Communication Skills for Craft Workers

First appeared in ‘Craftsman’ (U.K.)

Craft Workers get to communicate a great deal and in a variety of formats. They get to communicate with customers, colleagues, suppliers, bank managers, etc. Yet I would bet all the money in my pocket that the amount of training or coaching they’ve received would be approaching zero. I guess it’s uncomfortable for most workers, who (and I know I’m making a sweeping generalisation here) like spending a fair amount of time on their own, doing what they do best, creating things. However communication is vital and it makes little difference to your bank balance or self esteem if you’ve created the best piece of origami in the world if you can’t sell it. To sell anything you need to communicate, so here’s a useful piece of advice to help;

Have you ever been in this situation? –
“Yes of course I’ll be able to do that for you,” you’ll say. Whether it’s a sale, a commission, an offer to help someone else move house, anything. Then you’ll spend the next three weeks worrying about what you’ve agreed to, how you’ll find the time to do it and ultimately how you can get out of it.

When you negotiate, discuss, or agree to do something you need to go through a strict process. It may seem hard and time consuming but trust me, when you get into the habit it’ll save you so much time and anxiety that you’ll wonder how you survived before.

The truly effective negotiators have learnt to handle this part of a conversation extremely effectively. They communicate skilfully by talking and listening and ‘staying in the conversation’ until they are totally sure of the goal. This can be difficult. How often have you been introduced to someone and not caught their name? Do you ask them to repeat it? How often? A skilled communicator should ask as often as it takes to really understand. We all know the problems if we don’t do this – We spend the rest of the evening avoiding the person, or feeling embarrassed when we talk to them. This can go on for weeks. I’ve known people that didn’t catch someone’s name the first time they met them and never get to know them become time has gone on and they’ve become too embarrassed to ask them.

Let’s look at a situation you could well be in and apply these principles. For instance a customer wants to commission a fantastic statue of themselves, but are they prepared to wait for it? Or, more importantly, pay for it? There needs to be a great deal of skilful communication to tease this out. You need to be absolutely clear exactly what their requirements are, and their willingness to wait and pay. Start with lots of open questions;
“Describe to me what you want?”
“Could you tell me a little more?”
“I think I’ve got it. Would you just run through it one more time?”
“What is your budget?”
“What timeframe are we talking?”

Ask questions and listen to the replies. Invariably what the person thinks they want doesn’t match with what they can have. It may be better, or it may be worse, but inevitably it will be different. Make them aware of this in a positive way. They will be having a unique product. You need to see what they want clearly and they need to see what you can supply equally as clearly. Spend time doing this thoroughly. It will save so much unhappiness in the future it’s got to be worthwhile.

The key to this is asking effective questions. And how do you ask effective questions, you ask? You ask effective questions when you listen effectively. You listen to the person, what they say, what they don’t say, how they say it. Listen to that little voice inside you. If something doesn’t feel right it usually isn’t. Do it now rather than in a few weeks time having spent a small fortune producing a minor work of art that’s too big for their lounge.

If you aren’t sure then ask. This needn’t be a big deal. Just tell the truth;
“Well, you say there’s no problems about how long you’ll wait, but I find that after a few weeks people get cooler. Are you sure you are willing to wait six weeks?”
Stay in that conversation until you have no doubts at all and are completely sure what’s expected of you. This may seem incredibly strange to begin with but trust me it will save you so much stress in the long term.

The next part of the discussion is about your willingness and ability to meet their requirements. You need to honestly ask yourself whether you are willing and able to meet the request. Have you the necessary skills, knowledge, finances, to make it work. If you haven’t, then say so and try to work out a way to still help – suggest others, look at different approaches, but again ‘stay in the conversation’. Don’t stop and walk away before you’re absolutely 100% sure you know what’s expected of you. You know from experience that this won’t work, don’t you? The ‘problem solving fairy’ doesn’t miraculously appear and sort things out when you ignore them. Problems just stay there and grow and grow. It’s a bit like the washing up you meant to do yesterday, or the day before – it won’t sort itself out. It’ll just get a little harder to deal with each day.

This works in all negotiations. With your customers, suppliers, bank managers, anyone, and once you start using it, it’ll seem like second nature to you.

So, deal with these problems as they arise. Stay there until you’re happy and the other is happy. The good thing though is that it does get easier. In time people may come to regard you differently, “You’re a lucky so and so, “they’ll say, “You never seem to be left with work you can’t sell.”.
You can always come back with the classic Arnold Palmer reply, “The more I practice the luckier I seem to get.”

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