Jim Johnson

In this segment of our article series, we’re going to discuss one of my favorite topics - communication skills for technical professionals.

In our workshops, we like to start our discussion on the subject of communication skills for technical professionals by making a very direct statement, which is:

“You cannot not communicate.”

Have you ever heard somebody say this about a technician? “He really knows his stuff when it comes to the technical side of things, but his people skills really suck.”

If you’ve heard that about a particular technician, it’s quite possible that what’s going on there is that what he is trying to do is avoid the customer service side of his job. And that’s something we know is impossible to do, because like I just said … you cannot not communicate.

As a technician providing outstanding customer service, you simply must communicate well with your customer and be able to establish rapport with them. The idea of rapport is important to us as technical professionals. If there is rapport between a technician and the customer, then the customer feels comfortable about the technician and, ultimately, the entire organization that’s providing the service. On the other hand, if there is no rapport between the customer and the technician, the customer’s discomfort can lead to things like unnecessary complaints or callbacks.

So, I want to talk about how a technical professional goes about understanding the process of establishing rapport with customers, and to begin, I’m going to give a formal definition of rapport.

Here it is - rapport defined:

“A harmonious, empathetic, or sympathetic relation or connection to another. An accord or affinity. To offer back with grace and dignity.”

Now, like most formal definitions, there’s a lot to take in when considering this one, so I want to spend some time taking a close look at it.

When you read the first part through again, “A harmonious, empathetic, or sympathetic relation or connection to another,” you find the terms harmony, empathy, and sympathy describing a real honest-to-goodness connection between two people.

And then there’s the second part, “An accord or affinity,” an accord meaning an agreement between two people, an affinity meaning that comfortable connection that makes everyone involved feel safe and with a complete understanding of everything that’s going on between two people.

And those first two segments of the definition are good stuff, no doubt about it. But, it’s the last part of that definition that really brings the idea of establishing rapport with somebody home for me.

And here’s that last part again:

“To offer back with grace and dignity.”

For me, that really says it all when it comes to customer service for technical professionals. After all, more often than not, you’re there to solve a problem or fill a need for the customer. And they spend some time either telling you exactly what the problem or need is, or they need a lot of good information from you on how you’re going to solve their problem or fill that need.

And what better way is there to provide outstanding customer service than to communicate back to the customer … to offer back with grace and dignity … that you understand what they’re going through and what their need is? And what better way is there to let them know that you’re a competent professional who can solve their problem or fill their need?

Truly, there is no better way to accomplish that goal, but things don’t always work out that way, do they? Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the rapport just doesn’t happen. Which leads me to ask the simple question: Why?

Why is it that it doesn’t always work out? Well, one reason could be that the “offering back with grace and dignity” process just isn’t there. And the reason it’s not there is because sometimes two people are saying the same thing, but it’s being understood differently.

Let me ask you two questions:

First, have you ever felt that sometimes you just “click” with somebody right off the bat with what seems to be no effort at all?

And second, have you ever met somebody and just felt, “There’s something I don’t like about this person”?

Odds are that your answer to both of those questions is yes. And if it’s yes for you, then it makes sense that it could be yes for others - meaning your customer. There will be times that your customer will tend to feel they can trust you right away, and times that they are just experiencing an underlying feeling that there’s something they don’t feel comfortable about.

So what I want to do is present some information about a science of communication that can help you understand why things sometimes don’t “click” between two people, and what you can do to increase your “click” percentage.

This science came about quite a few years back when a linguistics professor and a math professor - John Grinder and Richard Bandler - asked the question, “Why is it that two persons can be exposed to the same information but understand it differently?”

The end result of their asking that question was the development of something called Neuro Linguistic Programming. Now, when you examine this carefully, here’s what you can understand:

First, Neuro means brain.

Second, Linguistic means language.

And third, Programming means information processing.

So when you put it all together, Neuro Linguistic Programming is a science that explains that a person’s brain uses a certain language to process information.

And what Bandler and Grinder were able to establish was that not everybody uses the same method. People are different, and that sometimes leads to a lack of good communication. As a matter of fact, they were able to establish that, fundamentally, there are three methods of information processing, and they are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.

What this means is that a person may lean heavily on a visual strategy - looking and seeing - for understanding and accepting things around them. While another person may use an auditory strategy - listening - to make sense of things. And still another person may lean on a kinesthetic strategy - getting a “feel” for things rather than relying on what they see or hear.

