No matter what line of business you’re in, communication is critical to your success. Each and every day you communicate with staff, vendors, customers, clients, and other businesses. Every conversation you have falls under the category of “communication” and the better you are at communicating your needs and intentions (and understanding those of the people you’re working with), the more successful your business will be.
Better business communication skills mean better business. These are our top tips for brushing up on your skills.
1. Be Direct
These days more than ever, time is money. There’s no point into beating around the bush in your communications. The more concise and direct you can be when it comes to your communication, the better. This rule applies to both verbal conversations and written communications. In addition to being more efficient, direct communication seems more honest and forthright.
Keep in mind the words of acclaimed author Jack Kerouac, “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” When in doubt, the “right words” are often the simplest ones.
2. Tell The Truth
On a related note, it can be hard to embrace honesty. Honest words can be painful. In a business setting, sometimes being honest can mean confronting others about what they’ve done wrong or admitting something you’ve done wrong. Sometimes it can mean uncomfortable conversations with your staff. No boss ever wants to fire an employee or admit a mistake, but sometimes it’s necessary – and that is a painful conversation for all.
Strive for honesty in your communications. Even if you’re delivering an unpleasant message, others will appreciate your forthrightness. If you have a tough message to deliver, be direct, stick to the point, and don’t sugar-coat. Trying to make your words sound better won’t dull the sting of certain messages. And taking ownership of your own actions will show others that you’re taking things seriously and they’ll appreciate your honesty.
3. Be An Active Listener
Just because you’re being quiet when someone is speaking to you doesn’t mean that you’re fully listening. Engaged, active listening means that you’re genuinely invested in what the other person is saying. People can tell when you’re not really paying attention.
Take the time to actively listen. What does this mean? Briefly: Make eye contact. Ask questions if you’re unclear. Use paraphrasing techniques to repeat back what you think the speaker is telling you. These simple techniques convey to the speaker that you’re truly listening to them, and that you care about that they are saying. They also help ensure that you’re actually hearing the message they’re trying to deliver.
4. Don’t Interrupt
There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to communicate and having someone interrupt you mid-sentence. It shows disrespect for and disinterest in the speaker – not a good feeling.
Conversation is a give and take, so make the effort to allow them to finish before your respond. They’ll speaker will feel validated that you’re trying to communicate with them, rather than bulldoze them with your own agenda.
This is similar to learning active listening – pay attention to them rather than waiting for your turn to speak. Sometimes it can be easier to take note as you listen so that you don’t forget what you wanted to say. Once they’ve had their say, you can take the opportunity to respond.
5. Keep Your Cool
Whatever you’re talking about, avoid being accusatory or angry. Unless you’re warning someone about an imminent safety issue (like telling them to get out of the way of a falling object), there is no reason to yell in the workplace. Nothing sours a professional relationship faster than someone feeling as though they can’t do anything right. Overt blaming, finger-pointing, and verbal shaming have no place in professional communications.
Rather than using phrases like “You always “ or “You never “ try to frame your concerns as, “It seems as though this is an issue for you” or “I’ve noticed that you’re often late on Wednesdays. Is there a problem I should know about?” Show that you’re concerned for them, not angry at them. By giving your staff and colleagues a chance to have a dialogue with you, you open the door for communication and problem-solving rather than the blame game. The same goes for your vendors and clients – be direct but not aggressive.
Communicating proactively and honestly is a great way to head problems off at the pass and to build a better rapport with the people you work with. Your staff and colleagues will respect you if you show that you respect them. Let them know that you’re always there to listen and work with them, not condemn them – everyone has bad days and personal crises and you don’t want people to feel like they have to suffer in silence.
6. Mind Your Body Language
Pay attention to what your body is saying. Are your words consistent with your non-verbal communication? Words are just one way we communicate. Our stance, posture, movements, even our tone and infection, also send a clear message.
Negative body language can negate positive words and a positive message. For example, subtle eye rolls or lack of eye contact convey impatience. Arms crossed against your chest can mean you’re hostile or not open to what the other person is saying. Rubbing your face with your hands can mean you’re not telling the truth or that you’re thinking about other issues.
Instead of closed, distracted body language, try “mirroring.” That means paying attention to the other person’s body language and subtly doing similar things. That makes the other person feel like you’re more in sync, which makes them more likely to feel comfortable. In fact, it actually helps you understand them better, too.
Psychologists have conducted years of study on the impact of body language in business and social settings. Knowing how you’re being perceived by others can make you aware of ways to better all communication – both verbal and non-verbal. For more on how to cultivate positive non-verbal body language, check out this resource.
7. Don’t Multitask
With many digital toys and tools at our fingertips, it’s easy to try to do 12 things at once (literally). The downside of all this instant communication and connection means that it can be challenging to just sit down and listen. We tend to feel like we’re constantly beholden to our phones and can’t miss a single email or text no matter what. But when you’re doing multiple things at once, your thoughts are wandering and you can’t fully focus on the person speaking to you.
If you’re using your phone or laptop while holding a conversation, you’re showing the person you’re talking to that they are less important to you than whatever is on your device. Plus you really can’t get their full message if you’re paying attention to a bunch of things at once – we’re not nearly as good at multitasking as we think we are. Make the effort to fully focus on the person who’s speaking and what they are saying to you. They will appreciate the focus and the attention and you’ll have better communication both ways.
8. Keep It Professional
Text messaging, email, chat, and other instantaneous forms of communication can condition us to want (and expect) instant responses. When you’re communicating using these modes, it’s easy to slip into an ultra-casual tone. Most of us started using those technologies in our social lives and that style can bleed over into our professional communications. But remember that you’re a professional and your electronic communications should reflect that.
Avoid slang, abbreviations, emojis, gifs, and anything else you wouldn’t send in an form. And just because someone sends a text, don’t feel as if you need to respond instantaneously. If the communication warrants some thought, it’s perfectly acceptable to reply later with an email or a phone call. That said, you should strive to respond in a timely fashion – checking your email once a week is not going to be good enough.
Text can be convenient, but in business cases, should only be used for the most superficial communication – perhaps letting the other person know you’ve arrived at a meeting place. Similarly, chat may be useful for quick conversations within your office but aren’t appropriate for communicating with a client. If you have something important or lengthy to discuss, use email or a phone call. Even though the functions of text, chat, and email are very similar, the connotations are different. Email is still the most formal and professional way to go as far as written messages go and a phone call is never amiss.
The Bottom Line
Learning how to communicate better is a skill. As with any skill, you’ll need to practice to improve. It’s well worth it – bettering your communication skills can make you a better boss, business owner, and colleague. Plus those skills are applicable in your personal life, too. They’ll make it easier to connect with your friends and family (even those pesky teenagers!). Basically, brushing up on your business communication skills is a no-brainer.