategic objectives.
What are the communication barriers in your organization?


Where is your organization at in its life-cycle? Is it large or growing rapidly? As
more people are added to an organization, employee communication needs and
stresses increase exponentially. Joe, who used to do purchasing, inspection and
warehousing on his own now needs to talk to three other departments as well as
the people in his own growing team. What structures, systems and processes has
your organization put in place to encourage and facilitate effective workplace
communication flow?
Well-designed organizational culture surveys and employee communication surveys
can determine how well your communication systems and practices are contributing
to your organization’s performance – or how much they are hindering performance.
This information will then help you in devising an effective workplace
communication strategy. Whatever else you do, your workplace communication
practices impact every facet of your business. Looking closely at employee
communication in your organization is well worth your while, because even if you
do not, your employees are.
Communication in the Workplace
With so many people to deal with at the workplace on a daily basis, effective
communication in the workplace is of utmost importance. It increases the morale of
the employees, and helps them develop a bond with other employees and with the
organization as well. Read on to know more.

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With the number of high profile corporations that function today, and the increased
levels of competitiveness in the market, it is important to find some ways to keep
employees motivated and to keep their morale up at the workplace. To enable
coordination and cooperation between the various employees, communication in
the workplace takes added importance. Passing messages amongst the people in
the office, maintaining effective chains of command, and also keeping track of
what's happening in the lives of fellow employees, are some of the most obvious
advantages of effective communication in the workplace. Read more on workplace
communication.

The forms of communication today have transformed from what it used to be in
earlier times, due to the advent of plenty of electronic mediums in order to carry
out the communication process. Despite all these changes though, the significance
of communication in the workplace still remains the same as it ever was. Read
more on effective office communication.

Importance of Communication in the Workplace

So why exactly is communication important at the workplace? The answer to this is
known to almost everyone, but many people can't find the right words to express it.
It becomes clearer when you understand that every workplace must rely on
teamwork and cooperation in order to carry out their work properly. The employees
must also stay motivated. Disgruntled employees will never work efficiently, I think
almost everyone is aware of that. It is proper communication that encourages and
upholds this spirit of teamwork and cooperation amongst the employees. If the
employees are friends with each other, obviously they will work better with each
other. Read more on effective communication in the workplace.

Formal Communication in the Workplace
Formal communication is the kind that stems from necessity, rather than choice.
Instructions, orders, guidelines, feedback and appraisals provided to employees by
the employer comprise formal communication in the workplace. Reporting,
feedback, complaints and sanctioning of leave are the components of
communication from the employee to the employer. These channels are necessary
for the proper functioning of any office, and if they are not followed in the right
manner, the office will be unable to get any work accomplished. Read more on
importance of communication skills.

Informal Communication in the Workplace
This is the kind of communication that takes place between employees, or between
the employee and the employer in an informal manner, and about unofficial things.
This implies a sense of friendship between the various parties involved. Too much
informal communication can be harmful to a workplace, but it is true that some
informal relationships need to be formed as well. This makes the people
comfortable with each other, and produces a sense of camaraderie between the
many employees of the workplace. Informal communication also has some
drawbacks, as many people choose to gossip a lot and spread rumors about other
people. This is known as the 'grapevine'. Read more on workplace communication
skills.

Communication in the Workplace Tips

The skill to communicate effectively in the workplace needs mastery over a period
of time. This is not something that can be learned overnight. It requires tact,
diplomacy, and a little bit of humility as well. If you find yourself lacking any of
these qualities, maybe you need to reassess your personality and stop assuming
that everyone listens to you by choice. Here are some communication in the
workplace tips that may help you improve some formal and informal relationships
with fellow employees and even your employer.
 Be polite and civil with everybody. Don't be rude or emotional.
 Respect the time and space of other people.
 Learn to listen, in addition to constantly running your mouth.
 Be open and flexible, and do not keep a closed mind.
 Learn to say no, it will save you from a lot of trouble occasionally.
 Don't get involved in conflicts unnecessarily.
 Don't complain too much, focus on the good parts instead. If you hate your
workplace too much, just quit instead of increasing the unpleasantness by
complaining.
 If you have to meet your superiors, be on time.
 Get to know your fellow employees.
 Try not to mix personal and professional relationships.
 Learn to compromise, and build a network of sorts. Here are some more
effective communication tips.
Communication in the workplace between men and women requires slightly more
diplomacy and tact. The ideal scenario is not to mix your personal and professional
commitments, but this is something that cannot be avoided sometimes. There have
been many cases where women have also accused men with sexual harassment
charges, when in fact the man was just trying to make conversation. So make sure
you get your signals right, and don't make lewd comments or get personal with the
women at your workplace. Learn to treat them with respect and dignity, and if you
happen to have a perverse facet to your personality, it would be best to leave it at
home locked away in a little drawer in your closet. Save the act of coming out of
the closet for another scenario.
Communication Styles in the Workplace
Knowing different communication styles in the workplace can be really helpful for
you to convey your ideas or views efficaciously. This article mainly focuses on some
workplace communication styles to help you communicate better at work...

