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Professional Speaker Kelly J. Watkins
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Listening: The Silent Side of Communication
Attitude is Everything!
Talk Positively to Customers

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     "By Kelly Watkins, President of Expressive Concepts. Do you        
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Listening: The Silent Side of Communication
Everyone talks about the importance of good communication skills. In school, we learn how to speak and how to write. Seldom are we taught how to listen. Listening is an integral part of the communication process, and it is often ignored. There is no such thing as a bad listener. There are only people who refuse to learn good listening skills.

Here are seven techniques to improve listening skills.

1) Identify "listening situations." These are occasions when you say, "I need to be paying attention!" Examples include: dealing with employees, networking, negotiating, selling, marketing, and training.

2) Listen to understand, not to agree. Strive to see the other person's viewpoint. You want to see the situation from his/her perspective, not yours.

3) Stop talking. You can't use your mouth and ears at the same time. Also, don't interrupt. Let the person finish.

4) Concentrate. Focus on what the person is saying. This takes effort. The average person speaks 100 - 200 words per minute. The average brain can process 500 words per minute. During that 300-400 word "void," you have to work to keep your mind from wandering.

5) Watch body language--yours & theirs. Does your body language indicate you are listening? This is not the time to wave at someone walking by; sort your mail; or tug at your pantyhose. You may be able to do ten things at once, but your customer doesn't know that. Make sure your non-verbal cues indicate to the person that he/she has your undivided attention. It's also important to watch the speaker's body language. This includes maintaining eye contact. Does the employee look puzzled, even though he/she just said, "I understand"? Watching for non-verbal cues will help you to understand the speaker.

6) Paraphrase. This means to summarize the speaker's thoughts. "What I hear you saying is . . . ." This helps you to understand the other person's perspective. We all have different past experiences, and we use those to interpret our current situations. It is easier to assist customers or address employees' concerns when you understand their viewpoint.

7) Ask questions. Then you can obtain more information, clarify a perspective, or confirm a point. "Are you saying you want 300 of the green widgets?" Questions also demonstrate you are paying attention.

By Kelly Watkins, President of Expressive Concepts. Do you        
     have Executive Professionalism? Find out at

Attitude is Everything!
Do the moods of your coworkers rub off on you? Certainly. And, your mood rubs off on them. Whether good or bad, moods are contagious. So, ask yourself: what attitude am I communicating?

So much time is spent at work, why not enjoy it? Where is it written, "Thou must be miserable whilst thou workest"?

We want to enjoy our lives. We don't wake up in the morning wishing it will be a bad day. In fact, we awaken hoping only for the best. Then something happens. Some external force decides to wreak havoc on us.

We can't control these external forces, these "things" that happen to us. Yet, we can determine how we'll react. We are in complete control of our attitude. We choose to be irritable with a customer who can't make a decision. We choose to yell at an employee. Or, we can choose not to let these external forces "put us in a bad mood."

I remember (many, many years ago) a poster hanging in my elementary school which read, "You are what you eat." My fourth grade response was, "Yeah, right. I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Will my legs become doughy, and will my insides fill up with gooey stuff?" (Now I realize the answer is "yes." Everything I eat does appear on my thighs, and my insides are full of gooey stuff--plasma, blood, and cells to name a few.)

The message from the poster still applies. What goes into your mouth plays a key role in how the rest of your body reacts. The same is true for your mind. You are what you think. The thoughts we put into our minds directly affect the rest of our body.

If negative thoughts can have a negative effect, then positive thoughts can have a positive effect. We all talk to ourselves--whether we want to admit it or not. While you may not be speaking out loud, you are communicating with yourself on a subconscious level.

What are we saying? Are the messages positive or negative? "I can't do anything right." "Everything I touch falls apart." "I'll never overcome this customer's objections."

When you hear yourself conveying negative thoughts, STOP. Then, start saying positive statements. "I know I can make this customer happy." "I can get this promotion."

When you focus your attitude and self-talk in the right direction, everyone wins. Your boss gets a more productive employee (with lower absenteeism). Your coworkers get to share in your good mood. Your customers receive your best service. And, your doctor gets to take a vacation. Most of all, you win.