One simple way to look at Neuro Linguistic Programming is that we as human beings tend to be dominant in one information processing system while using the other two as support systems.

A dominantly visual person, for example, may be listening to what you’re saying to them, but they’re watching more intently than they’re listening. People who are dominantly visual respond well to things being written down on paper for them, or to things that are bright and colorful. And a dominantly visual person, when speaking, will use “sight” words to indicate that they understand you.

For example, if you were to ask the generic question, “Do you understand?”, a visual person may respond with, “Yeah, I see what you mean.” Or, if they’re asking you if you understand them, they might ask, “Do you see what I mean?” or “Do you get the picture?” They might also have a tendency to say things like, “Let me show you what I mean,” when explaining something.

Now, a dominantly auditory person won’t use the same kinds of words when they’re understanding things or trying to make themselves understood. They’ll use sound related words. If you were to ask a dominantly auditory person, “Do you understand?”, the response may be something like, “I hear you” or “That sounds right to me.”

And if a dominantly auditory person were asking you if you understood them, they might ask something like, “Am I coming through loud and clear?”, which by the way can sound confrontational to somebody who’s not dominantly auditory, and that can ultimately lead to some uncomfortable communication.

And, a kinesthetic person would respond differently to the question, “Do you understand?” They might respond with something like, “Yeah, I get it,” or “I’ve got a feel for what you’re talking about.”

Now, if a kinesthetic person were asking you if you understood something they were trying to explain to you, they might ask, “Catch my drift?”, which could be another example of a phrase that can be totally innocent to the person asking the question, but might make people who are not kinesthetic feel less than uncomfortable when they hear it.

Are you getting the picture of what I’m explaining to you here? Am I coming through loud and clear? Are you able to get a grip on what I’m saying about people, communication, and gaining rapport?

I’m sure you understand. The point of understanding Neuro Linguistic Programming is that, if you can figure out what a person’s dominant information processing system is, you can establish rapport with them by using the right kind of words that they are most comfortable with, and avoiding words that might make them feel uncomfortable.

And, of course, the other point I want to make here is that one element of knowing what to do as far as adjusting your communication to better “fit” with that of your customer, is to know what your dominant information processing system is. Think about it. If you know what you tend to lean toward in the science of Neuro Linguistic Programming, then you’ll be better prepared to understand when you have to adjust for your customer.

How do you find out where you fit into the Neuro Linguistic Programming profile?

Well, first you can apply some numbers. Visual people make up the largest part of the population. It’s estimated that sixty-five percent of people are dominantly visual. And surveys show that about fifteen percent of the population is auditory, which leaves about twenty percent of the population as dominantly kinesthetic.

Now, you can consider what your speech patterns are. Not just the words you use - sight words, sound words, or feeling and touch words - but also things like the volume and pace of your speech. Visual people tend to talk at a pace faster than auditory or kinesthetic people, and they also tend to project in a higher volume. Auditory people tend more toward a monotone voice pattern and their volume is lower.

And, kinesthetic people … well … they … tend to talk … a lot slower than a visual person and in a much lower volume, seeming to choose … their words … a lot more … carefully than a visual person.

This … is why sometimes … there are communication problems between kinesthetic … and visual people … because visual people sometimes get … impatient and finish a kinesthetic person’s sentences for them!

Another way to determine whether a person fits more into the visual, auditory, or kinesthetic area is to consider the kind of work they do. People who work in trades, crafts, or as technicians, for example, often tend toward the kinesthetic area simply because a lot of what they do involves touch. Visual people tend to be drawn into professions where they work with the public or doing presentations - teaching and the like - or maybe into visual professions such as art or photography. A musician, though, would likely be an auditory person, or they might tend toward a position in which they don’t deal a lot with the public.

Another way for you to determine where you are as far as a dominant information processing system is to remember how you learn best. A visual person understands things best when they can get a clear picture of what’s going on. An auditory person processes information most effectively when they can listen closely. And a kinesthetic person learns best when they can actually get their hands on something.

The point, like I said, is that once you know where you’re coming from, it makes it easier for you to understand how you might have to adjust to match your customer and make them more comfortable while you’re communicating with them. And, of course, the opposite of matching with someone is mismatching, which can lead to a real problem in communication.

