Effective communication is often touted as being critical to success in business. However, what is often not followed through with is why is it important to a particular business and what does effective communication actually look like?
This article will step you through this process in stating a case for why we need to ensure our communication is effective and what actions can you take to start the process towards achieving this goal. Like many things in life working on being an effective communicator is a lifelong process. However, I hope the points covered below will be useful to you and help you in this process; no matter where you are on the journey.
Why is effective communication important?
Business, no matter whether online, offline, your local shoe shop or Walmart itself, is about engagement with people. Engaging with and affecting customers is what brings people back, while engaging and affecting employees is what motivates them and provides the catalyst for them to develop and improve the business.
To be able to engage, or influence people is about being able to:
- move things forward without pushing, forcing or telling others what to do;
- build effective working relationships; and
- move difficult situations forward
As a people manager you need to make time to be visible and talk to your team in their workplace, inform them of what is going on in the business and discuss business issues, listen to feedback and take action.
What do you want to achieve when communicating?
Messages should be designed to move the audience to the action/inaction required in as brief a period of time as possible. Recognise that individuals will be at different places on the continuum depending on the level of engagement. Your message may move the audience from Ignorance to Awareness, from Understanding to Commitment, from Enthusiasm to Agreement or enable the audience to return to its Comfort Zone.
So what key skills do I need?
The key skills to communicate effectively and influence are basically the same, being:
- active listening – listening to the content, the intent, picking up non verbal communication, listening without judgement and with empathy;
- questioning – using the right type of question to clarify and understand what is being said;
- building rapport – ask lots of questions and listen to what’s being said, be interested in and focused on the individual, be understanding of where they are coming from; and
- writing skills – choosing the right message to communicate and the right medium ie email, newsletter.
What is active listening?
- eliminate distractions – dedicate time and yourself to the other person;
- expect moments of silence – silence conveys patience, understanding and a willingness to let a story unfold;
- maintain good eye contact – helps demonstrate interest and connection with the individual;
- clear your mind and focus on what is being said – pay attention to what you are hearing and not on other work issues;
- avoid snap judgements – don’t have preconceived ideas about what the issue is as this will prevent you from listening; and
- only record key points – put your pen down as writing interferes with your ability to listen and can be viewed as a barrier.
What is an open question?
There are a range of open questions that can be used, however they each have their strength based on what you are trying to achieve. Examples include:
- what? – seeking things that are or will be. To solve problems ask three ‘what’ questions in sequence:
- what are you trying to achieve?
- what is the real problem?
- what is the solution?
- why? – seeks logical connections and shows you are rational in your thinking. Ask ‘why not’ to stimulate thinking outside of the box;
- when? – seeks location in time, when something has or is going to happen;
- how? – probes into detail of what has or will happen;
- where? – seeks the location of where it has or will happen; and
- who? – identifies key people involved in the situation.
So what is a closed question?
As good as open questions are to the communication process, they are not always suitable for gathering the information required. Closed questions are sometimes required, such as when:
- to get facts;
- for a quick answer;
- to keep control of the conversation;
- for testing understanding; and
- to open conversation without forcing detail.
A closed question signals an easy answer eg Do you like …? Would you be …? Are you still …? Will that …?
What else do I need to be aware of?
The ‘funnel’ is a questioning technique where you start off with open questions to get the person talking, then you probe an area using a mix of open and closed questions to get more specific detail. Then ask reflective questions to check understanding of what has been said. Finally ask closed questions to conclude the conversation and agree next steps.
What is building rapport?
Rapport is a state of understanding or connection that occurs in a good social interaction. It says basically "I am like you, we understand each other". Rapport occurs on an unconscious level, our language, speech patterns, body movement, posture and other aspects of communication become in tune with each other.
It is an unconscious process, but it can be learned by being more aware of what we do for example:
- body language – posture, eye contact, gestures, facial expressions;
- reflecting back language and speech - pitch, tone, volume, pace and the words and phrases used; and
- checking understanding – repeating back what you have heard.
What should I think about when writing?
There are a number of critical points that can make your writing more effective:
- ensure the message, the structure and layout are clear;
- points are made in the order of relevance;
- content is concise;
- is clear if an action is required or not;
- has the right style and tone and uses appropriate words and phrases – remember the intended message is often lost as the written word can be interpreted differently by the receiver; and
- grammar and spelling are correct.
General hints and tips
Other things to consider:
- what is the message? Do you understand it? Do you need further information? Who do I need to tell? Define your different audiences?
- what do I need to tell them? Is it relevant? Have you answered ‘what does it mean to me’?
- what style should I use? Keep it jargon free, use your own words, think about the cultural make up of your audience. Think about your body language;
- how will I tell them? What method and media suits the message and target audience? Make it a two way process, involve your audience through use of questions;
- do I need any additional resource or support materials? Venue, room set up, equipment, etc;
- how do I know I’ve achieved the outcome I wanted? Check understanding, get feedback, gain commitment to take action.
What do I need to think about when influencing?
- prepare thorough;
- identify key stakeholders; and
- consider what makes people tick.
- empathise and modify approach;
- overcome obstacles and take responsibility;
- convey a clear message;
- listen especially early on;
- calm, confident, open and positive style;
- respect others and their contribution; and
- personal commitment and passion.