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All professionals working in the corporate world know the importance of
communication in business. Effective interpersonal communication in the workplace
plays a very significant role in the smooth running of any business. People who do
not have good communication skills are more likely to face tough communication
challenges in the workplace. If there is no efficient and clear impartation of
information in a company, there can be a lack of understanding which can have an
adverse effect on the deliverables, thus leading to a loss in productivity. If one has
to survive in the corporate world, he has to have an idea of the different
communication styles in the workplace. Read more on effective communication in
the workplace.

Determinants of Communications Styles

There are different categories that are given to communication styles in business.
Throughout the years, corporate researchers have come up with several different
classes of communication which individuals fall into. However, according to most of
the researchers, these various communication classes are based on two typical
aspects. These aspects include the individual's level of receptiveness and the level
of straightness. Read more on the four types of communication.

You can easily find out about the individual's level of receptiveness by noticing how
much he speaks about himself. Persons who are veritably receptive prefer to share
information and are comfortable with emotions. They normally talk with expressions
and mix up soon with new people. On the other hand, there are individuals who are
kind of reserved. These people do not prefer to show their feelings, thoughts, and
emotions to others. Regarding straightforwardness, you can find out in which
category a person falls by the way he talks, how willing he is to take chances, and
what kind of mannerisms he possesses. Straightforward people prefer to take the
initiative and charge of situations, whereas those who are indirect choose to stay
away from risks, and value security and heedful planning. The following is a
detailed explanation of communication styles of men and women in businesses. The
four classes of communicators would make it simpler for you to know the different
communication styles in the workplace. Read more on importance of
communication skills.

Communication Styles According to Types of Individuals

Open Communicators
People who are receptive express their emotions and feelings in a free manner.
They prefer to have an informal conversation before getting into actual business
activities. This includes getting to know business partners and important corporate
personnel in the practice, or frequently having personal souvenirs or pictures on
display. Hence, thrusting ahead into the workplace and anticipating rapid indecisive
answers and responses is not appropriate. If you are in conversation with a
receptive communicator, it is recommended to ask few informal questions first and
then start with business communication. Some questions include how long he has
been in the business, how was his first job experience, and similar other questions
regarding his career path.

Reserved Communicators
These types of communicators do not like to let other people know about their
personal life. They are very reserved, and do not prefer to share personal
information and how do they think about things. If you are an open communicator,
and are speaking to such kind of people, you need to remember that asking a
personal question will make them feel uneasy. Such people are usually busy doing
work and do not participate in workplace communication activities.

Indirect Communicators
The talk of these individuals is very slow and intentional. They do not like loud, fast,
and excessively aggressive talk. In addition, they concentrate more on the facts
and figures, rather than just assumptions. If you are in conversation with an
indirect communicator, you need to understand that you should have proof for
backing up your suggestions, answers, and views.

Direct Communicators
Individuals who are direct talk more clamorously and rapidly than indirect
communicators. They take risks easily, are aggressively self-assured, and are
related to 'type A' personalities. If you are in conversation with a direct
communicator, just ensure that you get to the point straightaway, be confident
about what you say, provide solid instances of your achievements, and be alert
when you talk. Read more on techniques for effective corporate communication.

I hope these types of communicators have given you an idea of the different
communication styles in the workplace. If you want to be an effective
communicator, you need to adjust your talk according to the type of person you are
talking to.

Importance of Communication in the Workplace
There is no denying the importance of communication in the workplace, considering
the fact that in an organization people belonging to different social and professional
backgrounds come together to work for the same organizational goals. Read on to
know more about the importance of effective workplace communication.

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"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken
place." - George Bernard Shaw

This quote pretty much sums up the root cause of all conflicts in the workplace.
Often it is seen that managers do not realize the importance of communication in
the workplace and thus do not convey their ideas, organizational goals, employee
duties, etc., very clearly. When the seniors in the organization are unable to create
an organizational environment which promotes open and clear communication, it
can have negative repercussions on the work culture and the employee
productivity. An organization where there is lack of effective and open
communication, workplace issues such as high employee turnover and wastage of
organizational resources, often arise. To avoid these, clear-cut and precise
workplace communication is a must for any organization.