To illustrate my point about this matching, mismatching idea, let me present an imaginary situation in which we have a mismatch between two people.

Imagine for a moment that one of those people is a nine-year-old boy, and let’s make him a dominantly auditory person, one to whom sound is most important. And, what I want you to do is imagine further that this young fellow is in a problem situation. He’s just broken a window on his house while playing with a baseball.

And now, our other person in this situation is going to be his father. Let’s make dad a little over six-feet tall and have him weigh about 250 pounds, and what we’re going to do with dad is make him a dominantly visual person.

So, now you have the two mismatched people - one a dominantly auditory 9-year-old boy who is in trouble, and the other, his six-foot, 250-pound, dominantly visual dad who is quite unhappy at the moment. And, we all know what’s going to be happening in this situation. Dad is not going to be silent about what’s happened here. He’s going to be talking fast and at a loud volume, which is something that’s going to contribute to the increasing stress level of our nine-year-old - as if he didn’t already have enough stress at the moment.

Another thing dad is going to be doing is something that visual people have a tendency to do - pointing. Pointing directly at his son while he, well, makes his point. And, we know that our young nine-year-old knows from experience that dad points when he gets upset about something. And he also knows what can happen after the pointing if things continue to go downhill. It can turn into an even more unpleasant experience. So, he wants to do everything he can do to prevent that, which means that what he does is he turns his ear toward his dad. There are two reasons our young fellow takes this approach to dealing with this situation. One is that he’s dominantly auditory. The other is that he’s in a very stressful situation, and hoping to honor his father as much as possible, which may prevent that even more unpleasant experience, he turns his head slightly so he can really listen to what his father is saying.

Now, at this point, this is where the mismatch in communication takes place. Remember, we said that dad was dominantly visual. This means that he’s not going to be happy with his son turning an ear toward him. Now, when that happens, it’s possible that one of two things could occur.

Dad could pause here for a moment and say something like, “Now, son, I know you’re dominantly auditory, but I don’t like it when you turn your head away, so I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t do that.”

Or, it’s possible that Dad could misread his son’s actions because there is a mismatch between an auditory person and a visual person, and react with something like, “Damn it! You look at me when I’m talking to you!”

And so those are the two possibilities - one, I think, much more plausible than the other.

I want to point out here that the visual father/auditory son and discipline situation I’ve just described for you is only one way in which there can be a mismatch between two people. Sometimes, the mismatch occurs when two people are doing a lot of talking, but they aren’t speaking in the same NLP-language, so they’re not communicating.

Which is exactly what happens sometimes between a technical professional and customer. So, like I said, if you can adapt and adjust, you can make a customer feel more comfortable while you’re communicating with them, and the end result is that they’ll be more comfortable with the products and services you provide.

Now, I know that depending on your perspective on what I’ve been talking about in this segment, you may not think anything of the statement I just made. Or, you may be thinking, “Wait a minute, are you saying that I should try to manipulate people into being happy with the work I do for them? What about ethics? What about being a phony?

Those are two good questions. After all, we’ve spent a lot of time on the subject of “typical salespeople” and why they shouldn’t be manipulative. So those are fair questions. Am I advocating that you be manipulative, or slick, or even downright dishonest?

No, I’m not, and I can explain what I mean in one simple sentence. Here it is:

There’s nothing wrong with doing well while you’re doing good.

What I mean by that is that it all comes down to intent. If you, as a technical professional, honestly believe that you and the organization you work for provide the best value for the customer’s money spent, and your intent is to provide outstanding customer service - and that any additional commission or bonuses you earn are, in fact, considered to be a byproduct of providing that service - then there’s nothing wrong with doing well while you’re doing good. And in Part Six of our series, we’ll provide some insight on how to apply a simple skill and eight universal laws of success that a technical professional can follow to do well while they’re doing good.

Note: The information for this article series is excerpted from Jim Johnson’s “PEAK Performance for the Technical Professional,” an audio learning program designed to help technicians develop their sales and communication skills. The three CD set can be ordered from: Technical Training Associates, HC 70 Box 3172, Sahuarita, AZ 85629 for $39.95 (shipping and handling included). Mail check or money order, or send Visa or MasterCard information to the above address. Credit card orders may also be faxed to 520-648-3334. For more information, visit www.technicaltrainingassoc.com.

Copyright © 2007, Technical Training Associates

Publication date:08/06/2007