In a letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders a few years ago, Warren Buffett wrote that he instructs his employees to always fix a mistake – no matter how large or small – as quickly as possible. His rationale is that small problems almost always get bigger, and correcting an error demonstrates integrity. Those principles also apply to communication. Miscommunication creates damaging effects as it travels through the company while working to improve communication and correcting any misunderstandings shows virtue.
Practicing good communication, especially as it applies to your decisions, will keep your employees better informed of your company’s strategic goals, set an example of how communication should occur and minimize the consequences that stem from a lack of understanding.
In part three of our series, we explore how business leaders can communicate more effectively. We will discuss the principles that you need to know to improve communication with your teams, vendors and clients.
The Secrets Of Great Communicators
While it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what makes a conversation great, we all know the signs of poor communication. You have probably had times when you felt that the other person wasn’t really listening. Poor communication is often a one-way street; the communicator focuses on what they want to say, rather than what the listener needs to hear.
You can improve communication skills by focusing on the other party. Before you begin a conversation, think about what the listener will gain from it. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. What do they want or need to know? When you focus on others, your message becomes more targeted and will be better received.
Being an effective communicator also requires choosing the right channel for your message. We all remember the email chains that a quick conference call could handle effectively and the text messages that were less than clear. Consider the best way to reach your audience.
Everyone has their own unique communication style. Some clients may like to discuss updates on the phone, while others would rather receive an email whenever possible. When you use the listener’s preferred communication method, they will be more receptive to your message.
When sharing valuable information, punctuality is critical. No one likes to feel unprepared or caught off-guard. Don’t wait until a situation becomes critical to share the news. Effective leaders communicate early and often.
By taking the time to communicate regularly, you are letting people know that you value them. Creating and maintaining a two-way dialogue demonstrates respect for a relationship. Regular communication builds rapport and helps ensure that both parties have the information they need when they need it.
Aim For Productive Conversations
Many business leaders default to a top-down communication style, but connecting with and learning from your staff is just as important, if not more so, than delivering messages from the executive team. Find opportunities to engage regularly with the grassroots level of your company. Effective leaders listen more than they talk.
The main goals of any communication should be to share information and build a relationship. To achieve those ends, you need to involve your listeners as active participants in a conversation. Encourage your team members to respond, rather than just passively taking in new information.
When you want to begin a dialogue, ask open-ended questions. For example, a webinar could end with a question and answer session, or you could request feedback about a proposed policy change. People remember more information and generally feel more positive about a communication when they actively participate.
Each communication should have a clear purpose. Whether your intent is to clarify, discuss, inspire or reframe, defining your goal helps you deliver a clear message. Developing a shared understanding is essential to any effective communication. Keep your message simple and succinct to make it easier for recipients to recognize the main points.
To deliver your message in a way that resonates, frame it as a narrative whenever possible. People often forget facts and statistics. Use storytelling to show why the information matters. Stories provide examples of how your message applies in the real world and encourage the listener to consider the information in the context of their own experiences.
Communication Traps To Avoid
To make the most out of your business communications, you need to be open to receiving feedback. Having a truly honest dialogue with a colleague is often easier said than done. Remember that the message is separate from the messenger.
If someone disagrees with one of your ideas or offers a counterpoint, don’t take it personally. Your team needs to know you value their opinions and are open to hearing other perspectives. Sharing a different point of view can actually be a sign of respect; it means that the other person took the time to consider your message and reply thoughtfully.
Of course, sometimes the feedback you receive will be critical. Remember to separate the person from their message when you respond. Your relationship with the other person likely extends farther than this one conversation, and frequently, there is a gap between what the speaker intended and what the listener heard, which doesn’t help to improve communication gaps.
Ask clarifying questions to better understand and learn from the other person’s perspective, rather than becoming defensive. If an exchange becomes heated, take a pause before replying and always remember to use appropriate etiquette, especially in your written communications.
Developing an ongoing dialogue takes time and effort. While delegating is an important skill for leaders, don’t make communicating with your team someone else’s responsibility. Establishing two-way communication with staff members at all levels helps keep executives grounded in the day-to-day practicalities of their business.
By initiating productive conversations, you gain valuable insights and can positively influence your corporate culture and improve communication for everyone.
When you communicate a decision to your team, you need to be sure that everyone understands your message. Any miscommunication can result in ineffective implementation, and give rise to the need to go back and clarify the key details. Explicitly communicating what your decision means for the company will help ensure that everyone is on the same page.
To make it easier for your team to understand your decision, focus on answering their key questions. You need to outline exactly what should happen next and why. Be as specific as possible to help avoid any misunderstandings.
Remember to address any contingencies, challenges or threats that your team may face. If you need help deciding what information to share, ask yourself what you would need to know if you were in the listener’s position.
Consider how to best communicate your decision. The audience, time and method you choose will all impact how they receive your message. If your team may need a copy of the decision for future reference, you should deliver it in writing. A decision that is likely to generate a lot of discussions would be better communicated in person.
When planning your announcement, be sure to include everyone who needs to know. Choose a time and place where you have your audience’s attention. Avoid delivering an important announcement when employees are likely to be distracted, such as at the end of the day or immediately before a big presentation. You want their full attention to be on the topic at hand.
The Power Of Effective Communication
Communicating the right message at the right time and in the right way enables you to build relationships, empower others and grow your business and the process by which you improve communication will always be changing. By making others the focus and being open to feedback, you can become a more effective leader.
Establish and maintain honest two-way communication with your team, and you may be surprised by what you learn.