Do you make yourself clear?

4 January 2011
Straight talk. It helps. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Cut the crap. Should this be our mission statement for 2011? Enough of the mealy-mouthed flim-flam. Get to the point. The coming period of austerity will serve as a reality check for many businesses. This could play to purchasers’ advantage. Conversations and negotiations can focus on the bottom line without delay. Theoretical discussions can be cut down to size. And yet the pitfalls of being too direct, and too robust, are clear. Ask Serco. Its misguided missive from a few weeks ago, leaning very unsubtly on suppliers
to help them share the pain of upcoming government spending cuts, backfired badly. It is now on the back foot when it comes to agreeing terms with some of their key business partners. The importance of good communication was made clear at a recent breakfast seminar held by the Management Consultancies Association in London. Although
the theme was the future of consulting in 2011, the subject of procurement featured prominently in discussions. Of course there were some predictable digs aimed at purchasers. You may be relieved to hear that no mention was made of “paper clips”. But you will be perhaps even more disappointed to learn that, instead, “bog-rolls” was the all‑purpose category used to describe what buyers are looking for. One consultant sneered that,
in 25 years of dealing with procurement, he had never met anyone who truly understood 
value. Well, maybe he just needs to get out more. But the challenge he threw down is a good one. Can purchasers learn to speak the language of value, but in a clear and businesslike way? We come back to our old friend communication. This is one practical skill that every ambitious purchaser should be investing in. It is not just a matter of schmoozing the boss or buttering up colleagues. Good communication skills are now, more than ever, essential for succeeding at work. Take a look at our smooth‑talking prime minister. He is, critics sometimes complain, just a PR man. (I should point out that I work for a PR firm myself these days.) Well, David Cameron’s PR skills don’t seem to have done too much harm in his career so far. In 2011 we will find out what else he can do, other than present a pleasing prospectus. The perils of getting your communication messages wrong have been discovered by his coalition partner Nick Clegg. “Why did Nick Clegg cross the road?” ran the question on one student protester’s banner. Answer? “Because he said he wouldn’t.” But effective communication is about more than just smarm and soundbites. It involves give and take, listening as well as speaking. Stephen Covey, the author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, urges us to “seek to understand before seeking to be understood” Good advice. Recognising and understanding the pressures your suppliers are under is not a sign of weakness. It puts you in a better position to negotiate, and gives you more chance of doing a deal that leaves both sides reasonably content.
Darmstadt-Dieburg, Hessen (DE)
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City of London
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Bramwith Consulting
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