Clear, Effective Business Communication
Readers BEWARE! The following article contains information that pertains specifically to improving your communication skills in business only. It is NOT intended for personal use with situations involving spouses, significant others or children. Now that we have that out of the way we can get down to business.
Ineffective communication in business is the root of all evil. Resulting in everything from dissatisfied customers to aged receivables. The inability of managers and employees to communicate clearly leads to more problems than anything else in business. The cost of this deficiency can easily reach 5 to 10 percent of a company’s bottom line at the end of the year. Most businesses understand this but still struggle. The remedies attempted generally involve more talk and more meetings with the results looking the same.
Clear and effective communication in business can only be achieved when information is successfully transferred between parties in a manner which leaves little to doubt regarding the decisions made, directions given or actions which will occur. I had this drilled into my head in college during role play exercises where my classmates were given Nerf® softballs with “get to the point” written on them. As a result, that is where we will start.
Storytelling is fun if you are writing published pieces or sitting around a campfire. Dancing is appropriate for parties and expected in politics. However, when it comes to business communication it is most effective when we state our intentions early and get to the point quickly. Within the opening moments of any correspondence the receiver should know why it is occurring and what the message is about. This opens the door for a more candid and effective exchange of information between the two parties. It also establishes trust between the parties because the key information is not masked by supportive information or excuses.
Imagine you had to call a customer and tell them a subcontractor will not be able to show up today for work he was scheduled to complete. A typical exchange might sound like this, “Hi Mrs. Customer, I finally got a hold of Joe Plumber and he is behind on another project right now. He was hoping to finish last week but one of his guys went on vacation and he is short staffed. I know he was scheduled to be at your house today but…” Put yourself in the customer’s shoes here. As a receiver of this message you probably have more questions from this opening than anything. You are feeling frustrated because you are hearing excuses before resolutions, compromising the trust placed in the contractor to get the job done.
Using the strategies listed above, this opening exchange could look a little different. “Hi Mrs. Customer, I am calling to give you a status update on your project. Unfortunately our plumbing contractor will not be at your home as scheduled today. I am working hard to make sure this does not affect the overall completion date of your project…” Now the customer is clear on the reason for the call and the impact on them and their project. There are no excuses to mask the message, building trust and establishing accountability. As a result, most receivers of this message will thank the sender instead of screaming and complaining.
In addition, an effective exchange of information between parties can occur with a higher degree of clarity when both parties are present with each other. Being present does not always mean physically present, but mentally present and free of distractions. It involves giving someone your undivided attention, listening intently and actively engaging in a conversation. This strategy conveys a level of priority and importance to the receiver which cannot be expressed in words.
With our example above, if this conversation occurs when the customer hears noise or commotion in the background, another phone ringing or other distractions, it sends the message that they are not as important. Instead, find a quiet place to make the call and give the situation the attention it deserves. If you are more present with people, you will also find their respect for you increases along with the effectiveness of your communication.
There are times, even when we state our intentions early, get to the point quickly and are present with our counterparts, when parts of our message get lost in translation. This is why it is important to summarize the key parts of our message for the receiver. Summarization should be a brief recap of the information contained in the message, actions which will occur and responsibilities of the parties. In many ways it looks very similar to the initial opening and with our example might sound like this, “Again, our plumber will not be on your job today. I am hopeful this will not have an impact on the overall completion of your project as I will be working hard to adjust the schedule accordingly.”
The overall effectiveness of these strategies and clarity it brings to business communication is only as good as the venue chosen to deliver the message. Numerous studies have shown that as little as 7 percent of the information in a message comes from the words used. The balance comes from body language (55 percent) and tone of voice (38 percent). These statistics clearly make face to face communication a more effective method of communicating over phone conversations, email or text messaging.
This is not to suggest that a phone call, email or text message does not serve a purpose in the business world, because they do. Text messaging is a great time-saving way of relaying key facts and gathering information when both parties already know the subject and the intention. Email is a very effective way of transferring information between parties when active feedback is not necessary and tone of voice is not relative to the delivery. And a phone conversation is next best thing when face-to-face is not possible because the tone of voice is present.
Mastering the art of clear, effective communication goes well beyond the strategies outlined in this article. Many have devoted their entire careers to the study and improvement of communication. The subject and subsequent research has shaped the landscape of advances in technology and the business environment in which we all work today. It is without a doubt a critical component to success or failure.
That best part about all of this is you don’t need to be an academic or scholar to improve your communication skills. If you can state your intentions clearly, get to the point quickly, be present with people, and summarize the information all through the appropriate channels, you will be well on your way to achieving clearly effective communication in business.
As for communication with spouses, significant others and children, well there is a little more to that.