Solving the Effective Communication Puzzle 

Mobility magazine, October 2009 

Any puzzle enthusiast knows that there is a method to piecing together a difficult jigsaw puzzle. By following the puzzle-solving strategy, Seskey says it should be simple to piece together an effective communication policy that can be understood by all parties to a transfer assignment.

By Christina Seskey 

It should come as no surprise that communicating across many different cultures and media has long been a tricky puzzle to solve in the relocation industry. Always seeming to be missing those last few pieces that make the whole picture come to life, it is easy to overlook the big picture.

But any puzzle enthusiast knows that there is a method to piecing together a difficult jigsaw puzzle. You start with the corner pieces, then work the outside border, work inward by matching colors or piece sizes, and finally put it all together by placing that final piece. There is no crime in looking at that box top for reference, either.

So, by following the puzzle-solving strategy, it should be simple to piece together the effective communication puzzle and ensure that every communication shared with clients, vendors, and transferees alike is showing the big picture: excellent customer service; every time.

The Corner Pieces

Every puzzle has four corner pieces that hold all of the sides together. The four sides of the communication puzzle are:

  1. the message;
  2. the communicators;
  3. the context; and
  4. the feedback.

Communication happens anytime there is information (a message) shared between two points (the communicators). These two points are the sender and the receiver. The roles of sender and receiver often are interchangeable and can alternate multiple times throughout a communication.

Each required component has an important role in the communication puzzle. The sender is responsible for encoding the message and sending it via a medium (air waves, e-mail, telephone, and the like) to the receiver who is responsible for decoding the message and acting on it. The success of the communication will depend on how the message is received and if it is decoded properly.

The most common communication pitfall is the inability to judge the tone of a communication. Espe­cially when communication is in an electronic form, it is hard to know if that person was upset or happy when he or she used a handful of exclamation points at the end of that message.

The context often will decide how the receiver will understand the message and how he or she will form a response. The continual loop of receiving and responding is the basis of what communication is built.

 

Puzzle Glue: Tips for Good Communication

 

  1. Know your audience.
  2. Set realistic expectations.
  3. Make a communication plan.
  4. Adapt your communication style to meet theirs.
  5. Do not rely on technology just because it is more convenient; pick up the phone.
  6. Make it easy; be concise.
  7. Be empathetic.
  8. Listen more, talk less.
  9. Take action.
  10. Follow up.


The Outer Border

The outer border of the effective communication puzzle represents a point from which the inner workings will be laid. This border is the communication plan. When communicating, a plan always should be in place. Whether its something that you have written down or something that you have naturally done time and again, you have a method that works. An effective communication plan includes the following six pieces.

  1. With whom are you communicating? Knowing who the receiver of the communication will be can help ascertain the rest of the communication plan. An effective communicator always analyses their audience. Whether it is through an introduction phone call, a pre-move survey, or a pre-advise, the job of the communicator is to figure out what works best for the audience.
  2. What are you communicating? What needs to be communicated? The answer to this question may lead to one specific medium of communication over another. For heavily detailed information, an e-mail may suit best. For a follow-up on a time-sensitive matter, perhaps a phone call would be more effective.
  3. When will you communicate? Knowing the time of day that the communication will take place helps to establish the environment. Will the transferee or vendor just be starting their day, heading to lunch, or getting ready to call it a night? Be patient with each other, if there are distractions for either party, offer to reschedule when you have each others full attention.
  4. Where will you communicate? The location of both the receiver and the sender needs to be taken into consideration. Will there be noisy interference if you call during office hours, or will they be in transit to or from work in a vehicle? For the best results, choose an environment that offers the greatest opportunity for quiet and clarity. You do not want garbled communication or background noise.
  5. Why is the communication necessary or important? It always is important to ask why the communication is necessary. Why does it matter to the receiver? Why should they listen to the message? If there is not a reason why, then it is not a necessary communication.
  6. How will you communicate your message? Sending the message is just as important as preparing to send it. How will you communicate? Will you use e-mail, will you call, or will you update a website? How will the receiver see your message? E-mail is great for some things (facts), but easily can be misunderstood on an emotional level. When in doubt, pick up the phone. There is no substitute for this act to deliver great customer satisfaction.
 

Taking a Peek at the Box

The next time you put together the effective communication puzzle and you find yourself stuck on what pieces go where, remember that taking a peek at the box is okay. Ask questions, seek answers, and look for information from any sources that are available to you. Knowing when and where to turn for help can showcase your credibility and emphasize your willingness to go the distance for your customers and vendors alike.


The Inside Pieces

Once the communication plan has been laid and established, you now have a framework to start working the inner picture of the puzzle. To get the big picture, you have to solve many little clusters of pictures before they start to blend together. The biggest communication breakdowns stem from four categories:

1. Language barriers. Language has, and always will be, an obstacle when communicating. In an increasingly global economy there is not one person left in the relocation industry who does not encounter some language barrier on a daily basis. Knowing how to overcome this can save everyone a lot of anxiety and help boost your successfulness in relaying important information in a fashion that everyone can understand.

  • Phone calls vs. e-mail—when dealing with language barriers, sometimes it is easier to communicate in an e-mail. Is there a native speaking representative in your office? Does one of your partners speak that language and could they help?
  • Translation software/websites—being able to meet your audience halfway is something for which translation software and websites are best suited. Sometimes making an effort to enclose your signature in a native phrase or salutation shows you are willing to go the extra mile for your customer and they will believe that you are really on their side.

2. Communication style. Through which medium does your audience communicate best? Do they prefer e-mails filled with a lot of information or short and quick voicemails? Or maybe they only want information regarding important details or need updates every hour? Knowing how they like to communicate and what level of formality they expect always will set you up for success. If you are in your comfort zone when communicating to a vendor, client, or transferee… chances are that you are not communicating effectively to them. Step outside of your comfort zone and communicate in a style that fits their needs, not your convenience.

3. Technology. Do not use technology as a crutch. It is easy to be consumed by never-ending streams of e-mails. Remember, there is nothing that can be communicated by e-mail that cannot be communicated by a phone call. Avoid misinterpretations—one cannot always judge the tone in an e-mail. Dialogue will avoid many conflicts and you can clear up any misunderstandings right away. A general rule is if there are more than three e-mails back and forth, it is time to pick up a phone.

4. Setting expectations. Nothing is more important in the relocation industry than setting expectations for clients, customers, vendors, and partners. If you set expectations early in your communications, you will not have to explain later, and chances are there will be less questions as to what was done and what was expected to be done. 

 

Missing a Piece?

Worldwide ERC® offers practical cross-cultural training. Global Mobility Specialist™ Training Module three will help you learn the basics of intercultural education theory and apply intercultural theory to relocation processes and real-time global business practices. Visit www.WorldwideERC.org and click on the silver “Education and Training” button to find out more about the three-day GMS™ training program and how to become distinguished as a Global Mobility Specialist™.


The Final Piece

The final piece that brings the whole puzzle together is feedback. Without this piece, the big picture cannot be seen as a whole. Feedback is important for about 101 different reasons, but most important, it helps you to find where your communication succeeded and where it did not. It allows you to gauge your effectiveness and change your communication plan so that you can be more efficient in future communications. Most of all, it provides you with the satisfaction that you have communicated in a positive way that made a difference to the client. After all, that is what we are here for.

Christina Seskey is a relocation specialist in the partner operations department of AIReS, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She can be reached at +1 412 249 6982 or e-mail cseskey@aires.com.