The Art of Business Communication

The Art of Business Communication
Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Never forget you’re there to “sell trees,” because that’s what the interviewer wants to buy.

Or at least that’s what Rose Jonas, an executive coach and consultant, said in a recent article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in which she outlines some invaluable advice to interviewees looking to successfully win over their interviewer in order to get hired.

The advice is based upon a story in Joe Girard’s classic How to Sell Anything to Anybody in which a real estate agent sells a difficult home quickly by focusing on the values of the client. When the client remarks that the 18 trees in the backyard remind him of his boyhood home, the realtor keeps his focus on emphasizing the view of the trees from every room throughout the house.

Much to the amazement of his fellow coworkers, the agent is able to sell the house the day of at asking price. But, as he points out,  “I didn’t sell a house…I sold 18 trees.” The agent saw what was most important to his audience and focused all of his attention there, which led to a successful sale.

This ability, Jonas argues, is an essential element of interviewing. But even aside from interviewing, we see a much broader value in this idea. If you want to be successful in the business world, from working in a business environment, to interviewing, to leading people, you have to master the art of effective business communication. But what exactly does that mean? As we see it, “selling trees” in business communication can be broken down into three key elements.

First, you have to know what your audience cares about—what their core values are, and what matters most to them. For the realtor, this meant identifying the fact that his customer loved the trees in a backyard. In pitching a project idea to your supervisor, this means identifying their end goal—do they want a revolutionary new idea, a way to cut costs, or do they just want something that’s sure to work? If you can find out what that supervisor’s ‘trees’ are, you can focus on the values they care most about and greatly increase your chances of a successful pitch.

Second, you have to show what your core value propositions are—the qualities, skills, knowledge, and opportunities you can bring to the table—while framing them in terms of characteristics they care about. You may be an excellent problem-solver, but if you’re crossing over from a different field or type of position to apply for something new, your skills likely won’t be immediately clear to your interviewer. By focusing on specific problems you solved at your previous job, and showing how that ability will carry over to the needs of your new position, you can show your interviewer exactly what your value is. It’s one thing to say “I’m a good problem-solver,” and it’s another thing entirely to know what the new position requires and give specific examples that show how you solve problems.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, you have to know how to tell a story that connects what your audience cares about with your core value proposition. Conveying your core value proposition to the person you’re communicating with is a good start, but doing that on the terms of the person you’re communicating with is even better. If you know that you’re a good problem-solver and that your supervisor wants to see a solution that saves him money, come to the table with several specific solutions that reflect that need.

The realtor in the story knew that the buyer cared about the trees in the backyard, and everything he did afterwards was framed around that customer’s needs. Doing the same in business is a great way to ensure successful communication. By being realistic about the value you bring to the table, but still listening to the needs of those you’re interacting with, you can stand out above the rest.

The need for knowing what your audience wants and giving it to them is a tenant of all effective business communication. So the next time you’re struggling to communicate with others in a business environment, remember—you’re in the business of selling trees.

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photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

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