Tuesday, 20 November 2012 23:24

Walk the Talk

Article as it appeared in Country Life magazine. By Patricia McCracken

 How do you face social encounters if you're feeling burnt-out or nervous? "Being well-prepared is a great confidence-booster however tired you feel - and also for any nervous novice staff", says Durban executive coach and psychologist Claire Newton. 

For comedy buffs, the prospect of Spud meets Fawlty Towers is pretty tantalising, given the great working relationship between bestselling author John van der Ruit and John The Guv' Cleese - both fellow fans of a “world that's slightly mad," as Van der Ruit puts it. But, wouldn't you shudder if the reputation-management tables were turned and your establishment was named SA's Fawlty Towers?

There's enjoyabiy extensive literature on the long tradition of eccentric 'Mine Hosts' - but these vary from fondly remembered 'characters' to the kind of encounter experienced by an Irish friend at a KZN battlefields B&B.

"The host spent all evening telling me - the only guest - how depressed he was and showing me his weapons collection," says Ronan Gallagher "Having been brought up in Derry, I've seen more than enough weapons to last me a lifetime and the isolation made it all seem really spooky!"

That encounter might yield a rich harvest for Van der Ruit and Cleese. But, it's hardly likely to encourage repeat business or word-of-mouth recommendations.

So how do you survive if you're facing year-end burnout, but are fully booked to lead tours?

And if you're also drafting in backup staff from other duties, or even using temporaries, you also need to brief them properly to convey the message and the tone you prefer Because your biggest mistake is to fake it...

We're living in a world that prizes authenticity, equally in reality and cyberspace, Lana Strydom, FNB's head of digital media, told the recent annual conference of the SA Society of Consumer Advice Professionals/That's exactly why Bert Le Clos's genuine outpouring of joy at his son's 'incredible' success went viral so fast," she explained.

Durban executive coach and psychologist Claire Newton says."Being well-prepared is a great confidence-booster however tired you feel - and also for any nervous novice staff".

Here are Claire's six top tips for making the talk to any guest a walk in the park ...

  • Choose to charm Have a positive attitude. Tell yourself, "I will enjoy myself and meet someone interesting."
  • Name names Make introductions among the group as soon as possible, giving full names and some background so people aren't left floundering with a stranger
  • Ride the storm People are always aware when you're not using their name. So if you forget it, admit this with a smile. Say something like, "Do remind me of your name - I've gone blank!"
  • Strategise your chatter Simply scan the news headlines or have some interesting facts about your area or wildlife to use as icebreakers. Avoid asking people why they think something because this can sound offensive - do say,"Oh, really, what makes you say that?" Draw them out with 'when' and 'how' questions - when they went shark-diving and how they felt about it, for example.
  • Pass the chat Whether it's a group tour or group dining, everyone wants to feel a fair amount of the spotlight. Include each person in the conversation, making sure there's a link for newcomers to join. Be candid and stop any conversation hogs in their tracks.
  • Catch the culture Especially with international visitors, research any cultura norms, from handshakes to eye contact, so you're prepared for different reactions.

"OscarWilde's maxim sums it up/Conversation should touch on everything but concentrate itself on nothing,'" says Claire. It also underlines what Ouma told you avoid politics and religion in polite company or you could end up with Fawlty Towers.

www.socapsa.org.za, www.clairenewton.co.za, 082 491 1136