Leaders must be excellent communicators. According to the Harvard Business Review, “the number one criterion for advancement and promotion for professionals is the ability to communicate effectively.” If you are able to relate to others on a personal level, your relationships will be stronger and healthier, and your influence will increase.
“You must be a good business communicator”, which is great, but how?
Communication is probably one of the most overused used management and leadership terms.
Why is communication important?
Communication converts individual effort into teamwork. It is the catalyst that ties together all the separate jobs in an organization and directs the combined efforts of all employees toward corporate goals. Poor communication can produce errors, confusion, misunderstandings, disagreements, and even conflict – all of which negatively impact morale and personal and group productivity.
Good communication, on the other hand, can bind employees together as a team, improve relationships and morale, boost productivity, increase creativity and innovation, and ensure the success of the organization.
There are seven essential elements of any communication; these being:
- Medium / method
Verbal Communication Etiquette in Business
Verbal communication describes the use of words and sounds to communicate a message. It could incorporate face-to-face and telephone interactions. So, in general day-to-day operations, you may communicate verbally with: individuals, your team, other departments (internal customers), customers (external customers), ‘management’, and other stakeholders.
In order to have the most successful verbal communication you should ensure that:
- Your speech is calm, focused and polite
- You listen as well as speak – it has been estimated that verbal communication is 25% speaking and 75% listening
- Be assertive
- Be specific
- Speak eloquently
- Be convincing and genuine
- Avoid using 20 words when 1 will do
- ‘Own’ your comments and don’t blame others
The verbal language also contains paralanguage which includes; volume, speaking style, rate, pitch, rhythm, and pronunciation.
An open question requires a longer answer than a closed question and often starts with “how, what, why” or wanting someone’s opinion, knowledge, or thoughts. Open questions have these benefits:
- Shows that you are genuinely interested in someone’s opinion and thoughts. This makes you more approachable.
- Open questions and a dialogue with staff who are more submissive in nature
- Can be accompanied by open, warm body language
- Allow you to ‘dig further’ into an issue, subject or discussion
- Results in greater levels of understanding and cooperation
- Helps to create a positive learning and sharing environment
- Show the respect you have for your team and their opinion
- Demonstrates that you are wanting and willing to invest time in conversation
- Encourages a culture of openness and honesty
What are closed questions?
Closed questions result in a single word or very short statement of fact.
Closed questions can be used to summarize or conclude a longer discussion and they close discussion down. Closed discussions are excellent when quick decisions are needed i.e. matters of health and safety, where a prolonged conversation may result in unwelcome consequences. These in turn reduces the confusion of discussing multiple scenarios and are easier to assess.
An example of a closed question will be like;
“Is your project done yet”
Again, an example of open question will be;
“I’d really like to hear about how your project is going”
Closed questions can also be used as part of an advanced communication ‘funnel’ technique. This starts with questions to obtain general information and then uses a progressively narrow focus to hone in on specific information (narrowing the funnel). This is similar to deductive reasoning in which thinking moves from general to specific detail.
Examples of closed questions
Or, the reverse would be widening the funnel and asking questions that move from specific detail to a more general discussion. This technique is similar to inductive reasoning. Phrases seen with this technique include “what else”, “who else”.
“What else could you do” Or “Who else is going to the conference”
Active listening is the process by which you listen and restate back to the speaker what you have heard. This listening and speaker confirmation ensure that you have heard what is being said accurately rather than hearing what you think you have heard or ‘filling in the blanks’.
Here are the four stages of active listening:
- Repeating what has been said in the exact words
- Repeating what has been said in similar words
- Repeating what has been said in your own words
- Checking with the speaker that you have heard correctly
You should also:
- Observe what is not said – body language
- Focus on them completely – don’t ‘fiddle’, answer the phone, check emails or appear distracted
- Respect their right to say their say even if you don’t agree with what they are saying
The active listening process is important all the time, but takes on particular significance when:
- There may be communication barriers – time zone delays or language difficulties through disability
- Parties have different primary languages
- You think you have ‘heard it all before’ and it’s bound to be ‘the same old story’
- You are dealing with complex technical or industry-specific language
- It is an emotional situation
- Someone is in distress
Practice Non-verbal Communication
Non-verbal communication was first described by Charles Darwin in ‘The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals’. It describes communication through non-verbal cues. These are mainly; gestures, touch, posture, facial expression, eye contact, and signing. How many times have you heard or used the phrase ‘it’s not what you say its how you say it’.
It is estimated that the non-verbal element of a conversation makes up ⅔ of its understanding.
