Most entrepreneurs and managers believe that they have excellent communication skills. Often they don’t.
“The major mistake in communication is to believe that it happens.”
Nevertheless, communication skills are an integral component of any business. Whether it is interacting with suppliers, shareholders, customers or even regulators, there is the need to pass your message effectively. What’s more, one of the crucial roles of a manager is to share the vision of the company with staff regularly. Indeed, a manager connects how each contributes to the overall success of the business.
Before I share with you effective business communication skills, it is imperative that we look at some communication models we have. The two primary communication models often used are Aristotle and Lasswell.
Models to Explain Communication Skills
We can trace back Aristotle’s model, also known as formal communication or rhetorical theory, to classical Greece 2500 years ago. At that time, Aristotle, Plato, and Sophists were speech writers. Even more, public speaking skills drove politics, which was the basis of that society. Aristotle model is a linear one based on three elements of communication: the Speaker, the Speech, and the audience.
Focusing purely on public speaking, Aristotle’s model describes communication as a process composed of a speaker, message and a listener. It also provides a basis for ascertaining how effective a speaker is. What you can borrow from this model is to consider the audience demographics, attitudes and values carefully. Also, how they predispose on both psychological and emotional level.
Lasswell’s Model (1948)
Harold Lasswell was an American political scientist and communications theorist. Having carefully studied the American presidential elections, the process of political campaigning and propaganda, he came up with the Lasswell’s Model. He viewed communication as transmission of messages whose effect we should measure regarding change in the receiver rather than the meaning. Modern communications models borrow heavily from Lasswell’s Model.
The key elements of this communication model are, Who (the source), Says What (the intended message), To Whom (the audience). According to this model, we communicate a message through a medium with the hope that it achieves the desired effect on the audience.
Laswell’s model attributes communication as a persuading process based on the effect of the sender on the receiver. He takes the focus away from the information the message carries. However, there is no feedback in the model thus making it linear in nature as opposed to circular.
Whatever model you come across, it should help make the process of communication easier to understand. Even more, it should enable you to acquire and master effective business communication skills.
The SUCCES Model by Chip and Dan Heath
This is a communication model that two brothers, Chip and Dan Heath, popularised in their 2007 book ‘Made to Stick.’ To them, how to improve communication skills is to use six principles whose first letters together join to spell the word SUCCES. These principles are Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotion, and Stories.
In the book, the authors theorise that for an audience to understand your message, you need to make it simple. You also need to present it in a way the audience doesn’t expect, that way you keep its attention throughout the session. Even more, your message should be full of examples, metaphors and similes to make it concrete.
For more effectiveness, you should back your message with provable facts and try to communicate to the heart. The authors point out that stories are also very effective communication tools to pass a message.
Made to Stick is a book anyone who wants to have effective communication skills. That includes business communications.
The MBM Trust Model of Communication
For effective communication, your audience needs to trust you. Making Business Matter knows the building blocks of trust. They are credibility or knowing your stuff well, reliability or always delivering in time and intimacy or getting to know a bit about the people you communicate with. In addition, you need to open up about yourself or doing Self-Orientation to those you talk to.
What are Communication Skills?
Communication skills are your abilities to convey information to others effectively and efficiently. These skills are verbal, non-verbal (body language) and written. The following is a list of ten of the steps you can take to improve your efficiency in conveying messages to others:
#1 – Avoid Unnecessary Buzzwords
Every workplace has its set of euphemism used to encapsulate some ugly truths people are unwilling to say. Indeed, many of us are guilty of throwing in an occasional buzzword or cliché in important presentations. We are susceptible even more to use jargon-ridden management drivel when in a position of authority. We assume everyone has a clear idea of what we are trying to pass across.
On the contrary, most clichés were once catchy and creative ways of articulating popular thoughts only to lose their appeal due to overuse. They are now often meaningless, annoying and confusing, especially because often people have no time to decipher hidden messages.
As a manager, there is need to communicate your thoughts clearly.
“Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say infinitely when you mean very; otherwise, you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.”
For your team to understand the when, where, why and how message, avoid using words with double meaning. Make careful choice of words for your business communication.
Examples of phrases people are overusing include ‘no brainer,’ ‘touch base,’ ‘low hanging fruits,’ ‘eye on the ball’ and ‘game-changing.’ They’ve lost their impact, originality, and meaning.
#2 – Listen Before You Speak
Listening is a major key to effective communication between management and staff. Indeed, listening is one of the communication skills that impact relationships in teams and with other businesses and customers. What’s more, top-down communication is often patronizing and overbearing due to its linearity.
