• Conversations - Business Relationship Communication

Improving the Most Important Aspect of Every Relationship

by Noel Bagwell
for ExecutiveLP

February 17, 2016

Relationships Are Hard Work

This month, I have been writing a lot of posts for the ExecutiveLP™ blog, all centered around the theme of relationships. On a Musical Monday, I wrote about promises, and how they relate to agreements between people. I shared my 7 Laws of Texting in Business, with a bit of commentary. Finally, I wrote about one very important aspect of attorney-client relationships: fees, specifically how to tell whether your attorney is charging a reasonable fee. In fact, I write a lot about relationships and how to manage them, because relationships are essential to business, but they are a lot of work.

I think expectations are probably what make relationships most difficult to manage. In the sales world, you hear a lot about “setting expectations,” and “managing expectations.” Based on their previous experiences, people tend to develop expectations as a very human way of dealing with the high information costs related to living in the information era (see Posner, “Rational Choice, Behavioral Economics, and the Law”). In order for those providing goods and services to reach people who need them, often (if not always) sellers have to overcome the incorrect expectations potential buyers have, which can present a barrier to trade and which, therefore, represent a transaction cost to the seller.

In order to overcome these costly expectations, one must focus on improving the relationship with the person who must decide whether or not to trade with him. Improving a relationship–whether a personal or business relationship–usually comes down to one thing: communication.

The Most Important Aspect of Every Relationship

How to Speak How to ListenThe best book on communication I have ever read was written by a philosopher, Mortimer Adler, and is called How to Speak, How to Listen.1 In Chapter 4 of How to Speak, How to Listen, Adler writes:

“Aristotle pointed out the three main tactics to be employed if one wished to succeed in the business of persuasion. There are no better names for these three main instruments of persuasion than the words the Greeks used for them: ethospathos, and logos. That in a nutshell, is all there is to it.”

To summarize the points that follow, without doing them full justice, Adler says one must first “establish one’s character,” then “arouse the passions” of the audience, “getting their emotions running in the direction of the action to be taken,” and, finally, concisely marshal your reasons. To that end, Adler gives some poignant, specific advice.

Above all, the persuader should avoid lengthy, involved, and intricate arguments. The task to be performed is not to produce the conviction that can result from a mathematical demonstration or scientific reasoning. Effective persuasion aims at much less than that–only a preference for one product, one candidate, or one policy over another. Hence the argument to be employed should be much skimpier, much more elliptical, much more condensed.

He adds:

Brevity or sparsity of reasoning is not the only factor in presenting a persuasive argument. Another is the employment of what are called rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions are those so worded that one and only one answer can be generally expected from the audience you are addressing. In this sense, they are like the unmentioned premises in abbreviated reasoning, which can go unmentioned because they can be taken for granted as generally acknowledged.

I am writing, here, only about persuasive communication, specifically a “sales talk,” because that’s the kind of communication in which I expect my audience to engage, the kind of communication I expect you probably want to improve. Whether you’re trying to establish or improve relationships with prospective clients or customers or you just want to be more authentic in your communication, you should pick up a copy of How to Speak, How to Listen.

Communication the lifeblood of every interpersonal relationship. If you want to improve your relationships, improve your communication. That’s the bottom line. Oh, and because this is a legal blog… remember that if your communication includes anything you might have to prove, in the future, get it in writing!

RELATED ARTICLE:  Getting More from Your Legal Service Plan
  • Recommended additional reading: Richard A. Posner, “Rational Choice, Behavioral Economics, and the Law ,” 50 Stanford Law Review 1551 (1997)
  1. Adler, M. J. (1997). How To Speak, How To Listen. New York: Simon & Schuster.

CC BY-NDThis article may be freely reprinted or distributed in its entirety in any e-zine, newsletter, blog or website. The author’s name, bio and website links must remain intact and be included with every reproduction. View general information about this license; or view detailed legal information about this license.