I recently celebrated my birthday with my family at a restaurant that is more upscale than our normal night out. When we told the waiter we wanted to select a bottle of wine, he happily said he would get the sommelier to help us. Never having gotten expert help selecting a bottle, my husband and I looked at each other nervously as we wanted for the sommelier to arrive.
What could wine know-nothings like us say to an expert? Would we sound silly trying to pronounce words we had only read on wine bottles? Would we understand his lingo?
We needn’t have worried. “Josh” arrived at our table and simply asked, “what do you like?” After my husband and I fumbled around a bit, he asked a few follow up questions that made it clear that he understood what we were saying perhaps a bit better than the actual words used. He also tossed in a little information about the influence of growing regions and other wine-making factors on the characteristics we were looking for.
Now someone we felt understood our interested and that knew his stuff, Josh made a few recommendations. Choices! We considered the three he selected and chose one.
The wine was perhaps the best we have ever had (although not the most expensive.) As we sipped, we enjoyed a feeling of success that average people like us were able to communicate with a wine expert with such fine results.
There’s a lesson in here for anyone who needs to work with clients who know little about our field of expertise. The challenge is to bring that expertise to our work in a way that is accessible and understandable to anyone. In plain English, we need to:
- Ask questions
- Listen carefully to the meaning beyond the words
- Offer our expertise in a way that lets clients know that our advice is well-informed
- Offer options and explain the rationale for each
That all sounds easier than it is. It’s much easier to jump right into offering expertise without taking time to listen to potentially irrelevant comments and tease out requirements that you already can guess at. But skipping the steps that help build relationship and rapport with clients makes your advice less likely to be on target and well received.
You have to start by building a relationship, and that starts with asking and listening. That relationship creates the I-know-you-and-you-know-me context that is the foundation for successful communication moving forward.
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