Importance of Communication in an Organization

Creates Job Satisfaction
The importance of communication in the workplace can be understood from the fact
that organizations which create an environment of free-flowing and easy
correspondence between the seniors and subordinates, face lesser employee
turnover. If the subordinates feel free to question or put their viewpoint across to
their managers regarding work related issues, and their feedback is given due
consideration, it makes the employees feel valued by the organization. Thus,
effective communication in the workplace helps in building loyalty and trust and
leads to greater job satisfaction.

Lesser Workplace Conflicts
Open communication in the workplace can save many workplace conflicts. For
example, if two employees have a disagreement over some issue, and instead of
resolving it and arriving at a solution, they end up taking the whole thing personally
and if it continues for a very long period, it may lead to a work related crisis where
in they might even refuse to talk or work together in the future. Such
communication issues in the workplace can be nipped in the bud if the managers
act as a mediator and let the two warring employees put across their thoughts and
opinions to each other through open and clear communication. Thus, if the
communication between various people in the organization is good, it will lead to
successful conflict management in the workplace and employees will be able to
understand each others' point of view much more clearly.

Increases Workplace Productivity
In an organization, the manager should very clearly explain to his employees about
their job responsibilities and duties, ways and protocol of doing work as well as the
results which are expected of them. If the manager is clear in his communication,
the subordinates will know exactly what the organization expects from them and
thus, will be able to deliver the same to the best of their ability. Thus, importance
of communication skills can be judged from the fact that it leads to better
deliverance of work, increasing workplace productivity.

Secure Work Future
As everybody knows that communication is a two way process. So, for the
employees too, being vocal and communicative, leads to a better work future. If
the employees have not understood their job responsibilities well and they do not
even ask their managers to explain it to them again, they may end up handling an
important assignment in a way which can prove detrimental to the organization.
And, in some cases the employees may even face the risk of getting fired and
losing their job. Thus, from the employee point of view, importance of
communication in the workplace is that by openly discussing work or work-related
issues with their managers, they can avoid all confusions. The employees will thus
know what is the right thing to do and how it has to be done.

Formation of Relationships
Open communication, whether between the employees or between the employees
and managers or between the management and all employees, leads to formation
of better personal and professional relationships. If they frequently interact and
communicate with each other over professional and personal issues, the employees
feel cared for and this in turn creates better working relationships.

Proper Utilization of Resources
If an organization is facing problems, crisis and conflicts due to miscommunication
between the employees, it causes unnecessary delays in the work. This leads to
wastage of the organization's resources and lowers the overall work productivity.
So an environment of good communication is a must for any organization to better
utilize its resources and increase productivity in the workplace.

The importance of communication in the workplace can be summed up in two
words, "work satisfaction". If the employees are satisfied working in an
organization, there is no denying the fact that the future of that organization is
absolutely secure. So, all workplaces today should create an environment wherein
problems, plans, issues, opinions, thoughts and ideas pertaining to work, are
discussed and handled in a professional, proficient manner through positive,
effective communication.

