Help Needed With Workshop – Got Any Ideas?

Towards the end of the month, I have to give a short (one hour) workshop on “Effective Communication Skills” to students here at the college.

They have asked me to specifically cover phone conversations and emails.

I have put a few random thoughts together:

  1. Cover the definition of “empathy” – letting them know they have to consider the person they are contacting and that person’s feelings towards the subject at hand.

  2. For instance, if making a complaint call, be aware you are speaking with some poor schmuck who is probably getting minimum wage and gets nothing but angry people cussing them out on the phone. Take this into consideration when speaking with that person on the phone. Starting the conversation in a friendly manner can often help greatly in getting real assistance with your issue.

  3. When corresponding with a boss, teacher or person of some authority, it is best to begin with a cordial statement of fact. For instance, instead of starting off by saying, “I am being treated like crap here”, you might start off by saying, “I would appreciate a moment of your time and hope you can help me resolve some issues.”

  4. Start off most emails of complaint with a direct, non-accusatory statement. Instead of saying, “Your stupid-ass product sucks!” you should probably say something like, “The Model 4321 Widget I bought recently does not seem to be working as expected.”

  5. Although the above examples are polite methods to begin what might be an uncomfortable discussion, you have to be somewhat direct and don’t take too long to get to the point. However, there is a happy medium between being rudely blunt or being a long-winded suck-up when starting such conversations.

A few basic tips:

A. Always get the full name and title of the person you need to reach.

B. When writing an email or letter or memo, or even preparing to make a call or having a meeting, it is best to create a draft first, put together your thoughts in a logical order. Then re-read the document several times before you even think about sending it or making the call. If possible, wait a day or two.

C. Correct spelling and grammar are important.

D. When speaking in person, or on the phone, be sure to enunciate clearly and avoid using any vulgarities or slang if at all possible.

I have more thoughts and ideas in outline form, but thought I would ask you clever people to come up with some other “basics” of effective communication skills.

These workshops usually only get about 10-15 students – tops – in attendance, so there is some room for role-playing or demonstrations, should you have any suggestions along those lines.

**With regards to effective communication skills, what have you seen/heard that was truly horrible and ineffective, and what have you seen/heard that was very effective and useful? **
(Examples would be very helpful!)

Spend your first 5 minutes covering the BASICS.

**When calling someone, identify yourself and your goal (in general terms) immediately - “Hi, this is Mystique, and I’m trying to reach Professor X to ask about his “Special Aptitude” class.” Normally when you call anywhere, you’re initially talking to a switchboard or gatekeeper of some sort, and they can HELP you, or make your life living HELL. Be clear and quick, and they will like you. Even in the rare case that you’re calling a personal line - include it as a courtesy and to make sure that you really are taking to the right person before you launch into your spiel.
When answering the phone, identify yourself and let the caller know that you know about their concern
. “Hello Mystique, this is Professor X - I heard you were interested in Special Aptitude?” This lets your caller know that you’re paying attention to them, and that they finally have the real person they wanted to talk to.
When calling, leaving voice messages, texts, or emails, make sure to include your name and return contact info in the body of the message (preferably BOTH phone and email - preferably as a text block closing).

PO Box 88
Xavier’s Academy for the Gifted

It’s hard for most college-age or professional people (regardless of age) to conceive of, but there are a decent lot of people who don’t have the ability to glean that info from the background of an incoming message - either through technology lacks (they have only a landline without Caller ID for instance) or through their own inability (my mother has the hardest time with returning emails to only ONE person out of a list of recipients).

I know you’re working with college students, but I really am shocked at how many people have gotten as far as they have in life without knowing basic stuff like this.

Otherwise, your points seem good, but 1 hour isn’t really that long. Tighten up your focus because a scattershot approach won’t let the attendees remember much of anything.

One other point to touch quickly on is *safety *- don’t give out things like your social just because someone asks for it, don’t answer personal questions, don’t be afraid to hang up on someone if the conversation takes a creepy turn. Lots of students (especially girls) consider directing and ending conversations to be rude or forward - people take advantage of that, and they need to know it’s up to them to protect their safety. Practice hanging up on a creeper for some fun roleplaying. :smiley:

From the stuff you listed, I’d focus on:

Professional (and specific) language use.

“This computer is TOTALLY FUCKED” vs “this monitor won’t stay linked to the CPU, the drivers are not correctly installed, and the CPU fan is running constantly.”
Pre-Drafting your script.

It’s easy to get sidelined during a conversation, especially if it’s an awkward or stressful one. Pre-drafting what you need to address is very important, particularly when you’re in context-poor environments like emails or phone messages.

Back to you -

Remember the rule of 15s - every 15 minutes, switch it up to something else. So a 15 minute powerpoint and then 15 minutes of roleplaying and then 15 minutes of you just talking casually…etc.

Good luck!

Two communication tips that are essential in the company where I work (in communications):

  1. Be as simple and direct as possible when using email. Most people receive far too many emails to pay attention to each one. Imagine that the person receiving your email is only going to read the subject line. Make sure the subject line contains any absolutely essential information, especially “response required” or the deadline. Now pretend that the recipient, have read the subject line, is only going to read the first line of your email. Make sure that line includes any essential information (expanded from the subject line). You can take the same approach for the first paragraph of the email as well.

  2. Be sure to provide full names and spell out any acronyms (for students, I would expand this to online abbreviations as well). This morning I received a response to an inquiry that said “I’ll have Joe take care of this.” That’s nice, but who is Joe, and how can I contact him if I need to? Don’t assume that your audience has the same context that you do.

Avoid the use of slang and colloquialisms. The world is becoming more global. They will be faced with different cultures and people who may be speaking English as a second language.

As well as trying to be clear in what you’re saying, check you understand what the other person is saying. Paraphrase the other person’s statement to check, or ask questions to clarify meaning.

At the end of a long conversation, summarise what you have agreed upon.

For emails, read your own email before you send it. Put yourself in the place of your audience and ask yourself if they will understand everything you’ve written. Remember, they don’t know everything you’re thinking, they only know what you’ve written down.

Don’t send an email in an emotional state. You will likely end up either apologizing, or stifling further useful communication. Give yourself some cool-down time if you’re angry or upset.

If you are writing an email because you want something, be very clear and direct about what you want and when you want it. Don’t make vague references and expect the reader to just figure it out.

Here is an example of all three, email to a landlord.

*Bad: It’s fucking hot in my apartment. Why don’t you give a shit?

Not as bad but not good: My A/C sucks. Please fix it. I can fix it myself if you don’t.

Better: The temperature in my apartment is 85 and has been like this for two days. The air conditioner is blowing air but the air is warm. This is my second email about this. Please have someone come today to repair it. I am also willing to arrange repairs and deduct the cost from my rent. Let me know this morning what you plan to do. You can reach me fastest by phone at AAA-NPA-NNNN.

Thank you all for some great suggestions!

And you are correct - a lot of my students don’t know some of these simple basics. Many are only used to texting with friends and have either forgotten, nor never learned, how to communicate with someone who is not a close friend and understands everything between the lines.

Keep your suggestions coming - I am putting this all together in outline form and will use as much as I can during the workshop.

I think we are meeting in a computer lab, so I was considering even having them send me a short email and then anonymously reading some of the things they have written.

Perhaps I should give some real life situations and ask them to correspond with me?

Also, I know of two students who work full time getting customer complaints. I am going to ask them to come in and give a few examples as well.