The art of persuasion: Seminars teach women to speak more confidently at work

The Yomiuri Shimbun

A group of women reviews footage of one of the participants speaking during a Kee’s communication skills seminar.

By Yukako Fukushi / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterSome people in the business world lament their lack of ability to speak clearly and concisely. A number of seminars and training courses have been provided to help them improve skills in business communication.

With leadership roles at many companies becoming available to them, more and more women are participating in such events exclusively designed for them.

One example is a recent seminar offered by Kee’s agency in Tokyo to teach women how to speak well and communicate effectively. The workshop started with participants sharing problems they had at their offices.

“My male colleagues say they don’t get what I’m trying to say,” said one woman.

Another said, “I lack the confidence to speak succinctly with executives.”

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Employees of Tokyo Gas Lifeval Machida say they can be more confident about serving customers after taking an in-house training course.

In response, the instructor discussed the difference between men and women in terms of speaking. While women usually focus on forming a sense of unity and trust with whomever they’re speaking to, many men seek to reach a reasonable conclusion.

“A lot of men describe women speaking as, ‘They just go on and on, and I have no idea what they’re even getting at,’” the instructor added. The participants seemed to nod in agreement.

According to Kee’s President Erina Nomura, the trick is to “start with the conclusion.”

For example, rather than speaking chronologically — such as “A happened, B also happened, so C happened, and now I think we need to do D” — Nomura suggests starting with “D”: “I think we need to do D because we have situation C. There are two reasons for C ...”

Tokyo Gas Lifeval Machida, an affiliate of Tokyo Gas Co., provides a similar training program for all its female employees, except those assigned to read gas meters.

The affiliate, based in Machida, Tokyo, used to offer training programs mostly for male employees who usually work outside its shops doing sales and providing related services, according to Vice President Hiroyuki Sawai.

However, he explained, “We realized it is also important to boost the skills of our female employees, as they have a variety of duties such as answering calls from customers and attending to them in showrooms.”

Miyuki Hata, who works at one of the outlets in Yokohama, said she can now “persuasively and succinctly explain to customers why I recommend a particular product.”

Hata gave a recent example. A customer visiting the shop’s showroom said she doesn’t use the fish grill that is part of Japanese gas stoves. Hata presented her conclusion first: recommending a new type of unit that has a plate instead of a rack for the fish grill. She then gave her reasons, such as, “It’s easy to clean as there’s no rack inside” and “You can make a variety of dishes with the plate.”

“I was able to provide easy-to-understand explanations for why the product works well, which I believe helped convince the customer to buy it,” Hata said.

Until recently, Japanese corporate culture mostly limited women to jobs assisting others, meaning they had few opportunities to gain experience in speaking concisely and convincingly, such as making presentations.

The difference in the way men and women speak was highlighted by the results of a survey the Cultural Affairs Agency conducted in March 2013, to which more than 2,000 men and women aged 16 or older responded.

The survey asked respondents what they thought was more important when talking to others: building a relationship with the person, or showing clear reasoning. About 70 percent of female respondents favored the former option — 12 percentage points higher than the just over 58 percent of male respondents who did.

“In the business world, women lack experience in persuading someone they are speaking with to accept their ideas,” said Atsuko Kaneko, associate professor at Musashino University. “However, anyone, regardless of age, can learn these skills if they make a clear argument in their mind and are dedicated.”Speech

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