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Customer Service Focus

Speak, listen, and connect

Communication styles must match learning styles

By Linda M. Faulkner, CIC

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where someone was explaining something to you and you just didn’t understand what she was saying? So you asked her to re-explain and she repeated herself verbatim, only more loudly. Or more slowly.

Who had the communication problem? Did she or did you? She probably thought it was you and you probably thought it was she.

I think it was she. The person sending a message is responsible for making sure that the message is received properly.

The listener’s job is to listen. The speaker’s job is to communicate effectively. Success comes when the receiver of the message understands precisely what the sender of the message intended him to understand.

Learning styles

People learn in different ways: If the message sender doesn’t express himself in a way that the message receiver is able to understand, miscommunications may occur. Learning styles fall into three categories: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (hands-on). When reading a book, for example, people with different learning styles experience the process differently. Visual learners see the events in the book unfolding in their minds; auditory learners hear the characters’ dialogue as conversations in their heads; and kinesthetic learners feel the emotions and may envision themselves as one or more of the characters.

Let’s think about a situation most of us have experienced with a client. Can you remember a time when your client visiting your office had difficulty finding the words to accurately describe the events surrounding an auto accident, so he grabbed the miniature cars on the counter and re-enacted the collision? Or, perhaps, he drew you a picture? This is an example of the message sender (the client) first trying to communicate in a primarily auditory style while you, the CSR, were the message receiver operating in a kinesthetic or visual style. The client had immediately grasped that he wasn’t getting his point across and tried something else. Or, the situation could have happened in reverse; perhaps you suggested that the client use the cars or draw you a picture. In any event, effective communication skills were being utilized when someone realized a connection wasn’t being made and switched gears.

A person’s communication style tends to emerge from his predominant learning style. Obviously, we all see, hear, and feel—so we learn using all three styles. But each of us has a preferred style. Good communicators can switch from one style to another as they adapt to the learning and communication styles of other people. Poor communicators aren’t as adept at this function.

Body language

Also, remember that words aren’t the primary method of expressing what we think and feel. In fact, the actual words we speak represent only 7% of our overall communication. Our body language represents the largest segment—55%. And the tone of our voice, which involves volume and rate of speech, represents the final 38% of our overall communication.

Think about your dog. You can say anything—and I do mean anything—and if it’s in a high-pitched tone and you’re smiling, she’ll wag her tail in delight. Okay, I admit that people aren’t the same as dogs, but they respond in a similar fashion.

Think about this: Have you ever asked one of your friends how she’s feeling and although she said she was fine, you knew something was wrong? Why is that? After all, she said she was fine. Chances are, however, that she spoke softly and may even have hesitated before answering. She didn’t look fine either. Probably nothing you could put your finger on; she just didn’t appear to be herself. But you knew that something wasn’t right.

That’s because her body language and tone didn’t reflect the actual words she spoke. In fact, they reflected the exact opposite, and you perceived the correct message she was sending, even though her words contradicted it: She was anything but fine. In this instance you, the receiver of the message, were the better communicator.

Recognizing a lack of connection

You need to use body language to recognize when a connection isn’t being made. If you’re not paying attention to your client—e.g., thinking about the pile of work on your desk that isn’t getting handled while you’re talking to this fellow, then it’s unlikely you’ll pick up on the clues he’s sending with his body language and tone.

Here are some clues that the person you’re talking to/with just isn’t getting it:

• He stops making eye contact and starts looking around.
• He’s fidgeting.
• He interrupts.
• His volume changes (either louder or softer).
• His rate of speech changes (either faster or slower).
• He hesitates before answering, as if searching for words.
• His eyes glaze over.
• He asks a lot of questions.
• He appears to be angry or frustrated.

People almost always signal their confusion or distress. If you pay close attention, you’ll pick up on it.

Communicating by phone

When we talk on the telephone, we lose the most important method of sending and receiving communication—body language. As a result, our tone of voice becomes even more important; it represents 84% of our total communica­tion over the telephone. Since CSRs spend approximately 80% of their time on the telephone, it is essential that they communicate effectively in order to achieve success in their relationships with clients, co-workers, and business associates. In this case, listening is the CSR’s key skill.

Unfortunately, when you’re talking on the telephone, you can’t see the fidgets, the glazed eyes, and the other physical clues your client might be sending. If you listen carefully, though, you can hear many signals: fidgeting, typing, changes in volume or rate of speech, physical movement. My sister lives 2,700 miles away and she’s constantly telling me to sit still when we talk on the phone. How does she know? My rate of speech kicks into high gear to keep up with my pacing!

Once you recognize that what you’re saying and what the other person is hearing are two different things, you’re well on the road to communicating effectively. The National Alliance’s Dynamics of Service and Dynamics of Selling programs both include excellent segments offering tools to help you enhance your communication and relationships skills. The Internet has a wealth of information, too, as do a number of books, including Body Language by Howard Fast and Reading People by Jo-Ellan Demetrius.

The author
During 30-plus years working in the insurance industry, Linda M. Faulkner, CIC, has founded two insurance agencies and a business that provides insurance continuing education seminars to licensed producers and adjusters. Linda is also a faculty member for the Dynamics of Service and CISR programs and is a published writer. For more information on Dynamics of Service and the CISR program, go to or call (800) 633-2165.


When we talk on the telephone…our tone of voice becomes even more important; it represents 84% of our total communication.



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