How late is too late?

Image result for overdue notice

Big companies in the UK have recently been accused of delaying payment of their invoices for unfairly long periods.

Companies normally pay on 30, 60 or 90 day terms but some of Britain’s largest corporations have been holding off paying suppliers for over 100 days.

Who’s responsible for this? Are suppliers failing to keep their receivables in check or are these big companies exploiting their suppliers?

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK labour party, believes that companies are delaying payment to free up cash on their books and are transferring risks to their suppliers. It’s a major problem for small suppliers as they have very tight operating margins.

Corbyn believes the government should introduce regulation to protect smaller suppliers and force debtors to settle their debts promptly.

The companies in question deny the accusation and claim they always treat their suppliers fairly.

Whose side are you on?

  1. Does your company pay on 30, 60 or 90 day terms?
  2. How long do you hold off paying suppliers? Why?
  3. Ho do you keep your accounts in check?
  4. How do you free up cash on your books?
  5. Do you transfer risks to your suppliers or customers? How do you do this?
  6. How tight are your operating margins?
  7. Do you settle debts promptly?
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What does your feedback say about you?

How do you give feedback?

Businesses without a strong feedback culture miss opportunities to grow and improve but believing feedback is important is not enough. Great leaders use feedback to develop performance and choose language carefully to inspire the results they want in the future.

Consider this example:

A team member sent an email to a client without correcting the spelling. As you were cc’d, you noticed this. Which if the following would you choose when speaking to them:

  1. You should have used a spell check.
  2. Why didn’t you use a spell check?
  3. Next time, let’s use a spell check.

Learning point

  • ‘You should have…’ criticises. It shows that I can see the mistake but you couldn’t. It says ‘I’m better than you’.
  • ‘Why didn’t you…’ accuses. It says they don’t care and questions their commitment. Do you never make mistakes?
  • ‘Next time…’ inspires. It shows understanding and sets higher expectations at the same time.

Task

ARP Analyse – Revise – Perform

Analyse

Listen to yourself

  • Do you focus on past mistakes in feedback?
  • Do you order change rather than inspiring it?

Revise

If you hear yourself saying:

  • You should have…
  • Why didn’t you…?

Say

  • Next time…
  • Let’s… in the future

Perform

When giving feedback:

  • Look for what people can learn from the situation.
  • Focus on how to improve in the future.
  • Talk about the next time, not the last time.

Theories behind business linguistics: Paul Grice (part 1)

Theories behind Business Linguistics: Conversational Maxims

This week, we begin looking at the theory with the biggest impact on business linguistics, pragmatics; the study of meaning in context.

In the first of two posts, we begin by looking at the thoughts of one of the founding fathers of pragmatics, philosopher Paul Grice.

Grice’s Maxims

Grice identified four key factors to create an effective conversation. He called these ‘conversational maxims’.

These are basically four really simple statements as follows:

  • The maxim of quantity: Don’t say any more or less than you need to.
  • The maxim of quality: Say things that are true and provable.
  • The maxim of relation: Say things that relate to what other people have said.
  • The maxim of manner: Say things that are clear and unambiguous.

Grice’s maxims in training

Here are some tips on applying the four maxims in training situations to help the clarity and expression of your trainees:

Quantity:

When listening to someone, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have they explained themselves fully?
  • Are they still talking?

If so:

  1. Ask them to stop and think about what they said.
  2. Ask them if what they said was complete.
  3. Ask them to repeat their message with only the required information.

It’s a similar process when someone gives limited information that you don’t really understand:

  1. Repeat what you understood and ask if it’s correct.
  2. Elicit extra information.
  3. Ask them to repeat their message including the new information.

Quality

It’s easier to follow someone, and be persuaded by them if what they say is provable and measurable in your experience.

In order to help your trainees present clearer, more persuasive ideas, encourage them to use examples and demonstrate how their idea works in practice.

Relation

Have you ever listened to someone and had no idea how their comment fits into the conversation?

Have they been listening?

Why are they saying this?

If your trainees seem to comment at random, stop them and:

  • Ask them how their idea is linked to previous ideas in the conversation.
  • Ask them how they can show this link in their speech.
  • Ask them to repeat their comment showing the relationship to the conversation.

 Manner

In a conversation, it’s common for people to start speaking before thinking. As a result, ideas can be confused and difficult to understand.

When this happens to trainees, use this technique to help them:

  • Summarise what you think they’re trying to say.
  • Elicit exactly what they’re trying to say.
  • Ask them how they can structure their idea more clearly.
  • Ask them to repeat their comment.

These days, I find myself helping people express themselves clearly in all sorts of situations. Grice and his maxims have provided an invaluable tool to do that.

To find out more:

 Paul Grice, Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Logic & Conversation, H.P Grice, UCL Study Pack 

 

Can you hear accountability?

How do leaders and managers ensure accountability in their team and what are the signs of a lack of accountability?

Can you hear the language of accountability at work?

Does this sound familiar?

Team leader: Can you get this done by the end of the day?

Team member: I’ll do my best but I’m pretty busy.

Do you have confidence the task will be done?

Another way

Team leader: I need this done by 5 today. Can you meet that deadline?