Listening helps you as a manager to gather relevant facts with which you to make sound decisions. Even more, listening to staff complaints gives you insight on how to improve job performance and working environment.
Roy T. Bennett:
“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.”
In projects that require great teamwork, there is need to develop trust and effective communication. Indeed, listening is essential to building trust and ensuring seamless collaboration.
Actively listening to your employees shows that you are sincerely interested in their well-being. Besides, listening helps identify aspects of the job your staff find most challenging and rewarding. Furthermore, you get to know what motivates each one of them. In return, you can boost their morale and improve productivity.
Failing to listen to a customer’s complaint or addressing it in time might end up tarnishing your company’s image. Therefore, as a manager, you have to cultivate a culture of listening to their employees and leading by example. Even with social media, if you want others to hear you, first listen.
#3 – Be Emotionally Intelligent
Every company is comprised of people with various personalities, strengths and emotions, which greatly influence how they work together. To have effective communication, you should identify and manage your emotions as well as those of others. In fact, reacting from emotions without applying a filter creates mistrust amongst your employees.
However, you ought to be emotionally intelligent to actually gauge expectations, needs and wants of those you lead. Emotionally intelligent managers develop happier teams, lower turnover rates while registering high levels of job satisfaction.
The first step towards becoming emotionally intelligent is recognizing your strengths, weaknesses, values and emotions through self-assessment, and how they impact others. As a leader, you cannot afford to lose your cool when things get stressful. You have to apply self-regulation, self-discipline and staying calm when communicating with your team.
“Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”
The next time one of your employees accuses you of being a micromanager, you shouldn’t be quick to anger. Instead, try to put yourself in their shoes to better understand why they feel so. Often, lack of emotional intelligence makes your employees think of you as insensitive, arrogant, volatile, rigid and selfish.
Emotional intelligence is one of the communication skills that enhance work relationships and create a productive and healthy workplace.
#4 – Communicate with Confidence
As a manager, you are bound to lead your team through a crisis from time to time. During challenging times teams look up to their leaders. As a result, you have to portray confidence even when unsure of the outcome. Speaking with confidence is one of the critical communication skills for low, middle and high-level managers.
Speaking with self-confidence comes from the strong belief in your abilities, skills, experience and acceptance of your body and mind. It is an ingredient in gaining the trust of employees and customers. It is said people cannot differentiate between competence and confidence.
“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
When addressing those working under you, speak in a clear and stable voice tone that conveys self-assurance. Make eye contact. This doesn’t mean giving your audience a stare that makes them uncomfortable. Good eye contact is a gentle meeting of eyes as you speak.
In particular, humour eases tension paving the way for fruitful discussions. Remember to apologise when you are wrong, express gratitude, recognise and acknowledge others. Above all, speak from the heart. Indeed, reconnecting with your convictions when you speak to others exudes authority and a sense of sureness.
#5 – Take Care of Nonverbal Communication
There are more aspects to non-verbal communication than facial expressions and body gestures. In fact, subtle movements such as how you sit, stand, move your feet or arms add to your body language. Furthermore, this impacts how people receive your message. Most people attribute trustworthiness to those who maintain eye contact when they speak. Nonverbal communication can reinforce what you are communicating, complement a verbal message or contradict thus making you appear insincere.
“60 % of all human communication is nonverbal body language; 30 % is your tone, so that means 90 % of what you are saying doesn’t come from your mouth.”
Also, people are inclined to find the information they receive directly from the sender credible unlike emails. This highlights the importance of ensuring your nonverbal communication is in line with the intended message.
Your appearance and even type of clothing send powerful nonverbal signals. Remember that when in conservative suits people may often find you unapproachable even when it is not your intention. The next time you have team building event with your staff encourage everyone to attend dressed informally.
#6 – Go Open Door Policy
An open-door policy is one of the most effective communication skills. It encourages an open flow of communication while demonstrating your accessibility as a manager. What’s more, gossip and negative rumours are rife in companies where managers shut their doors. This is due to a barrier in communication between management and lower-level employees who end up speculating. In such cases, the management appears disengaged and uninterested in the daily company activities.
In the fast-paced modern business environment, quick access to information is essential. Meanwhile, an open door policy encourages employees with creative ideas to stop by without an appointment. This helps improve work morale and performance.
“Research indicates that employees have three prime needs: Interesting work, recognition for doing a good job, and being let in on things that are going on in the company.”
Indeed, poor communication can cause apathy in the ranks, lead to high turnover and poor customer service.