10 ways to communicate more effectively with customers and co-workers
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By Calvin Sun
August 8, 2007, 8:38 AM PDT
This information is also available as a PDF download.
We all know what happened to the Titanic. Clearer communications could have
prevented the tragedy and the loss of more than 1,500 lives. Communications plays
just as important a role in your careers. When asked to name the top three skills
they believed their subordinates need, 70 percent of the readers of CIO magazine
listed communications as one of them.
Here are some tips on how you can communicate more effectively with people at
work, be they customers, co-workers, subordinates, or superiors.
#1: Beware of interrupting
Titanic wireless operator Jack Phillips interrupted a wireless message from a nearby
ship, telling them to shut up. In doing so, he prevented that ship from sending
Titanic an iceberg warning.
Be careful about interrupting others, particularly your customers. They’ll be
especially upset if, while they’re explaining a problem, you interrupt them and start
offering a solution. If you feel you have to interrupt, at least cut to the chase and
tell the other person what you think his or her main idea was. That way, the other
person at least can confirm or correct you, and in either case save time.
#2: Listen actively
Did you ever get the feeling, when talking to someone, that you were really talking
to a wall? The person may have heard you but gave no indication of it at all. Avoid
doing the same thing. When communicating with others, it’s just as important that
people be aware that you’re listening as it is that you’re actually listening. For that
reason, be involved with and react to what the other person is saying, either via a
nod, or an “I see,” or a paraphrase of the other person’s statements. You’ll
strengthen your own understanding and make a better impression.
#3: Avoid negative questions
Suppose you say to a customer, “You don’t have Word installed?” and he answers
“Yes.” What does he mean? Yes, you’re right, Word is not installed? Or yes, he
DOES have Word installed?
Asking a negative question creates confusion. It’s clearer if you phrase the question
positively (e.g., “Do you have Word installed?”) or ask an open-ended question
(”What applications do you have installed?”). If you must use the negative, try a
question such as “Am I correct that you don’t have Word installed?”
#4: Be sensitive to differences in technical knowledge
Chances are, your customers have less technical knowledge than you do. Be
careful, therefore, when explaining things to them. If you use acronyms, be sure
you identify what the acronym means. The same acronym can mean different
things, even in an IT context (for example, ASP can refer to “application service
provider” or “active server page”). Be careful that you don’t make two opposite
mistakes: either talking over their head or talking down to them. Keep your eyes on
customers when you talk to them and be alert to cues indicating that they don’t
understand. Ask them whether they understand what you’re saying, if necessary.
#5: Use analogies to explain technical concepts
A good way to explain a technical idea is to use an analogy. Though they have
limitations, analogies are helpful in explaining an unfamiliar idea in terms of a
familiar one. One of the best analogies I ever heard compared a firewall to a bank
teller. When you enter a bank, you don’t just go into the vault and get your money.
Instead, you go to a window, where the teller verifies your identity and determines
that you have enough money. The teller goes to the vault, brings it back to the
window, gives it to you, and then you leave.
#6: Use positive instead of negative statements
Your customers are more interested in your capabilities than in your limitations. In
other words, they’re interested in what you can do, rather than what you can’t do.
The way you say things to them influences how they perceive you and your
department. You, as an IT department or individual, can be seen as a roadblock or
you can be seen as a partner. So, for example, instead of saying, “I can’t help you
unless you log off,” consider saying, “Please log off so that I can help you.” Your
statements often will be easier to understand as well.
Here’s another reason to avoid negative statements. Have you ever experienced
gaps of silence in your telephone calls, where the conversation breaks up? Usually it
happens when using a cell or a VoIP telephone. If the gap occurs as you’re saying
“not,” your recipient could get the opposite message from what you intended.
#7: Be careful of misinterpreted words and phrases
Sometimes we say something with innocent intent, but the other person
misinterprets it. We mean to say one thing, but our pronunciation or inflection
causes us to convey something else. For example, in Chinese, the sound “ma” said
in a high level tone means “mother in law.” However, said in a falling and rising
tone, it means “horse.”
Be especially careful of the word “you.” Overusing this word can make the person
you’re talking to feel defensive or threatened. Instead of saying, “You need to
speak louder,” try saying, “I’m having trouble hearing.” Another issue involves the
dual meaning of “you.” Unlike other languages, English uses the same word to refer
to an actual person (for example, the person you’re talking to) as well as to a
hypothetical person. Suppose you said to someone, “You never know what’s going
to happen next,” and meant to equate “you” with “people in general.” The other
person might think you’re referring to him or her specifically and take offense. A
better alternative might be, “It’s really unpredictable here.”
If someone is upset, one of the worst things to say is “calm down.” It might work
one half of one percent of the time, but generally all it does is make things worse.
In general, think before you speak. I’m not saying you always have to be polite or
diplomatic. Sometimes you do need to (figuratively, of course) beat people up.
However, do consider the alternatives before speaking. As the proverb goes, “He
who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.”
#8: Remember that technical problems involve emotional reactions
When customers have a technical problem (for example, they’re having trouble
printing), keep in mind that they’ll almost always have an emotional reaction as
well. Those emotions can range from simple annoyance to outright panic,
depending on the importance of the document and the time element involved. I’m
not saying you have to be Dr. Phil, but it’s important to acknowledge and recognize
these emotional reactions. If all you do is solve the technical problem and walk
away, chances are the customer will still be upset.
In these cases, simply saying something like, “Pain in the neck, isn’t it?” or “I hate
when that happens to me” can help the customer feel better about the situation
and possibly feel more positive about you.
#9: Anticipate customer objections and questions
In his book The Art of War, the ancient Chinese author and strategist Sun Tzu said,
“If you know the enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the result of a
hundred battles.” Apply this principle when communicating with customers. In
particular, try to anticipate the objections your customers will have to your
message and address those objections.
For example, suppose you’re sending out a directive regarding the downloading and
application of Windows updates. Suppose further that you have customers who
know enough to be dangerous. Such a customer might think, “Well, I’m current in
my virus definitions, so this update is unnecessary for me.” Your communications
with such a customer will be more effective if you anticipate and address that issue.
Consider, therefore, a sentence such as, “This Windows update is necessary even if
your virus definitions are current.”
#10: Keep the customer informed
The area where I live, southeastern Pennsylvania, has a large agricultural presence,
in particular involving the production of mushrooms. While they are growing,
mushrooms are kept in a dark building and are covered with fertilizer.
Your customers will become upset if you treat them the same way. Keep them
informed of developments involving them, particularly with regard to technical
problems and outages. In particular, keep them apprised even if nothing is going
on. For example, let them know you’ve contacted the vendor but still haven’t heard
anything back. No news is still news.
If a customer leaves you a request via voicemail or e-mail, let the customer know
you received it, even if you are still in the process of handling it. Doing so gives the
customer one less matter to worry about.
When a problem is resolved, let the customer know that, too. Nothing is more
frustrating to customers than finding out that they could have been working sooner
if they had only known.
The Art of Communicating with Clients
Raphael Lapin offers advice on negotiating to achieve positive results and avoid conflict.
BY JANE WOLLMAN RUSOFF
From the January 2010 issue of Research Magazine
1
Why butt heads with irksome clients, when instead you can negotiate conflict: much less
stressful and far more effective.
In his handy book, Working with Difficult People (DK Publishing-Oct. 2009), Raphael E. Lapin,
consultant to Fortune 500 companies and governments worldwide -- including AT&T, Yahoo!
and the United States Air Force -- explains how to develop negotiation and conflict-resolution
skills to build trust and overcome resistance.
Founder of Lapin Negotiation Strategies in Los Angeles, the communication specialist is
certified in Harvard Law School's famed Program on Negotiation, having trained under
professor emeritus Roger Fisher, originator of powerful negotiation techniques and co-author of
the bestselling Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (Penguin-1981).
Lapin, 54, is a Johannesburg, South African-born former rabbi with a masters degree in
Talmudic law.
He started his consulting practice in San Jose, Calif., mediating high-profile divorces and labor
union disputes, then expanded into advising corporations about negotiation strategies.