By Kelly Watkins, President of Expressive Concepts. Do you        
     have Executive Professionalism? Find out at

Talk Positively to Customers
Do you have a positive attitude? Do your employees have good attitudes? You may respond with a resounding, "Yes!" That's wonderful, but do customers feel this warmth? Before you answer, consider this. I'm asking about the message you are conveying. This is about words, not mindset. Is your language positive?

Often our words may be technically (e.g. grammatically) correct, but they aren't the best choice of words. Little words of negativity slip into our vocabulary without us realizing it. You may be thinking: what's the big deal? Why worry over wording? Because in today's competitive environment, you must take advantage of even the smallest opportunity to make yourself stand out.

How do you determine if your company is conveying a positive message? Look around. Consider these three areas: staff, signs, and marketing materials/correspondence. Start by looking at (or listening to) the staff. Do they SOUND positive? Here are several ways to talk positively to customers.

1) Look for ways to turn negative statements into positive ones. Instead of saying, "I can't help you, but I'll get someone who can" reply with, "I'll get someone to help you."

2) Be careful not to inadvertently turn a positive comment into a negative one. This occurs when you begin a sentence in a positive manner and then segue to the next sentence by using negative words, such as "but," "however," or "yet." Instead, try using the word "and" to avoid negating the positive statement you were making. For example, the following statement sounds negative, "I think you can take your vacation next month, BUT I'll have to look into it." Replacing the word "but" with "and" changes the whole tone of the sentence. "I think you can take your vacation, AND I'll look into it."

3) Avoid obviously negative words such as "no" and "don't." These should send up red flags in your mind. Rephrase this statement, "NO, we DON'T offer cash refunds on products that have been opened" to say, "We're happy to exchange it for another product."

4) Use caution with the word "only." It's tricky because it can be construed as positive in some situations and negative in others. Here is a way to use "only" as a good sales tool: "We're happy to do that for only $5 more." This appears more friendly than, "We can do that, but we have to charge $5 more."

On the other hand, there are times when "only" can be interpreted as disagreeable. For example, "We only have two types of widgets" sounds as though your company has a limited selection. In fact, maybe your company is the only one in town that has more than one type. So, omit the word "only." For example, "We offer two types."

By avoiding the word "only" you can also offer customers alternatives, which is particularly useful with an upset customer. Instead of saying, "This is the only thing I can do," try putting a positive spin on the situation by saying, "I can offer you two options." While the customer may not be thrilled with the two selections, at least he/she gets to make a choice.

5) Don't start by telling a customer what you cannot do. (See how negative that sentence appeared?) Focus on what you can do. Instead of saying, "I'm not authorized to make that decision" try responding with, "I'll call the manager so you can speak directly to him/her."

When you want to talk positively to customers, the second area to consider is signs. That's right--"wording" also applies to the written word.

When customers enter your office or store, do they feel welcome? Or, are they bombarded with a list of "don'ts"? How about altering the sign at the cash register? Change it from, "We don't accept American Express" to "We accept Visa & MasterCard." Signs in the aisle can read, "Please ask for assistance." That is more appealing than, "Don't handle the merchandise."

Create a positive impression even before customers enter the building. Have the sign in front read, "Please park elsewhere." That sounds better than, "Don't park here."

The third area to be reviewed is written correspondence: flyers, brochures, and letters. Are they sending a friendly message (e.g. "Our customer service phone line is open from 9:00am to 9:00pm.")? Or, are these materials demonstrating an unfriendly tone (e.g. "The department closes at 9:00pm.")?

Are customers being encouraged to visit, "The sale prices are good through Friday"? Or, are you sending negative signals by writing, "The sale ends Friday"?

Some wording can't be changed. Legal requirements or federal regulations require things to be spelled out specifically (and often negatively). Other than these special circumstances, try thinking "yes" instead of "no." Then, you'll be standing out from the competition by using positive language.

By Kelly Watkins, President of Expressive Concepts. Do you        
     have Executive Professionalism? Find out at

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