The open-door policy encourages employees to openly express their opinions and give honest feedback making them feel valued. The managers who implement open communication policies are always in the loop with what’s happening across departments. They also get key insights about the business from informal discussions.
The absence of a barrier fosters closer working relationships with employees while promoting a culture of openness. Moreover, you understand better your employee’s professional and personal goals, which you can enhance to meet the company’s objectives.
#7 – Choosing the Right Medium
Thanks to advancement in information technology, managers are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a medium for communication. The primary challenge is deciding what medium best suits the kind of message you want to pass across. Say you need to lay off some workers due to tough economic times. Should you do it via email, which is less emotionally draining or the good-old face-to-face? It is prudent to always deliver bad news such as termination of employment in person.
Choice of medium is also influenced by the complexity of the message, cost and how interactive you want it to be.
“Know when to email vs. when to meet. Logistics are best handled over a non-immediate communication channel like email or Asana tasks. Detailed status meetings will suck the life out of your day.”
The first step towards choosing an effective medium of communication is identifying your target audience. This can be done by reviewing magazines that reach your target audience or interacting with opinion shapers in your industry. Meanwhile, to disseminate change in price or new product announcement you can use social media, newsletters and advertisement. However, to explain in depth the benefits of a new product, use niche magazine or downloadable technical papers.
Organisational culture, the importance of the message, frequency of communication and regulatory compliance considerations can also influence the choice of medium.
It is advisable to work with professionals in developing and implementing your communication strategy. For instance, they will ensure your press release appear in the right editorial publications.
#8 – Collect Feedback
Feedback is the essence of two-way communication. It gauges how effective and comprehensive the communication was. Indeed, communication is incomplete without feedback. Meanwhile, through the feedback, you can understand the attitude of the recipient hence improve the message accordingly. When you mention feedback, most managers think performance appraisals, surveys or training evaluation. However, you get feedback every time you speak to a vendor, employee or customer.
Feedback from customers provides both business leaders with valuable insights on how to improve products, services, and overall customer experience. Feedback also gauges customers’ satisfaction by determining if you met their expectations. You can do this by phone, email, surveys or website.
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”
Asking for feedback makes employees feel that you value and appreciate them. This motivates them to perform even better. Even more, feedback is essential to cooperation, coordination and smooth running of departments.
By continuously seeking feedback from employees on various issues you maintain a healthy labour-management relationship in the organization. Also, feedback helps management to identify and deal with complaints before they escalate and disrupt normal business operations.
Continued collection of feedback helps an organization improve business relationships, create strategies, and formulate better decisions.
#9 – Eliminate Assumptions
Most managers caught up in their web of tasks assume that their subordinates know exactly what they need to do. However, failing to communicate your expectations to your team regularly is a major barrier to communication. Indeed, assumptions impede effective communication. Assuming your audience understands or agrees with you only because they are nodding their heads could prove disastrous. It is true that most people are often embarrassed to ask questions. Therefore, don’t assume your team understood well your message only because no one raised an issue. It might help to encourage the team to go through what you’ve talked about.
“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.”
In fact, the unspoken rules in business form the basis of most assumptions which leads to miscommunication. In your speech, avoid colloquialisms or overly formal language. This may obscure your message, especially when communicating with people from a different industry. Use of abstract, unfamiliar and unnecessarily long words often impedes effective communication.
Avoid making generalizations or jumping to conclusions that may have implications before you confirm and ascertain the facts presented.
#10 – Be Patient
Business communication, negotiations and employee relations all require patience. It is very easy to get overwhelmed and even feel frustrated when you cannot get your point across.
To send a message right into the hearts, you have to be able to restrain yourself. When you get the urge to interrupt and let the person finish speaking. That way, you can better understand what’s on their mind hence structure your response accordingly. Interruption causes a change in direction, however, when interrupted while speaking let them.
When your organisation implements a new medium of communication within the organization or with clients. There is always the temptation of expecting notable success in a short time. Unfortunately, we human beings are more resistant to change than we want to admit. Patience is required during such times as you give people time to adapt to the new systems.
“Patience is a conquering virtue.”
Patience also helps us control our responses. We can tolerate other people’s flaws while dealing with obstacles on our paths diplomatically. The next time you get a nasty email from a client or employee; don’t be too quick to respond. Write a draft response then review it the next day once your anger has subsided. That way you will be able to send back a rational response. Emails leave a permanent record, and you don’t want your momentary lapse of judgment to dent your reputation permanently.
Effective communication skills are essential to the success of any business. A breakdown in communication, especially by a business leader, could prove disastrous to an organisation. Therefore, every manager acquires effective business communication skills.