Here are excerpts from a recent Research chat with this guru of getting the best out of prickly
folks:
You write that people are often difficult because we allow them to be difficult. How so?
They're difficult when a vital interest of theirs is being threatened at that moment. Faced with a
difficult person, the first question I ask myself is: What am I doing or not doing that's enabling
them to be difficult? I take responsibility.
Why is listening to what clients are saying so important?
A mistake people make is that they talk more than they listen. They get into pitch mode and
start pitching what they think would be appropriate: "Let me tell you what's good for you." Really
good negotiators and salespeople do very little talking. They do some very good questioning
and a lot of listening.
What's "active listening"?
One way to build trust is for the [client] to know that you've heard their needs and understood
what they are. That means reflecting back to them what they've said: "Let me make sure I've
understood you accurately. Is what you're saying A, B, C and D?" The response needs to be a
nice, sharp, crisp "yes." Active listening is essential as a check for understanding.
Why is it vital to paraphrase clients?
To build rapport and trust, it's not a matter of just saying, "Yes, I hear you." I have to
demonstrate that I've listened and taken you seriously. Then the [client's] response is: This guy
seems to be taking time to actually understand me.
How do you make clients listen to what you're telling them?
As much as 65 percent of what the talker says is missed by the listener because they're busy
framing their response. How absurd is that -- thinking up a response to something they're not
listening to?
The only way I can make sure you listen to me is to liberate you from thinking about what you're
going to say. Active listening makes people feel adequately heard and understood. That makes
them less compelled to think about what they want to get in because they've already got it in.
What's the best way to handle a client who angrily blames the advisor for their account's
losing value?
This is dealing with emotions. Active listening is the first step to engage when under attack.
Don't get defensive. Even if they say, "You caused this because you weren't diligent enough or
monitoring carefully," you've got to apply active listening.
A very useful word is "perception" because it acknowledges without agreeing: "If I understand
you correctly, your perception is that I was negligent and brought this about." You've got to go
through several cycles of active listening while they're quite emotional until you bring their
decibel level down.
Why should advisors make sure not to get defensive?
Defensiveness is not productive in any way. The client isn't listening to you: They're too
engrossed in their own anger. It allows the situation to deteriorate. You first have to get the
emotions down before they start listening. And, of course, grace and professionalism are
important at all times.
What about dealing with a client who thinks they know more about investing than the
advisor and resists recommendations?
Again, the first thing is not to get defensive because once that happens, it shuts down dialogue
rather than fostering it. You want to keep dialogue open, not block it. You need to listen
carefully, then ask: "How would this investment meet the goals that you've [previously
identified]? What do you think some of the risks might be? Are there ways of mitigating those
risks?"
So prompt them to talk more about their inadvisable idea?
Yes, explore it together. Walk alongside them; don't counter and confront them. Pace along with
them. Ask them some good questions. This way, you can lead them out of it: "There may be
some other options. Let's talk a little about that."
Advisors often use financial jargon that goes over clients' heads and intimidates them.
Any thoughts?
One of the important skills is the capability to put oneself in the other party's shoes. Imagine you
were the clients. They don't know anything about finances. All they know is that they're nervous
about preserving their assets and don't necessarily have confidence in anybody trying to sell
them services. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself: How would I react to such a person
[spouting esoteric terms]?
How do you get clients to open up about their lives, attitudes, dreams for the future?
Asking good questions is a skill in how you frame the questions and the way you ask them. Use
the powerful technique of self-disclosure to [induce] clients to talk about things that are
uncomfortable for them. It's very powerful. Offer some self-disclosure to make it safe for them to
discuss something sensitive. You might say: "This [particular] issue is a constant concern of
mine, and I'm wondering whether it would be a concern of yours too."
Should advisors have a list of open-ended questions in front of them?
While learning, it's OK. But it's far better to develop the skill of thinking on your feet. If my
purpose is just to get clients to open up and be comfortable talking, the questions might be
about their family and history. If it's regarding specific investment experiences, the questioning
has to be directed toward that. Not all questions are created equal. [Often] a carefully crafted
question opens everything up in a negotiation.
How do you develop the skill of reading between the lines?
First you need to know what you're looking for. This gets into a concept that originated at
Harvard: the difference between "positions" and "interests." For example, if two kids are arguing
over an orange, each one laying claim to it, the position is "That's my orange." The interest is
what is driving the position. You've got to drill down to the interest.
Questions to ask are: "What needs of yours would not be met if you didn't have the orange?
How does having it help you?" One child might say, "I'm hungry." The other may say, "I need
the orange peel to bake a cake."
So the positions that were originally conflicting translate into interests that no longer conflict:
You can give the [fruit] to one child and the peel to the other.
In listening, develop sensitivity by probing deeply.
Why is it important for advisors not to introduce their ideas or recommendations too
soon?
We've had many situations in negotiation where the parties will present a proposal too early and
it's rejected; but later on, the same proposal is accepted perfectly well.
Nobody likes to have solutions imposed on them no matter how good they are. People like to
feel a partnership and ownership in the solution that's being created. Any solution or idea that's
put out before a sufficient rapport has been built will be perceived as the other party being self-
serving -- no matter what.
How critical is communication through body language?
First of all, the advisor should be aware of their own body language. It will either build or corrode
trust. Obviously, it has to match your verbal language; otherwise you'll come across as
inconsistent and not trustworthy. You can't fake that -- you have to authentically be concerned.
That means listening to the client, leaning in, making eye-contact. You can't say how concerned
you are if, when the client is talking, you're checking your e-mail.
Can you elaborate about eye-contact?
When a client is talking to you, eye-contact is very important because it shows that you're
completely attentive. When they're speaking and your eyes are shifting all over the place, it's
like the politician who's shaking hands and at the same time looking behind your shoulder to
see who's next. It's important to give complete, full focus and to maintain eye-contact.
What body language should advisors be aware of in clients?
If they are easily distracted or looking around, they're not engaged. One way of dealing with that
is to engage them verbally. Let them talk.
If a client isn't believing what the advisor is saying, they may frown or shake their head. Advisors
should address this in a productive, constructive way. Phraseology is very, very important. You
might say, "By watching you, my sense is that you have concerns with some of the things I'm
saying."
What if an advisor gets the distinct impression that the client doesn't trust them?
I won't say, "My sense is that you're not trusting me." I may say, "My sense is that you have
some reservations and concerns. I'd like you to talk a bit more about them."
If you say, "You don't trust me," they'll become suspicious and defensive.
So active listening isn't a good tack here.
Never use active listening to reinforce something negative! That is, if someone says, "Raphael, I
think you're an idiot," I'm not going to reply, "OK, if I hear you correctly, you think I'm a fool. Is
that right?" But I could say, "My sense is that you feel I fell short of the mark. I'd like to know a
bit more about that."
When the market plummets, many advisors disappear and avoid contact with clients.
What's a better way?
Our research has found that hospitals that are open about things that have gone wrong have a
lower incidence of malpractice suits than those that are not transparent. The same thing applies
to [financial services]. An enormous amount of suspicion can be created among clients when
things are going south and they can't get hold of the advisor.
Does that mean initiating a phone call to them?
Communication has to be kept open at all times. People think we need good communication
when problems are arising. But the converse is true: Problems arise when there isn't good
communication. The time to [start] communication is not when things are going wrong but when
things are going right.
In business, being able to read people and quickly get a sense of who you’re
dealing with is an invaluable skill. It turns your encounter with a client into an
opportunity to catch a glimpse of the upcoming project and how it will need to be
handled. It is one of the building blocks of a professional relationship.
In today’s digital age, the arena has shifted to the Web, and the online office space
that most freelancers inhabit limits personal interaction. Though sussing out a
client’s personality via online communication is difficult, it still remains an
invaluable tool in your arsenal.

