Hone your competency through human talent

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How do you improve your competitive business edge, improve customer, workplace relationships and keep your sanity and health in check? 

By Paul Muchira

In any business, being competitive is key for growth.  As a busy business owner or executive, your days can turn into weeks and weeks turn into months before you even realize what is happening.  So what is competitive edge?  Where can we find a cutting edge? Unlike what most management theorists will tell you, it is not found in your balance sheet nor profit.  The edge is in your relationships.

Every business should be ‘people’ focussed. There is no enterprise that can attain any meaningful economic progress without human talent. It is people whom you prepare for and react to. They have wants and needs. They create cooperation and competition, expectations and demand, deadlines and timelines, urgencies and emergencies. It is people who make or break a business. To sharpen your competitive edge, you must strive to hone their skills.
Excellent people skills build trusting relationships and solid links. These are pivotal to your bottom line, symbolically and literally.  Whether you are relating with your workforce, your colleagues at work, the better your skills, the more likely the relationship will be fruitful and rewarding. Sharpening your skills then makes ultimate sense. It will not only save you energy and time, but also pain and fear.

It is common knowledge that our world has speeded up. We have changed our perception of time and urgency. We live in an era of instant communication with a desire for instant gratification. In this light, if we blink, we are afraid we might miss something. If we slow down, we are terrified we might be passed. If we stop, we are scared we will be too far out of pace to recoup our position. Our radar is on 24/7. It’s exhausting.

To work and live at ease, we need to cultivate and refine our ‘people skills’. This will serve as a buffer to your own sanity as well as contributing to our business success. The wisdom of Bob Pritchard should always guide every business. He stated that,

“When you’re not learning — someone, somewhere else, is.
When you meet — guess who has the advantage?”

The questions that comes to everyone’s mind is, how do you improve your competitive business edge, improve customer, workplace relationships and keep your sanity and health simultaneously?  The answer is creating succinct goals, established priorities, well –grounded people skills, thoughtful time management, efficient organization and basic integrity. Even though this may be simple to say, it is not always an easy to do.

To sharpen your competitive edge, you should seek to harness the following skills.
Be Assertive, Not Aggressive
Be clear and succinct. It is important to know what you want and why you want it.   It is only after defining that will you be in a position to communicate respectfully and assertively. The success of your business will be in direct proportion to your clarity.  Assertiveness denotes being willing to ask for what you want and need. Assertiveness necessitates that you speak about business, your feelings, your thoughts, your wants and needs.  It is a declaration of where you stand.  It is not an opportunity to trample on other individuals. That is aggressiveness.

Assertive business owners or traders communicate in ways that enable them to maintain self-respect, pursue happiness and the satisfaction of their wants while protecting their personal space and rights.  All this is achieved without abusing the rights of other people.  In his excellent book, People Skills, Robert Bolton states that assertive people express their thoughts, feelings, wants and idea at the expense of others.  Robert further states that it is always difficult to feel safe and comfortable around aggressive people.

Communicate Clearly
Communication entails two distinct acts: the ability and willingness to listen, and the ability and willingness to pass your message succinctly. Listening is much more difficult than talking.  It is so difficult to listen because we long to be understood, we are impatient, and instead of listening to the other person’s point of view, we are always busy formulating our response, defense and rebuttal in our minds. Listening requires caring.   One has to want to listen, be willing to ask question so that everything is understood as it is.  When speaking always endeavour to choose your words meticulously to pass the message to the audience. Always remember, you can say a great deal without speaking.  Body language is a powerful communication tool.  Leave nothing to chance that is within your control to communicate succinctly.

Manage Conflict Productively
Conflict is not just a four letter word! In its simplest definition, conflict is an expression of opposing drives, demands, needs and wishes.  The challenge is how conflict is managed…. or, if it managed at all. A majority of people have had poor experiences with conflict. It is not unusual for conflict to be equated with disrespect.  That is, of course, because of the awkward ways in which it has been handled.  It is important to note that assertive people can manage conflict more productively than aggressive people. Such people can communicate their positions and support them with evidence excellent ideas and facts.  Assertive people contribute to the conversation instead of fuelling the conflict to unmanageable level.

The first crucial step in managing conflict is clarifying the underlying issues.  It is important to delineate whether it is a conflict of feelings/emotions and values/ needs.  These are very different.  Conflicts of emotions/feelings are easier to manage and solve because we create our own feelings by what we choose to think and perceive, and this can be altered depending on the prevailing situation. Conflict of needs is much more complex to solve.  They normally take longer to explain, fathom and manage.  It is essential to maintain a certain level of decorum when conflict is present.  When fear surges, defensiveness and attack rise as well.  Always take care to avoid piling hurt upon conflict. Learn the skills of assertion.  Clarify your thoughts and approach people with whom you have a conflict at a quiet time, not when you are in full flight and gun loaded.

By sharpening these three essential people skills, you will be more confident when you move into a new business relationship and much more comfortable strengthening and managing existing ones. Successful business persons and successful business entities focus on their plans, objectives and goals.  Successful business relationships are the cornerstones to successful marketing.  Strive to build yours on integrity, honesty, and skills.  Only then will you be able to build a lasting relationship with customer, suppliers, and other stakeholders.