In business, if you fail to communicate, you fail. And the special difficulty in small business is that you’re required to be an effective communicator in a wide variety of settings to a diverse group of people. For these reasons, it’s always wise to be on the lookout for practical tips for effective communication.
At the very least you need to communicate with your employees, your customers, and your vendors. Further, you may sometimes be communicating to a group and other times communicating to an individual. Your goals within these settings will be different, but some principles remain the same. You want to 1) understand what others are saying to you and 2) be certain that they understand what you are saying.
Keeping those overarching truths in mind will serve you well. Consider them the foundation, on top of which you build your communication skills: Understand and be understood. If we start from there, we can begin to add some additional tips for effective communication that will serve you well in a wide range of settings.
1. Understand what your body language is saying. Have you noticed that some people are “approachable” while others aren’t? We have all probably worked for a business owner or manager who was difficult to talk to. Don’t let that be you.
A smiling, pleasant manner is fundamental to opening up the lines of communication. Further, not only will this kind of body language make you more approachable, it’s contagious. Those around you will be more open. They will feel less threatened and be more likely to bring up important issues that might be “swept under the carpet” if you cultivate a less open culture.
Avoid postures that tell others you’re closed, such as folding your arms, being half turned away when you’re talking to someone out on the floor, or leaning away when you’re seated at your desk; these postures tell people that you would really like to be somewhere else. And don’t forget to make eye contact.
2. Let people finish their thoughts. You’ve probably seen some of those 24-hour cable news channel shows where they bring in people to represent both sides of an issue. Often those turn into to shouting contests where everyone is talking over one another. Here’s a simple question: Does any communication go on when this happens? Of course not.
Let people finish their sentences. Don’t finish them for them. Sometimes this requires you to take mental notes, so you can come back to a point made earlier. Paraphrase what people tell you and say it back to them to reassure everyone that you have understood what is being communicated.
3. Be an active listener. My previous thoughts lead to this effective communication tip: Your effectiveness will depend on your ability to be an active and proficient listener. I know a former high school teacher who always started the school year teaching these three pillars of success:
- Show up
- Pay attention
- Do the work
He told his students that if they did those three things they would pass any class they ever took. Being an active listener is the “pay attention” pillar. Unfortunately, most people are thinking about what they are going to say next, rather than what the person they are talking to is saying now.
You’ve probably encountered a few people in your life who seemed to “get you” or who you felt really understood what you were saying. These people are either natural or practiced good listeners. We like being around those people. We quickly develop a sense of loyalty to these good listeners.
That person needs to be you!
4. Speak to your audience. For the most part, you want to use somewhat informal language and keep your vocabulary simple and straightforward. The exceptions to this are when you’re communicating to a specific group where technical language, for example, would be required.
Lightening things up with a little humor is always a good idea, but certainly avoid anything others might find offensive. Self-deprecating humor is always a safe bet!
5. Stay on point. Let’s go all the way back to how we started this. I said that one of the primary goals is to be understood by others. You need to know the main point (or few points) that you want the person or people you’re communicating with to understand.
You go into dangerous territory if you stray from your point or include tangential points. Here’s why: Some odd element that you throw into the mix may strike a chord with the people you’re communicating with and they’ll come away thinking that was the most important thing.
Have you ever gone to a speech or presentation with a group and then discussed it afterwards? Sometimes I’m amazed how points I thought were inconsequential turned out to be the main things that impressed others. We all come from different backgrounds, with different world views, so you need to eliminate points that don’t support your main theme or objective, otherwise you don’t know what people will walk away with.
How many of these tips for effective communication do you need to work on? If you spend some time thinking about and practicing them, the dividends can be huge. They will amp up your effectiveness with all the people you do business with and that will boost your overall success in a big way.