Thursday, March 27

Charlie was almost invariably the brightest person in the room. Both he and most others agreed. As problems were being laid out at meetings, Charlie squirmed with the patience of a rhinoceros with a harpoon in his liver. Then, when the call for solutions came, you could count on Charlie’s being the first words. "I think, as any of you can see, what we really need to do here is this …"

It is easy to spot the ways in which Charlie is the master of graceless and ineffective communication. But how good are we at pulling the mote from our own eye? To help our conversations and writing be more effective, the American Management Association is presenting "How to Communicate with Diplomacy, Tact, and Credibility," on Thursday and Friday, March 27 and 28, at 9 a.m. at the West Windsor campus of Mercer County Community College. Cost: $1,795. Call 877-566-9441 or visit Brent Baer, founder of Baer Essentials in Teaneck, presents the course.

There are two kinds of top sales persons. The first falls in love with his product and his obvious enthusiasm carries him through. Baer is the second kind – a man with that natural gift for selling; and be it cars or computer chips, he can make customers absolutely crave what he shows them. Baer grew up in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, son of a father who stayed in one small firm for 51 years, working his way up from clerk to president. Rebelling against this parental lesson in steadfastness, young Baer attended Rutgers University, starting out to study pre-med. Midway, he switched to marketing, and attended George Washington University. He graduated in l982 with a business administration bachelors and set out to sell.

Baer began in the burgeoning high tech field, selling for Lanier Business Products in Washington, D.C. "I made sure every senator and aide realized that they needed a Dictaphone," he recalls. He kept in technology, selling computers for Motorola, then made a brief splash with his own novelty company.

Intrigued by Dale Carnegie, Baer joined its sales team and soon became the company’s top seller, bringing the Carnegie method to more IBM members than anyone before. "After seven years, I decided I wanted to teach the product, not just sell it." Thus, 15 years ago Baer Essentials was born. Today his company aids lawyers and executives in improving their negotiating and communication skills.

"You have to ask yourself," says Baer, "would you rather be right or successful? I realize there is a sweet taste of righteousness that comes with the former, but if no one hears you – who cares?" To avoid conversation becoming merely two alternating monologues, Baer urges students to consider the whole persona of speaker, the listener, and the effect of their interplay.

Presentation package. It’s not what you say, but what your listeners hear, says the old maxim. When one person speaks, a lot more comes into play than mere words. First there is the visual aspect. Does your body language radiate relaxed, but confident? Do you keep eye contact, but not glower? A good speaker learns when to make his gestures emphatic, threatening, casual, or dismissive. The listener here also has great control. He can urge the speaker on with nods and taking notes; or he may make it clear that the speaker is off track by staring upwards and putting the pencil behind his ear.

A 300-pound man once boomed into Baer’s ear, "Why does everybody say I am too aggressive? I’m a real teddy bear." The vocal aspect of speaking is vital to being heard and believed. Present your case in one single, steady dynamic, at one pitch, and your audience will be dozing in no time. No need to be vocally acrobatic, but shifting from loud to softer, like fine music, heightens people’s interest. Pauses, and varying of long and sort sentences also make speeches more listener friendly.

Finally, the words themselves do matter. Which inspires a more productive meeting? "Jones, we need to talk," or "Henry, have you got a few moments to chat?" Baer cites one manager seeking to enhance a worker’s job-interest and production. The manager approached and said, "I am not your mother. I was not put here to encourage and praise you. We are not paid for our actions, we are paid to deliver results." Baer recorded this little pep talk and played it back for the manager.

The manager stood appalled and like some religious convert, swore to change his ways. There is no setting, tone or position that could make such words acceptable, or make them achieve the manager’s goal.

Finding your type. There are as many types of people as there are people. Yet in dealing with workplace conversations and their effectiveness, Baer offers four personality scales, and suggests executives assess not only themselves, but their listeners. Place yourself along each continuum by answering the questions.

Are you direct or indirect person? Are you outgoing or more withdrawn? Do you handle tasks urgently or in a steady fashion? Are you very precise or unstructured in your speaking and approach? "There are no wrong answers here," insists Baer. "No one personal style is better or worse." But to effectively communicate with others, styles must be flexed to accommodate those of one’s listeners.

Are you are a person who wants to include all the details in an argument and tends to talk around the subject a bit? Truthfully, your style – and thus your argument – will not win with a bottom-line boss.

In such a case, the speaker might present the benefit first – "I’ve found a way to save the company $35,000 a month, and here’s how – before including the details. If the boss loses interest later, the speaker has at least sold him on the argument.

E-mail. "How often do you get involved in an exchange of E-mails to the point where the subject heading no longer applies to your letter?" asks Baer. The primary key is to think of when to use which tool. Heaven designed our tongues and the telephone for discussion and arguments. E-mail is a lousy way to debate. It is impersonal, seemingly emphatic, and holds none of the ameliorating subtleties of human face-to-face communication.

Conversely, E-mail serves as an ideal funnel for information. For this reason, place your primary point in the first line. When replies begin to veer off to another topic, start a fresh E-mail. As a rule, one reply, two at most, are the acceptable maximum for any single E-mail.

There two conflicting schools of E-mail presentation. The first is a letter style, setting each E-mail with a full signature up top (name, address, phone). Then follows "Dear Whoever," and the missive. At the end, sign "Sincerely," and your name. This written letter style gives your message a certain formality and weight. It will more likely be read, not browsed. It also distinguishes visually your letter from the rest of the cyber hash marks that often get included.

Those wielding hand held devices, however, often complain about this method because their one-line E-mail slots show only the sender’s signature, and they have to endlessly scroll to find the meat of the message. So it might be best to consider into what sort of box your E-mail will be landing.

If Charlie really is the brightest person in the room, he should probably be able to realize his effect on people and deduce ways to make appropriate changes. While his brain may still seethe impatiently inside, his encouraging nods and "Mm-hmms" may increase his respect at the meetings. And if he is really sharp, Charlie will wait like a lion in the brush for that perfect moment. Then he will seize that moment, which comes in every meeting, when the the very next solution presented, whatever it is, is the one they adopt. Of course, that’s only if Charlie chooses to get his way, rather than be righteously ignored.

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