Effective Business Communication: 8 Steps to a Better Conversation
Effective business communication is a two-way process of listening and speaking, and it's of foremost importance in all phases of daily business life at your middle market company. Ask one hundred employees whether they're good communicators, and one hundred will say yes. In reality, though, all of us need to improve our communication skills.
Here are eight ways to do so:
- Eliminate assumptions. Many business relationships have unspoken rules with assumptions at their core. This might work for a while, but it's better for all sides to openly communicate needs and expectations. Assumptions often cause misunderstandings, which can escalate into troublesome situations. Similarly, talk about the present and the future, but don't assume that what happened before is what will always happen. Effective business communication can bring positive change, even if things have been bad. You need to be forward-looking and believe that change can happen. Never assume that history will repeat itself.
- Find a good place and time for all involved to talk. Communication won't work when one party is distracted. Find a quiet place and, if the communication is difficult, make sure you have privacy. Have regular structures such as weekly or monthly meetings to support communication, and make time to talk when there's a problem to solve.
- To be heard, listen first. You never want to begin by imposing a solution. If there's a problem, simply describe it and how it is impacting your business. Then, ask in an open way, "What can we do to resolve this situation?" Stop and listen. The biggest business communication killer is the failure to listen. Be open-minded enough to hear the other side's feedback, absorb it and develop a solution that combines what you want and what they want. To listen and then impose your preferred solution is not listening. Do not think about how to answer while the other is talking, and don't interrupt until you know the person has finished. Listening sends the best message of all: We're working to find a mutually acceptable solution.
- Ask questions. These help you get feedback, show that you're listening, confirm understanding and give respect. Questions are wonderful tools and should be used often. If you're not sure about a detail, ask for confirmation. If you want to hear feedback from the other person, just ask. When you combine listening with asking relevant questions, you've opened up powerful two-way business communication.
- Expressing emotion is important, but always be respectful. It's perfectly acceptable to tell someone, "When you don't pitch in to help the team, it frustrates me." But you should also expect your co-worker to say something like, "It upsets me when I have too much work." That's fine. What you need to do is find a way to solve the problem. You might begin by mutually clarifying work-related expectations. Emotion is part of that communication, but it shouldn't be the end of it.
- Pay attention to nonverbal messages. It's hard to have open communication if both sides fold their arms, clench their jaws and refuse to look each other in the eye. Here, the nonverbal signals are shouting angrily even if the words aren't. Be careful about your tone of voice, too. If nonverbal messages are overwhelming the conversation, it might be better to wait until things settle. Nod your head and maintain an open posture to show you're absorbing what the other person is saying.
- Recognize and reinforce positive behaviors. Effective communication is a constant activity, and you should thank the other person for accommodating you. This is a win-win, and it will keep the channels of communication open.
- Be patient and don't expect miracles. Communication is so important — and so hard. It doesn't eliminate differences, but it does allow for them. Ultimately, good business communication is not about winning; it's about strengthening relationships. Change doesn't happen overnight.
The process of effective communication is the best way to engage with people in a way that accomplishes your business goals. There's no doubt that following these eight steps will enhance the quality of your business relationships.
What does your company do when there's trouble with communication? Do you have seminars or offer mediation for disputes? Tell us by commenting below.
Boston-based Chuck Leddy is an NCMM contributor and a freelance reporter who contributes regularly to The Boston Globe and Harvard Gazette. He also trains Fortune 500 executives in business-communication skills as an instructor for EF Education. Circle him on Google+.