Wednesday, September 23, 2009

An Essential Ingredient for Selling Innovation

Clear communication is one of the critical skills for working well on an innovation team. It's essential to the innovation process in terms of: a) conveying solutions effectively,
b) diagnosing challenges and opportunities properly, c) ensuring successful implementation, and d) creating brilliant solutions in a team environment.

Yet it's so easy for communication to go awry. Many years ago, when I worked in the advertising field, I would periodically get phone calls from a recruiter, who would always try to hook my attention by asking something like, "How would you like to work on the Nestle business?" or "How would you like to work on Toyota?" What he meant was, would you like a job working for an agency working on the Nestle or Toyota advertising business? I admit, it did capture my attention, especially if I was having a bad day.

One day, after a particularly stressful one, he called me just as I had walked into my house (coat and hat still on) and proposed his latest opportunity, "How would you like to work on Mars?"

My response? "How would I manage the commute to another planet?!" I'd heard the offer as one that was literally out of this world!

Once I realized what he really meant, we both laughed (okay, he was annoyed at first, thinking I was joking with him...truly, I didn't get it!). In the meantime, we were both using the same words, but understood it to mean something completely different. Apparently he was thinking I'd live in St. Louis, and I was thinking I'd live in a place with, literally, no atmosphere!

While it is important to choose your words carefully (you must be responsible for that), it's also important to take responsibility for making sure the other person heard you correctly. That's why it's always a good practice to check their understanding by asking them what they heard you say.

When you're engaged in conversations (especially critical ones), it works best if you:

1) Listen. Repeat.

2) Speak in a way that people will be willing to listen.

3) Ask for their questions for clarification

4) Check that they heard what you intended them to say

5) Clarify as necessary.

This is critical for important conversations. And when you don't have a rocket-ship.

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