Editors Note: Talk This Way

Geoffrey Tumlin’s book, which recently crossed my desk, lends much validity to my contention that dialogue in the salon world is every bit as important as the services carried out there. In Stop Talking, Start Communicating: Counterintuitive Secrets to Success in Business and in Life (McGraw-Hill, 2013), Tumlin points out that “bad communication habits are the punishment that keeps on giving.” You overreact to a sales consultant’s email, firing off a damaging reply; your manager offends your salon’s “friends” on a social media platform; a stylist on your team can’t resist a snarky comeback to a difficult customer’s provocation, even though she immediately regrets her words—whatever the scenario, when bad communication habits take over, the reputation that you and your salon have worked so hard to cultivate takes a beating.

Fortunately, Tumlin says now is the perfect time to be a competent communicator. “While it can be incredibly difficult to break free of bad habits associated with the distraction, expediency, self-expression and excess that characterize our digital-age communication, if we’re willing to cast off some of them, we can optimize opportunities to connect meaningfully with people.” Here, he sheds light on some of the most detrimental communication habits.

Voice of reason: When we’re agitated or frustrated, a battle plays out between our primitive, impulse-driven Neanderthal brain and our more modern, deliberative brain. Word selection is better left to the latter, because the Neanderthal prefers to club first and ask questions later. “A simple way around this is pause long enough to keep your more thoughtful and deliberative brain in charge of selecting the words you’re going to express,” Tumlin says.

Listen up: The digital revolution facilitated hypercommunication and instant self-expression, but made it harder for anyone to listen. Our thoughts are scattered, our minds wander and ever-present distractions make it difficult for us to focus on the person right in front of us. “Intentional listening will make you more present in conversations and will decisively improve your communication,” Tumlin says.

Be at ease: Suzi, the stylist occupying the station next to yours, talks too much. Your client, Melba, is moody. Whether they’re controlling, critical or cranky, the behaviors that make someone a difficult person tend to spark frequent confrontations—even though we’re unlikely to influence them. For instance, you may wrestle with Suzi to get a word in edgewise or try to offset Melba’s mood swings, but the difficult person remains the same and often you are in a weaker position. “Giving up your desire to ‘win’ by imposing your will on the other person can realistically and consistently improve your communication with difficult people,” Tumlin says.

Calm down: We often use more force than needed to accomplish our objectives. We yell when a measured response would have worked better, send a blistering email when a more restrained reply would have sufficed and issue an ultimatum when a firm but gentle statement of conviction would have done the trick. “Exercising restraint during a contentious interaction is challenging, but try to apply the least amount of interpersonal force and intensity necessary to accomplish your objective,” Tumlin says.

Great advice, indeed.
✂ — Kelley Donahue, editor in chief, [email protected]