Team member: It might be difficult I have 2 other deadlines.

Team leader: Well, this is a priority. How can I help?

What about now? Confident the task will be done?

Learning points

If you want your team to be accountable, you need to give them clear expectations.

If you give specific expectations, you’ll receive specific answers.

Don’t give or accept vague deadlines.

Task

ARP – Analyse – Revise – Perform

Analyse

Listen to yourself

Do you set clear objectives?
Do you give vague promises?

Listen to your team

Do they say yes or no directly?
Do they say ‘I’ll try’ or I’ll do my best’?

Revise

When you think:

‘as soon as possible’ or ‘ by the end of the day’

Say:

‘By 5pm’ or, even better, ‘when can you do this by?’

If your team replies ‘I’ll try’ ask ‘What help do you need to meet the deadline?’

Perform

Next time you set a task:

  • Be clear
  • Be specific
  • Expect clear responses
  • Follow up vague replies and offer help

Theories behind Business Linguistics: Speech Acts

Speech acts, a key part of theory of Business Linguistics

In this first post on the theory behind Business Linguistics, we look at speech acts, locution and illocution.

What would you understand if I said:

‘I order you to read this post’?

Your opinion of me may vary wildly but your understanding of the sentence is probably fairly unambiguous.

This is an example of a performative speech act. Where the words I use capture exactly what I am doing.

What if I said ‘I’m very much looking forward to hearing your comments on this post’?

Based on the locution, the meaning of the words, we could assume that I want to know your opinion of the post but is that the whole story?

What if you had no intention of reading the post? Does the above statement pressurise you into reading it?

Here we’re considering illocution, or the meaning of an utterance, rather than individual words. Illocution is often contextual.

Effective communication often relies on successfully transmitting and interpreting  the illocutionary force of utterances – the meaning behind the words.

Sometimes the illocution is obvious but it can very easily be misinterpreted, particularly if your dealing with someone from a different culture, with different illocutionary norms.

Improving illocutionary awareness:

Stage 1

Give learners some simple sentences, such as:

I’m cold.

Can you see the salt?

I’m really busy at the moment.

Ask learners to write an appropriate response.

Discuss the responses.

Stage 2

Introduce different contexts

e.g ‘Can you see the salt?’

  1. You’re in a supermarket.
  2. You’re at the dinner table.

Ask learners what’s the appropriate response now and why?

Stage 3

Ask learners to analyse their own language and decide if they rely on the locutionary or illocutionary meaning of language.

How might this tendency cause miscommunication or perceptions of impoliteness?

To find out more:

How to do things with words, J L Austin

Speech Acts, The Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy

How one word changed a world

Jonny was a sales manager. His team performed okay but he knew they could do better.

So he pushed them. He told them things like:

  • You need to close more.
  • I got six leads today.
  • You should visit customer X.
  • I always visit customers as much as I can.

Jonny had his appraisal, including 360 degree feedback. His boss told him his team felt:

  • demotivated
  • disliked
  • distrusted

Performance had to improve.

Jonny was shocked. He didn’t know what to do and decided to see a coach. The coach listened to him talk about his team and then said:

‘Every time you talk about your team, you say ‘they always… but I think they should…’ Are you a team? Do they know they’re a team?’

Jonny knew what to do. The next day, he went into the office and said:

  • We need to close more, how can we do it?
  • We need to visit our customers more regularly, how can we do that?
  • We can better results if we work together.

And things changed. The team seemed happier. They performed better. Results improved.

Because they were a team and everyone knew it.

Learning Points 

‘We’ combines. ‘I’ isolates. ‘You’ divides.

‘We’ creates accountability. ‘I’ creates ego. ‘You’ creates blame.

  • Managers who use ‘I’ sit above the team.
  • Managers who use ‘you’ don’t trust the team.
  • Managers who use ‘we’ grow with the team.

Task

ARP – Analyse – Revise – Perform

Analyse

Listen to yourself

Do you use I, you or we?

If there’s lots of ‘I’ and ‘you’ how does this affect the team?

Is morale where you’d like it to be?

Revise

Think about how you could let ‘we’ into your words.

‘I need you to improve’ becomes ‘We need to improve’

‘You have to…’ becomes ‘We need to…’

Perform

When talking to the team next, show them that you believe we are in it together.

Use your words to combine and share, not divide and blame.

 

 

 

What is Business Linguistics?

The most powerful thing in the world is an idea.

Ideas change the world, transform lives and destroy them. All of the best and worst moments in human history began with an idea.

But what happened next?

That idea was put into words. Words that inspired. Words that empowered. Words that transformed a simple idea and created a movement. A movement that changed the world.

And how was the world changed? With words.

It’s crazy isn’t it? Just a few words can change the world. How often do we think about it?

But what if you did think about it?

What if you thought about every word that came out of your mouth?

How would your relationships change? How would your performance improve? How much more effective would you be?

On this site, we consider the words that business people use. We look at how these words affect relationships and results and we discuss how changing your words can drive meaningful personal change and professional development.

If you work, look at the for professionals section for advice on how you can change your words to perform better at work.

If you train people at work, look at the for trainers section for tips and ideas on how you can make your clients’ words more effective.