Image by Salva Barbera (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/524000).
In the freelancing field, you will encounter a range of client types. Being able
to identify which you are dealing with allows you to develop the right strategy to
maximize your interactions with them, and it could save your sanity. Below is a list
of the most common personality types and the tell-tale signs that will tip you off.
[Editor's note: A must-have for professional Web designers and developers: The Printed Smashing Books
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The Passive-Aggressive

Image by John Philip (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/983714).
This is the client who is very passive when you ask for initial input, but when you
submit the finished product, they aggressively attack it, demanding a lot of detailed
changes, both major and minor. They had an idea of what they wanted all along
but kept it mostly to themselves. Even though they showed appreciation of certain
ideas and elements throughout the development process, do not expect the
passive-aggressive client to keep any of them as they send revisions your way.
Identifying Characteristics
 Communication is mostly one-sided and unhelpful during project development.
 Makes statements such as:
o “I’m not really sure what we’re looking for.”
o “Just do something that would appeal to us generally.”
o “You totally missed the point of what we wanted.”
How to Deal
Patience is the key. Expecting the last-minute requests for revisions may soften the
blow of the client’s aggressive behavior. Keep your original layered design intact so
that you can easily refine and change it later (not that you wouldn’t, but it does
happen). Also, make sure your contract specifies a limited number of revisions.
The Family Friend