As a leader nonverbal communication involves:
- Being at the same height as others when interacting e.g. not standing over them
- Not invading someones personal space in an aggressive or uncomfortable manner
- Having relaxed facial features
- Ensuring eye contact is not staring or sarcastic
- Using open gestures such as hand movement and arms that are not crossed
- Being aware of staff who may find interpreting and showing nonverbal communication difficult e.g. Autism and Aspergers
Building your Writing Etiquette
Be clear concise and credible when communicating in business. Don’t use big words, a pompous tone, or poor grammar. Use the active voice. Be specific in telling them why you are writing to them and what you expect from them if anything. If you are asking for something, specify a deadline.
Any written piece in business is made up of three main elements:
- How the content is laid out – its structure
- How it is written – its style
- What it’s about – the content
The process of communicating through writing involves 5 steps. When communicating through writing you must ensure:
What is the structure of written communication in business?
- Ensure key points, facts and themes are clear and in a logical order
- Be aware of the central message or aim of your communication and ensure it meets that
- Don’t use 20 words when 1 will do
- If it is more than a couple of paragraphs ensure key points can be seen quickly – think about bold, bullets and highlighting
- Space in a reader-friendly manner
How to style a written communication in business?
- Use terminology and jargon that the reader can interpret
- Don’t use extraneous detail as it will detract from your main message
- Your formality/informality is appropriate. Smiley faces may not be appropriate on a business plan that will be read by the chief exec.
- Ensure that grammar and spell checks have been carried out
- Check for consistency e.g. The use (or not) of full stops in a bulleted list
Drafting content in business communication
- Are your points logical and easy to follow
- Is your argument well balanced and detailed
- Have you ensured the content is suitable for the reader
- Have you been professional and courteous – don’t send anything that you wouldn’t mind others reading
Email Etiquette in Business
The email has revolutionized correspondence. But the frequency of use and ease of transmittal has introduced a whole new set of problems for the business. Employees are frequently sending unnecessary information to disinterested people and copying others needlessly. To save time they are writing rapidly, using poor grammar, indecipherable shorthand, vague subject lines, (if any), and failing to pause for as much as a quick edit before striking the Send button. Consequently, companies are sometimes being plagued by sloppy work, poor communications, and lost time.
To stop this downward spiral, it is imperative that everyone in the organization learns to write effectively with the reader in mind. Messages should be clear and concise and credible.
Do’s in Business Emails
- Remember they are permanent
- Keep it short and to the point – don’t ramble
- Make sure it is relevant to the reader
- Reply to the emails of others in a timely fashion – we are all inundated with email communication and it is easy to fall behind leading to confusion and people resending ‘just in case it got lost’
- Only send one key message per email
- Ensure you include a subject line
- Ensure that there is a level of warmth
- Always include your contact details
- Keep email correspondence in logical easy to access folders for future reference
Dont’s in business emails
- Be aggressive or abrupt even in jest – remember the reader won’t be able to interpret the intension behind it
- Send personal or confidential material
- Forward junk mail or chain letters
- Don’t CC or BCC everyone if it is not necessary
- Do not fire off emails out of anger or frustration – they will come back to haunt you
- Avoid overcapitalization and its inference that you are shouting
- Forget to still use correct grammar and punctuation
- Send emails off until you have read them for meaning and accuracy
- Send offensive material
Intrapersonal communication is the conversation you have with yourself (inner dialogue) and it is thought to contain three elements including expectation, self-awareness, and Perception.
Intrapersonal communication relates to you in terms of:
Some ways that intrapersonal communication can help you as a manager include:
- Working through ideas whilst talking out loud. This enables you to hear how things sound and give you a different perspective
- Going over conversations you need to have. This ensures you are well prepared and have covered everything you need to
- Practicing a presentation – remember this is always best done out loud as our speed, pitch, and tone of voice changes if we practice in our head or out loud
- Prioritizing what you need to do.
Communicating on Social media
If you want to communicate clearly, keep it simple. According to marketing consultant Mary Hayes, quoted in a Toronto Globe & Mail article, visitors to your site expect to find what they are looking for in 15 seconds or they’re gone.
“They want to find, not search.”Mary Hayes
The same thing applies to your social media postings or tweets.
If you use social media for friends and relatives, it’s okay to say you’re having a coffee and a local shop; but if you’re using it to promote your business, make sure what you post is both brief and significant. Don’t communicate if you have nothing meaningful to communicate.
Business people want information that will help them to be successful, to be more productive, to increase sales, to save costs, and so on. If you have a product or service that will fulfill a need, tell him about it. Even providing useful information containing no mention of your product or service can be effective if you provide a link to your website. People like dealing with companies or individuals who are generous with their information – and particularly if it is information that will help them in some way.
If everything seems to be equally important and you have more to do than you have time for, the boss might have a different perspective on which items are the most important. Remember that communication is the glue that holds an organization together. Teamwork is only developed where information is freely shared.
Don’t overlook open lines of communication as a time management tool. Continually ask yourself who else needs the information in question.