10 best practices for business communication
Two local executive coaches weighed in on the best practices for business communication, and here’s their list.
Jim Hessler, founder of Path Forward Leadership Development, author of “Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face” and co-host of The Boss Show, has worked with a number of companies around the South Sound, as has Carol Bowser, workplace conflict expert, president of Conflict Management Strategies and a judge for Business Examiner Media Group’s Top Places to Work.
1. Be concise. Great communication “gets to the point and states the point clearly. No tap-dancing,” says Hessler. Likewise, he says, your communication should be gender neutral and use limited sports analogies. “When you over-talk an issue, people tune out, and you appear less confident in your message,” he says.
2. Talk to your employees and give them meaningful feedback. “For some people, ‘Hey, you’re doing a good job,’ is completely inadequate. They want more concrete examples of what you see as good performance, such as meeting quality or quantity metrics, taking initiative, contributing during meetings, handling customer complaints well. Alternatively, if an employee approaches you with a concern don’t say ‘Hey, don’t worry about it.’ This response demeans the employee’s experience. If you want conscientious employees, be conscientious in your response. Take time to find out what it causing the concern rather than placating it,” says Bowser.
3. Build on positive and honorable intentions. “If the intention is to mislead, obscure, or manipulate, no amount of skill in communication will overcome a bad intention,” says Hessler. “If you see communication as a way to care for your employees, and it becomes clear you have their best interests at heart, they will listen. Your positive intentions will also be revealed in your willingness to receive feedback from others, and will open others to feedback from you.”
4. Be consistent. “Your communication should reinforce the key strategic and cultural messages. You can’t repeat these things often enough,” says Hessler. Everyone in the organization from top to bottom deserves to know the company’s strategy, and performance will improve when people work within the context of meaning created by a clear sense of direction.
5. Consider the channel. Hessler says, “Email and texting are okay in some instances and in other instances not. Good business people know the difference.” Bowser agrees: address your recipient in a way that’s meaningful to him or her. When you’re not being understood, our inclination is to repeat our message louder and more frequently. Bowser suggests reconsidering the way you’re delivering your message. “So ask, ‘What sort of information do you think we can deliver via email? What conversations should we have in person or by phone?’” she advises.
6. Consider who is delivering. “Key messages have to come from key leaders and influencers,” says Hessler.
7. Check for understanding. “When a critical communication takes place, management can’t assume the message was understood in the way it was intended. Get out and check the reaction to the communication of key messages,” Hessler says. Bowser suggests, “Ask people, ‘I want to make sure that I was clear, what was your take away from our conversation?’”
8. Utilize an organizational communication strategy. Bowser advises you to consider what information you deliver, as well as why and how. “I think some business owners believe, because we are a small shop, information is communicated out and they don’t necessarily have an organizational communication strategy and I think that’s important,” she says. “The larger the organization, what might have worked going to one person or having a group meeting, sort of falls down, because decisions need to be made faster and it needs to be communicated and not necessarily be relied on by an email train or playing telephone.” Hessler agrees. “As the leader of your team or organization, you are the Chief Communication Officer,” he says. “It’s as important as anything else you do.”
9. Have difficult conversations early. “If people avoid or derail conversations that they think are uncomfortable or they’re concerned that it’s going to get confrontational. The problem doesn’t go away,” says Bowser. “In fact, it gets buried, festers and becomes a much more difficult conversation to have later. People don’t believe they can be honest and kind at the same time, and respectful, and you absolutely, positively can. There are entire courses designed on how to improve communication and conflict resolution skills. Coaching is also a great option.”
10. Seek outside feedback. Bowser advises, “being cognizant of what might have worked last year in those economic conditions or that size of company may not work today. And, just be willing to ask yourself the question of,” is this working as well as I think it is? “ Have a trusted adviser that’s outside of the direct reporting chain for some feedback. People who are relying on you to sign their paycheck are unlikely to tell you that you’re doing a bad job. That’s where peer advisory boards can be very helpful.”
This article appeared in a March 2014 issue of the Business Examiner print edition. If you enjoyed it, please comment and share it with others. To get unlimited access to all of our stories, subscribe to the Business Examiner »
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