Being Great Communicators Means Listening, Too

bob and gege header

By Shellie Kreter, BBB Communications Assistant

Bob Serben and GeGe Mix of The Learning Initiative are the presenters in the next Passport To Learning webinar, scheduled for noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 25.

Serben and Mix run a consulting firm that provides advice about marketing and communications, training, and distance learning. They’ll explain their theory about the four styles of communications they’ve identified and give practical tips for communicating well with both employees and customers.

BBB: You are the first two-person team to lead a Passport to Learning webinar. How did you decide to work together?

GeGe: We had known each other personally, but then we were both teaching at Maryville in the MBA program. We had classrooms next door to each other, so when we had our breaks at the same time we used to talk and share ideas. That’s where we really started to understand that we had a lot in common in our skills and ideas.

Bob: I agree! Looking back, it seems like this partnership was bound to happen. We’re united on the direction that we’re going—we believe that our respective missions are really to help people perform better through skill development.

BBB: What kind of team are you? How do you work at divvying up responsibilities?

GeGe: I like working with Bob because it fills in the gaps and skills that I don’t have.  I’m more the communications and marketing side, while he does training, distance learning, and working with people to help them with their skills.

Bob:  I found that it’s helpful to work with someone because of the learning opportunities. You can come up with an idea that seems great to you, but often you need someone to bounce that idea off of before it can fully form. New ideas and concepts are really sharpened by talking with someone else who shares your perspective about them.

BBB: Communications is a wide field right now, and getting wider as it continues to be democratized on the Internet—

GeGe: I’m not sure I agree. Our partner Steve (Finkelstein, who presents the Oct. 22 webinar) was coauthor of a study that identified skill gaps in today’s work force. Written and oral communications both were actually two of the biggest gaps, so that’s one reason we’re focused on communications at the Learning Initiative. We want to provide practical education and learning for businesses, and we’ve focused on the skills that business people need, which sets us apart from other, similar firms.

Bob: I can’t think of a business process that isn’t dependent on communication to be successful. Whether it’s working with employees, training employees, or solving customer issues, everything comes down to communication.

BBB: What sets your theory of communications apart?

Bob: One of the things that we focus on is the two primary directions in business communication: face-to-face communication and email. We have all these various technologies for communicating now, but I understand that my success will be based on my ability to talk to people face-to-face and my ability to answer email. We think that’s terribly important.

GeGe: One of the main things we like to emphasize at the Learning Initiative is understanding your communications style. There are four basic types of communications styles, and when you sign up for the webinar, you’ll get a questionnaire to answer that will let us tell you what your communication style probably is. It’s closely related to your social style and your personality—the idea goes back to psychologists a hundred years ago. They already believed that people give and received information differently based on individual style.

Bob: One of the things I like about the styles approach is that it puts the focus on listening to the other person. My belief is that successful communication is when you really listen to the other person and really try to understand them, not just hearing yourself speak.

BBB: That sounds really valuable. Communications strategies that focus on talking but forget about listening can be frustrating.

GeGe: Like Bob says, the styles approach isn’t about making sure that you function best, it’s understanding who you are. For instance, I’m one of these people that likes to talk about big ideas, but I needed to go speak to a bunch of engineers once, and I knew that that was not what they would want.  I had to change my style in order to be more precise in my thinking and give them just facts and information.

BBB: Aside from talking about communications styles, what are you looking forward to most in the webinar?

GeGe: I’m mainly looking forward to the Q&A session. That’s when we really find out what people feel are their needs, and we get to make sure that we’re helping them.

Bob: I agree with you: The fun part of these things is hearing back from people about what their needs are. Our ability to be of help to those folks is based on our ability to understand what they’re looking for and the challenges they face.

BBB: You both used to teach as adjunct professors at Maryville. How do you feel about webinars as compared to a more traditional classroom setting?

GeGe: Webinars are a wonderful tool because you can meet with a geographically dispersed work force. This webinar series reaches people in 92 different counties throughout your BBB’s region, who have an opportunity to participate in this. The other great thing is that it’s not just a one-way broadcast. In addition to the Q&A session at the end, we have a chatroom where attendees can ask questions. We also have polls throughout the session where they can participate and express ideas.

Bob: The overwhelming advantage of distance learning is that it is extremely convenient for the learner.

GeGe: Even if it takes time to set up a webinar, it’s still less than the three hours you might need to spend driving to attend a one-hour seminar.

BBB: You make a good argument for embracing technological progress in education. What do you wish were different when you were a student?

GeGe: I wish we’d had the Internet! That would have been so helpful for research. I think the Internet is really helping with education because you can be in the same learning experience with people all over the world now, and you can participate in webinars with people who have lots of different perspectives. The world is a much smaller place because of the Internet, and I like that.

Bob: One of the reasons I love the Internet so much is that it allows you to hear a variety of perspectives, and in many instances you’re not the only one with a particular problem. I love that if I have an IT problem, I can Google it to find the answer—and probably see that I’m not the only person in the world dealing with that  issue. I find that very reassuring.

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