Just yesterday, I firmly told my 3-year-old daughter to get down from a perilously high perch just as she was about to attempt a half-gainer to the wood floor below. “Don’t yell at me, mommy,” she scolded.

Her admonishment gave me pause. I certainly didn’t yell, but to her, the stern tone of my voice might just as well have been a scream.

It’s a lesson in communications with toddlers that I won’t soon forget – and it’s just as applicable to business communication.

How many times have you been secretly seething about something – a fight with your spouse, an unpaid invoice, a troublesome partner – and brought that mood with you to a client meeting?

Clients deserve not only your best face, but your good spirits, too. They’re as perceptive as toddlers and will know when something’s bothering you – even if they never mention it and you don’t think you’re showing it. The problem is, they might think your bad mood has something to do with them. And that’s not good for business.

Before making that phone call or heading out to your client , make a mental checklist of your emotional state. If something’s disturbing you, try to defuse it by talking it out with a friend or confidante before you go, or simply writing it down on paper.

Here are some other tips for effective business communication:

  1. Make eye contact, and make it often. Accurately or not, people who don’t make enough eye contact are perceived to be either hiding something or just plain bored. Looking someone squarely in the eye shows you’re interested in them and what they’re saying.
  2. Always answer e-mails and phone calls promptly. The five minutes it takes to respond will make your clients feel like they’re an important and vital part of your business.
  3. Listen actively when your client is talking to you. It’s harder than it sounds. Most people in a conversation appear to be listening, but are really just waiting for the other person to stop yapping so they can make a point. Active listening requires the ‘mirroring’ technique. If your client expresses concern over cash flow issues, respond by repeating their concern and only then by offering a solution. For instance,“I understand your cash flow concerns, and here’s what we might be able to do to resolve this issue.”
  4. Spend quality time together discussing something other than business. If clients perceive you as solely a seller providing them a service, you can easily turn into a commodity. Explore mutual interests or hobbies, discuss your families, comment on what’s in the news. Forging this kind of personal relationship will strengthen your business one.
  5. Every now and then, send your clients a handwritten note. Enclose a newspaper clipping relevant to their business, or just simply thank them for their business and for how they have enriched your life and practice. In an age of instant messaging, fax, phone and e-mail, a handwritten note is an unexpected treasure -- and will make a large impact.

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