What Toastmasters Taught Me About Business

This is the second post in this series for my Toastmasters assignment – Write a Compelling Blog.  (You can read the first one here.)  In today’s post, I talk about a lesson I’ve learnt from Toastmasters that I’ve been able to transfer to our business.

Lesson No 2

Diplomacy Works Wonders

Firstly, I’d like to talk about what diplomacy is.

The following definition has been (wrongfully) attributed to Winston Churchill:

Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.

Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.

Look the word diplomacy up in the dictionary and beyond being “the art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations“, the dictionary also says that diplomacy is “the art of dealing with people in a sensitive and tactful way”.

Hmm!  Sensitive AND Tactful.

There’s also:

Skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility.

Being able to be diplomatic in many and varied situations is an important and valuable skill to have.

I Googled “worst speech ever” and the following was the first result returned.  Take a few minutes to watch as this gentleman seeks nomination for the position of Treasurer in his political party.

Now imagine being in the audience and being asked to provide feedback to this speaker regarding the delivery of his speech.  What would you say?

Is your first thought: “How do I tell him it was terrible?”

Well, you could tell him just that.  But for another moment, also imagine Phil has never spoken to an audience before and has a desire to become an influential public speaker.  How do you provide Phil with a brief analysis of his speech and also encourage him to improve next time?

It’s easy enough to identify points for improvement, areas of his delivery that he could consider altering.  You could mention his aggression and aggressive body language, his overuse of the stage/speaking area, his constant pointing at the audience, and . . . I’m sure you get the picture.

In Toastmasters, we learn the art of effective evaluations.  We learn that harsh evaluations can hurt and often cause a member to leave the club.  We also learn that overly kind evaluations may not help a member to improve.  Good evaluators are sensitive and tactful, finding a balance between the extremes, and (always) providing feedback that is both helpful and encouraging even when we believe the member has excelled.

I’ve included an example of what I would say to Phil at the end of this post.  I’m still on my journey to becoming a good evaluator, but along the way, I have learnt how to be diplomatic.

– ⋅ o ♥ o ⋅ –

Being diplomatic has become a valuable skill I use frequently in our business.  I don’t talk about our business often – as a matter of fact, I think I’ve only ever mentioned it in a comment – so here goes.

Dean and I run a small cleaning business.  We do regular domestic cleaning and have a nice pool of clients (or a pool of nice clients).  We also clean commercial spaces and when we’re not doing either of those, we delve into bond cleaning.

I’m not sure what you call bond cleaning in other countries, but here in Australia, when a tenant vacates a rental property, it must be cleaned to the standards set down by the government’s ruling body.  This is one requirement that impacts the return of the tenant’s bond – their security deposit on the property – which can be thousands of dollars and, understandably, tenants what this money returned.  Many tenants (not all, but a lot) don’t want to do this type of cleaning, so this is where we come in and, for a specified amount of money, we do it for them.

Make no mistake though, bond cleaning is hard work, often taking 10 hours (or more) to ensure the property meets the required standards.  But there’s good money in it, and we have worked tirelessly over the last two years gaining a reputation as ‘excellent’ bond cleaners. (And excellent cleaners in general too.)

We’ve made mistakes, but we’ve learnt from them and, as our business administrator – the person who takes care of all the bookings and billings – I’ve also learnt to employ diplomacy when it comes to dealing with clients and receiving their payments on time.  It’s our policy to be paid upfront – money first, work second – and I explain this to everyone before we undertake any type of work, and yet, sometimes a predicament exists with receiving payment before we commence a bond clean.

I’m talking about big money here, bond cleaning isn’t something tangible that can be repossessed, and I can hardly tell clients ‘Pay up or else!’  I would never, but I do say:  Dean and I run a small business, it’s just the two of us, and it’s our policy that your payment be received at least 24 hours before the work is scheduled. Once, only once, I’ve also had to say:  If your payment isn’t received on time, it will be deemed that the service has been cancelled.  (There are other efforts I go to before reaching the cancellation stage.)

Sometimes though clients try: “Can I pay half upfront and the other half when you’ve done the job?” Or: “But what if you don’t clean the place properly?” So in these instances, I believe I am diplomatic – both sensitive and tactful – in explaining why we have a payment policy and that, in addition to our cleaning services, they are also purchasing peace of mind; that the cleaning will be done above and beyond the required standard and (heaven forbid) if it isn’t, we will return and fix the problem at no additional charge.  (Within set boundaries of course.)

– ⋅ o ♥ o ⋅ –

If I’m going to be honest (perhaps brutally so), as a results-oriented person, I can be concise and brief which is often construed as abrupt.  I’ll be talking more about this behaviour in another post, but being aware that I can be like that has allowed me to focus on the fact that other’s can be easily hurt, not only by what I say but how I say it.  I thank Toastmasters for teaching me how to be more sensitive to the feelings of others, how to be diplomatic.

And so far so good putting this into practice in our business.  We’ve never had a client refuse to pay for a bond clean in accordance with our payment policy and I guess this means I am thoughtful and understanding when dealing with them.

To accommodate the growing needs of clients, we’ve recently implemented alternative payment options such as instalments and have had a few clients embrace paying us in smaller increments across the weeks leading up to when the work is scheduled.  This is working well for everyone.

Here’s an example of what I may have said to Phil.  (This is not a complete evaluation, just an example.)

Commendation: Phil, I really liked the way you held the audience’s attention today.  I cannot speak for everyone in the room, but I was caught up in your passion, you had effective use of pause and this was used well to highlight key points throughout your speech, further holding the attention of the audience. 

Recommendation: Next time, I would like you to challenge yourself further by being more aware of your passion and vocal variety.  

    1. (What he did wrong.) At times your voice was full of volume and, coupled with your emotions – your passion – the pace of your delivery became so rapid and it was difficult to understand what you were saying.  
    2. (Why this didn’t work.) It’s important that your audience comprehend what you’re saying. When they don’t, you run the risk of losing their attention and not getting your message across.  
    3. (How to improve next time.) By reigning in your passion, using less volume and speaking with a slower pace, the audience’s will hear what you are saying and receive your message loud and clear. 

Commendation: Phil, your speech showed you had done your research and knew your subject matter.  I’d like to see you challenge yourself next time by paying attention to your passion and vocal variety and slowing down your pace to add further clarity to your message.  Today, you were prepared, you had done your research and your emotions bubbled over, showing the importance you place on serving your county.  I believe those are wonderful traits in a politician.

Author: Clare

Ever-expanding one star at a time, my cosmos is a galaxy of thoughts and creativity where you can find poetry, short stories, photography and so much more.

6 thoughts

  1. some very good points here. your intro on tact and diplomacy
    your businessand your apporoach[ can appreciate this as we have similar business]
    the video and then the evaluation..
    You have highlighted a very imprttant part of TM..evaluations…and also how it translates into the real world.
    CORPORATE clubs could do with more understanding the skills of evalaution…
    well done indeed


    1. Thank you, Maria. I had plenty of time to think about what I was writing here. All I need to do now is put it into practice when I have the honour of evaluating a member’s speech 🙂


    1. Thank you, Irene. Having lots of time to think about how I would evaluate this speaker helped me, and I hope I can demonstrate this skill when next I evaluate a speaker at our club 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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