Image by Celiece Aurea (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/422180).
This is the client whom you have known for years either through personal or family
interaction, and this connection has landed you the job. The relationship will be
tested and perhaps marred forever by what could very well be a nightmare of a
project. This family friend believes he deserves a “special” price and unbridled
access to your work. They will sometimes unwittingly belittle your work or not take
it seriously because of their personal connection to you.
Identifying Characteristics
 These clients are easy to identify because… well, you know them.
 Makes such statements as:
o “Could you just throw something together for me?”
o “I don’t want you to think that just because I know you I want you to cut me a deal.”
o “You’re going to charge me what?! But we go way back!”
How to Deal
The way to deal with this client depends on how well you know them and how much
you value your relationship with them. But remember that anyone who would take
advantage of such a relationship is not truly a friend, so respond accordingly. An
honest approach could end up saving the relationship. But start off with a
professional, not personal, tone, and they may follow your lead. Of course, if you
truly value the relationship, you may want to pass on the job altogether.
The Under-Valuer

Image by Maxime Perron Caissy (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/514164).
Like the family friend described above, this client will devalue your creative
contributions. But there is a difference: you do not actually know this person. There
is no rationale for their behavior. They feel they should get a “friend’s” pricing rate
not because they want to be friends with you, but because they do not see your
work as being worth that much… even if they couldn’t do it themselves. Not coming
from a creative background or even having had exposure to the arts can mar
someone’s appreciation of the work that you do. After years in our field, we make it
look easy, and that is what the under-valuer sees.
Identifying Characteristics
 Does not respond to questions in a timely fashion.
 Makes such statements as:
o “It’s not like it takes much effort on your part.”
o “Couldn’t you just throw something together for me?”
o “How hard can this really be?”
How to Deal
Confidence is key here. You know what your work demands and how well you do
your job. The under-valuer will recognize this confidence. Don’t back down or
concede a point to the client when discussing your role in the project. Standing firm
will establish the professional and respectful tone you deserve. If the client does not
respond in kind, cut your losses and decline their project.
The Nit-Picker

Image by Bob Smith (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/418215).
This client is never fully satisfied with the work you do and will constantly pick on
minor details here and there that they dislike and want changed. Do not be
surprised if they ask you to change these same details over and over ad nauseam.
It is not a sign of disrespect (as it is with the other clients), but simply the nature of
the person. They may have been burned in some other project and are now
unsatisfied with everything in their path, including your work.
Identifying Characteristics
 Complains almost consistently about unrelated things.
 Personal outlook comes with a scathing bite.
 Makes such statements as:
o “How hard is it to [fill in the blank with any rant]?”
o “I’m really not sure about this element here. It just doesn’t pop!”
o “I don’t think you are really getting it.”
How to Deal
Once again, patience is important (especially if you have some sadistic reason for
taking on nit-picking clients). Try to detach yourself from the project as much as
possible, so that the constant nit-pickery does not affect you personally. It is easy
to feel hurt or get defensive when your work is repeatedly questioned, and you may
begin to doubt your skill. But understand that this is not about you or your talent; it
is simply a personality trait of the person you are dealing with. And once again,
protect yourself in the contract.
The Scornful Saver

