It’s not easy being a Rwandan that barely speaks Kinyarwanda. I mean, people take one look at your face – your 100 percent Rwandan face – and assume that you speak flawless Kinyarwanda. Usually, I try to go on as long as possible without giving myself away.
When it gets to that point where someone says a word that I haven’t yet added to my vocabulary, I just nod and smile (sometimes I even laugh) and hope that I’ve gotten away with it. Here’s a sample conversation:
Stranger: Bite - uri inshuti ya David?
Stranger: Ni wowe wajyanye nawe kuroba mucyumweru gishize?
Me: Er… umm… hahahahahaha!
In the meantime (while I’m trying to improve), most of business is conducted in English or French. It’s all very well leaving a social gathering with half the room thinking you’re a lunatic – but you don’t want to leave a business meeting that way.
Effective communication is extremely important in a business relationship: whether it’s between you and your staff, you and your client, or you and a supplier. There are three forms of communication I want to discuss – just stop me if you’ve already heard of them.
Let’s say you’re meeting with a client in person – at a café, or an office, or a conference. Apart from what they’re saying to you – you can also pick up visual clues. Are they leaning away, or towards you? This can show how interested they are in what you have to say.
Do the scratch or pull at their ear when you bring up a certain topic? This could mean that this topic makes them uncomfortable, or possibly that they think you are lying.
Do they seem focussed on you, or do they keep glancing around the room or tapping their foot or their fingers on the table? Maybe there is somewhere else they need to be and this isn’t the best time to meet with them to discuss business.
These are just a few examples of how reading someone’s body language is important in effective communication. You should also be conscious of your own body language. I used to cross my arms all the time – it felt comfortable – until I learned that this can make people feel (if only on a subconscious level) that you are being defensive.
So nowadays I try to simply hold my fingers lightly together – or better yet, have my arms completely apart – which usually makes people feel like you are more open.
Many business relationships start with a phone call. Someone tells you they know someone who could use your services – or someone passes your contacts on to a potential client.
On the phone, all you have is your choice of words and the tone of your voice – so choose those words wisely, and make sure your voice sounds confident and friendly.
Never talk while lying down – people can tell (trust me!)! Sit up straight. What’s great is that no one can tell if you’re at home or at the office - in pyjamas or in a suit!
Of course there are many disadvantages to this form of communication as well – you have none of those visual clues.
You can’t see their reactions to what you’re saying. Have you ever seen a friend on the phone, and they’re saying things like, ‘Yes, I’m really looking forward to our meeting!’ while rolling their eyes and making thumb down signs and gagging faces… obviously you and I never do that, but maybe you know someone who does.
Written communication is my favourite form – possibly because I grew up with a lawyer in the home. I especially prefer emails. Of course it limits the emotional connection you can make – but sometimes that isn’t very important.
Our company once worked very successfully with a foreign client where we communicated entirely via email. One of the aspects I prefer – unlike with a face-to-face or phone conversation - is that you have time to think up your statements.
You can use a thesaurus to find the right word or you could even ask Google for a template. Another wonderful, but dangerous, element is once you’ve written it down and pressed send there’s no going back.
Someone might not remember exactly what you said to them in person, but if it’s in their inbox, they just have to search for it.
So to all my fellow business owners (or future business owners) out there – just remember that whether it’s your facial expression, the tone of your voice or the way you sign off an email – you’re representing your company, so make sure you’re communicating effectively.
Laughing and nodding just won’t cut it.
Akaliza Keza Gara is the founder of Shaking Sun Ltd, a multimedia company.