Field Facts: The Need for Good Communication

By Todd Walker, Lead CUF

Homeowner communication can be a hot topic and in this digital age full of texts, emails, calls and social media posts, it’s very important to improve our communication skills. Information and misinformation have saturated the internet and our industry hasn’t been spared. As experts in the utility arborist field, we should be the front line, dispelling myths and spreading good information regarding the need, importance and reality of the UVM industry.

Whether we are in the field speaking to a homeowner about a palm tree that has outgrown its place under the power lines, at a daily job briefing discussing a large removal, or in a board meeting with utility stakeholders that expect a production status update, we all need to communicate well in order to work safely and operate effectively.

Principles of Good Communication

 

1. BE INFORMED AND KNOWLEDGEABLE

Staying aware of changes in the UVM industry will allow you to be an effective communicator. We cannot answer questions and communicate well if we do not know what we are talking about. I have often found myself so busy in the day-in and day-out of my work that I forget to schedule time to advance my education. Homeowners require attention, vehicles have to be repaired, emails need to be answered and deadlines need to be met. However, it is so important to take the time to learn and grow where we are planted.

Advancing your education does not have to be complicated or time-consuming. You can read an article from an issue of the Utility Arborist Newsline, watch a video, or listen to an audiobook chapter. The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) is also a wonderful online resource and earning one of their certifications is a great way to advance our knowledge of utility arboriculture in a way that is guided, focused, and sensible.

With industry knowledge, you will be better equipped to preemptively answer homeowner questions and concerns, give top-notch presentations and interact clearly with utility representatives and other stakeholders.

2. LISTEN WELL AND PAY ATTENTION

Homeowners and customers want to know that you are truly listening to them – not just waiting for your turn to speak. Learn to listen intently and give the person you’re talking to the opportunity to express their concerns so you can better answer their objections.

I remember one homeowner I was interacting with began to get aggressive when I said that her palm tree was in a tough location and would likely need to be removed. The more we talked, the more intense the conversation became, and at one point it became glaringly obvious that we need to change directions. I stopped and said, “Ma’am, I think we’re off on the wrong foot. Can we just start over?” She very kindly agreed, and I listened to her concerns rather than listening to answer. The conversation radically shifted. Although she did not agree to remove the tree, I learned a valuable lesson. It is perfectly OK to back down and admit your discussion needs redirection if you find it quickly going south.

Despite your best intentions, you may encounter people that respond adversely to you. Remember, sometimes there is no way around conflict. Make sure that your body language is nonconfrontational and says that you are present in the conversation and read the body language and tone of voice of the person you’re speaking with. If you feel there is no saving the conversation, kindly excuse yourself and exit the situation. Report threats or aggressive behavior to your utility company immediately.

3. BE HONEST AND REALISTIC

Being honest and realistic are essential parts of effective communication. Are your communications believable and based on truth? I’ve spoken with CUFs in previous jobs that admitted they would mislead homeowners to get approval for tree removals. This is not a good practice. As utility arborists, we represent the utilities we work for. Our job is to present truth and facts so we can build trust. Should the homeowner uncover dishonesty, it not only destroys our own credibility, it also damages the credibility of the utility.

It is also important to be direct. Do not try to hide the truth or tell the other person what they want to hear if it isn’t true. More times than I can count, I have had to tell homeowners that their palm trees would be too close to the power lines in just a few years and would need a top cut, which would likely kill it. It would be better in the long run to get a free removal offered by the utility sooner rather than later. Being realistic gives the homeowner the full picture so they can make an informed decision.

4. ACT LIKE YOU ARE ON CAMERA – YOU MIGHT BE

Recording technology could be anywhere. Be aware that there may be hidden cameras in various locations. There are even doorbell cameras equipped with microphones that record even the quietest sounds. A good rule is to always assume that someone is watching or listening to your communications, and they could be made public at any time. This includes emails that could accidentally be forwarded by another person to unintended recipients or a hot mic you forgot to mute during a video conference. Be professional at all times so you won’t find yourself in an embarrassing situation that requires explaining.

Good communication skills can help you avoid many conflicts and build better, longer-lasting relationships with homeowners, customers and coworkers. Honing your knowledge and communication skills will also help you operate efficiently and work safely.

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