To most of us, communication involves a biased use of vision as opposed to the logic of employing all senses. Not because of choice but for chance, Franck Pruvost, a visually-challenged management professor at Audencia Nantes School of Management, France, leans on other senses like sound, smell, taste and touch and even propagated the same to a set of 250 salespersons from Laforêt , a department store and museum in France, by way of a tailor-made programme that explored how non-visual signs improved client negotiation.
“I wanted to offer a different approach to the act of listening that went beyond traditional technical advice and had a real effect on the quality and capacity of those listening. The aim was to develop skills to allow the participants to forget the usual reflexes and questions posed to clients and instead cultivate an attitude of ‘deeper listening’ in the case of clients. In my experience as a visually-challenged person, I have been confronted with many situations where listening correctly was vital for establishing the best relationship possible,” says the management graduate from HEC School of Management, Paris.
Of course, it wasn’t all hunky-dory for the professor to conduct such classes, as getting participants to listen to a visually-challenged person was not easy, “I was wary about bringing them to my world. It was a massive challenge to start the training scheme with a blindfolded session because it wasn’t easy to predict how they would react. At the same time it one of the keys to the project’s success because it allowed the programme to be different, to move away from the normal behavioural routines and to open up new avenues of thought and change. There was also the need to create communicative emotion so we could have an atmosphere that would encourage the participants to give me all their attention and to concentrate on listening in a new way. The final challenge was to help them free themselves so they could explore the subject at their own level. If all these conditions are achieved, the impact of this sort of programme is really powerful and allows an evolution in behaviour because it has an effect on the participants’ mental representations.”
Vouching for the voice as a dominant component in non-visual communication, Pruvost narrates an incident to explain things better, “A while ago when I was in theatre school, one of my classmates arrived very well-dressed. As she made a real impression that morning, everybody welcomed her by adding that she was radiant and looking well. When I said ‘hello’ to her, I felt that her voice betrayed that something wasn’t quite right, so I asked her if anything was wrong. She said she was fine but two hours later during a break she told me she was a little depressed and asked how I’d known. In fact, I had detected sadness in her voice. What she managed to disguise very effectively by her look became obvious if you close your eyes and simply listened.”
Perhaps, for this reason Pruvost’s abilities have been recognised with people even looking past his disability. “The mere presence of a handicapped person as a management coach is a great way of making people sensitive to the question. By seeing someone like me assume responsibilities normally, thanks to a skill set, the participants become aware of the real possibility of working with the handicapped in a professional context. Participants can change how they perceive differences without realising it. They learn to do things. For example, by my experience, I show that listening is vital for a better performance, as is flexibility, creativity and commitment. By transforming handicaps into added value, and then into training tools, we can develop new ways of teaching,” he says.
Coming back to one of his fortes, non-visual communication, Franck explains a little on the benefits of the same, “This type of communication allows you to awaken your senses and your powers of attention. When we are more attentive to all the information we can receive, we develop sensitivity and a capacity for analysis when faced with more complex environments. In addition, this allows us to enrich human relations by working on aspects such as the attention we pay to others, our own confidence, the notion of accompaniment, adaptability and so on. Basically, to master non-visual communication is to ensure quality relations. In this way, a better understanding of the needs of others allows us to be more efficient in managerial or sales relationships.”