Image by Ivan Petrov (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1102930).
This client has similarities to the nit-picker and under-valuer but is actually
impressed with your work and skill set. The criticize you merely to undermine your
confidence in an attempt to lower your pricing rate. Unlike some other client types,
the scornful saver understands creative people and their processes. But they are
cheap and manipulative, and their scheme may have worked in their favor once or
twice in the past. So, they continue to subtly abuse the people they hire in the hope
of saving every last penny.
Identifying Characteristics
 Compliments always come with a less-than-flattering qualifier.
 Takes time to respond to questions, sometimes making you ask more than once.
 Makes such statements as:
o “I really like what you’ve done overall, but I’m unsure about one or two things.”
o “You may not have gotten exactly what we’re looking for, but you’re close.”
How to Deal
Once again, it is all about confidence. Having a solid understanding of your field and
being confident in your knowledge and abilities will keep this client’s manipulation
in check. Standing your ground and even calling the client on some of their tactics
could shift the balance of power over to you. Be prepared to walk away from the
project if the disrespect and manipulation continues. There will be other projects
and other clients.
The “I-Could-Do-This-Myself”-er

Image by Maria Beliakova (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1070268).
Where to begin… When this client farms a project out to you, they make clear to
you that they know how to do what they’re hiring you to do but that just don’t have
the time to actually do it. They may be working at a firm or an entrepreneur; either
way, you are there to pick up their slack. If they’re at a firm, you could be in for an
interesting situation; they were likely hired for their particular style and proposals,
and now you will have to please two sets of people: the person who hired you and
the people who hired him.
Identifying Characteristics
 Will generally be (or look) hectic and rushed.
 Communication from them often takes the form of short bursts of information.
 Makes such statements as:
o “I could easily handle this if my schedule weren’t so full.”
o “Really? Not sure that’s the direction I would’ve gone in, but whatever.”
o “Remember, you are filling my shoes, and they’re pretty big.”
How to Deal
The “I-Could-Do-This-Myself”-er will likely have recognized your talent and skill
right away, which is why they hired you. They merely want you to know that this
project (and thus you) is not above their ability. And though these reminders will
grate on you periodically, they will let you run with your ideas, perhaps offering
suggestions or feedback on the final design.
The Control Freak

Image by Michal Zacharzewski (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/957040).
This client desperately needs to micro-manage every little detail of the project, no
matter their qualifications. No decision may be made without their explicit input and
approval. This tiresome client forces himself into your workflow, heedless of either
invitation or protest, and will demand access to you at whim. The concepts of
boundaries and strict work processes are easily lost on the control freak, who
constantly disrupts the flow. They may also believe you lack dedication or
preparedness, further reinforcing their need to interfere.
Identifying Characteristics
 Initial contact is long, detailed and one-sided, with little input sought from you.
 Your input remains unsought as the project pushes forward.
 Makes such statements as:
o “This way we can keep in contact 24/7 in case you have any questions, or I do.”
o “I really know best what is right for the project and what is not.”
o “What do you mean, I’m distracting you? I am the only thing keeping this project on
track!”
How to Deal
If you absolutely must take on this client, for whatever reason, resign yourself to
the fact that you will not be steering at any point. You will have to detach yourself
from the work because you will have no control at all. You will merely be
constructing, not designing, so just let go and let it happen. You may want to
exclude this project from your portfolio.
The Dream Client

Image by Piotr Lewandowski (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/426208).
This client, widely dismissed as a myth, does in fact exist and understands the full
scope and artistry of your work. They value your role and creative contributions and
want you in the driver’s seat as soon as the project gets underway. They are timely
with responses and payments… payments that they did not “negotiate” but rather
accepted for what they are. They reflect on your suggestions and have confidence
in your capabilities.
Identifying Characteristics
 Is enthusiastic about the project and your involvement in it.
 Communication shows awareness of and respect for your role.
 Makes such statements as:
o “Here’s the brief we prepared. The rest is pretty much up to you.”
o “We like what we’ve seen and trust you’ll do great things for us.”
How to Deal
Don’t brag! Just enjoy the ride and hold on to them for as long as you possibly can!
Wrap-up
Being able to identify the type of client you are dealing with will prepare you for the
job ahead. It will also help you decide whether to accept the job in the first place.
Your contract will reflect the power dynamics of the project, so the more you know
about the client, the better able you will be to adjust the contract as necessary.
Have you come across other types of clients in your freelancing career? Please let
us know in the comments.