Electronic communication – in such forms as email, texting and social media – are being used to replace spoken communication rather than to enhance it, says Kevin Lust, a communications consultant and long-time presenter at Buildex Vancouver. "Digital communication is making it easier to be misunderstood," he said.
"That can lead to not only increased frustration between people who need to work together, but also to taking more time and money to get things done."
Email, social media and the rest of the growing family of electronic communication have undeniable benefits for construction executives and on-site personnel. On the other hand, the founder and president of Lust Development Group Inc. said, they aren't always the best medium for asking a question or passing along information.
"In construction you're not in continuous contact with each other, particularly between the office and the jobsite," he said. "To overcome the challenge of distance, you need to have regular voice conversations with the people on your team, by picking up the phone or by meeting face-to-face."
He added that everyone in the construction industry needs to communicate effectively – to pass on and to acquire easily and smoothly the information needed to get the job completed on time and on schedule. To be effective, they don't need to be glib and smooth like a talk show host. Lust said there are a few simple rules to follow to be on the way to becoming a great communicator.
"The first thing to remember is don't talk so much," Lust said. "Instead, take more time to listen to the other person. Unfortunately, what most people do is talk about themselves and what they want."
Lust provided a related tip. Instead of telling the other person what's on your mind, ask them what's on theirs.
"Ask lots of questions," he said. "If you're talking to a subordinate, instead of telling them what to do, ask them 'What do you think?'" "Their answer will probably be similar to what you would have said. But, because they think they came up the idea themselves, they're more likely to carry it out quickly and with enthusiasm." Finally, adjust yourself to the different communication styles of others.
"Everyone is different," Lust said. "Some people are less talkative and less direct than others. To make everyone feel comfortable and relaxed, and therefore more likely to say what's on their mind, adjust your speaking style to match theirs."
Two fellow communication experts who have influenced his thinking are actress and executive speech coach Jan D'Arcy and negotiation guru Roger Dawson. D'Arcy says your listeners need to thoroughly understand your ideas before they can accept them.
To do that, you need to be absolutely clear. Choose words that have only one meaning and cannot be misinterpreted.
Avoid fat or abstract words like "quality," "professional" or "futuristic." Be concrete. Engage the senses of touch, sight, smell and taste by using words such as "icy," "shrill," "silky" or "fragrant."
Another D'Arcy tip is to adjust your message to people who know less about the subject than you know. To do that, use lots of concrete examples. Avoid acronyms and buzz words. Negotiating coach Roger Dawson said anyone can become a good negotiator if they follow a few simple techniques. For example, never say yes to the other side's first offer. When you say yes to their first offer, you automatically trigger two reactions in their mind. First, our side could have done better. Second, something must be wrong if they are agreeing to an offer that we didn't think they would accept. Dawson said the key to success at the bargaining table is to ask for more than you expect to get.
You might just get what you're asking for and the only way you will find out is to ask. Another negotiating tip is flinch at the other side's proposal. Always react with shock and surprise that they would have the nerve to ask you for such a concession. Use the vise technique. Listen carefully to the other side's proposal and then say, "I'm sorry, you'll have to do better than that." Then be quiet. The next person to open their mouth will have to make a concession and you don't want that person to be you.