Who needs one more meeting on their weekly calendar? Who loves when the boss responds to a thoughtful and detailed email with, “Sounds good”? What salesperson or customer service rep finds it a good use of time to explain opaque corporate policies to customers who have become confused or upset?
Effective business communication makes for more effective business, period. The recap memo that replaces the status meeting; the clear direction from manager to team member – and in reverse to make clear what help or decision is desired; and exceptional clarity from the organization to its customers, partners, supporters – these are the “grease” that take the friction out of getting work done.
As the Small Business section of the Houston Chronicle wrote in a recent article: "Effective communication resolves problems, unites workers and increases employee loyalty.”
Now, these observations are not earth-shattering or new. No one sets out to be unclear (except maybe those who are “playing politics,” a phrase that has a justifiably negative connotation). Let’s explore how to be a clearer communicator in your work life, and then how the benefits of driving greater understanding can help you get ahead and your organization achieve its goals.
How to Be a More Effective Business Communicator
Remember three simple criteria for everything you write and each time you prepare to speak or present, and you’ll have a great start –
Whether you are connecting with one person or a roomful of customers, consider what they already know, what preconceived notions they may have entering the conversation, and where you want to “take them” in your discussion or presentation.
Lead with the benefit to them.
We’re all self-interested, even when we are also glad to see ourselves as “part of the team.” Answer the unasked question, “what’s in it for me?” How does the action you will ask them to take ladder up to an objective they have, either personal or meaningful because it’s the team’s or company’s goal?
Make very clear what you are asking for.
What needs to get done, by when, and what will make you satisfied with their response should be clear. “We need to decide to invest in a new building or institute a flexible shift schedule by April 30, so I need your research by Friday the 5th so I can prepare for the management meeting on the 15th. If you give me a spreadsheet with costs related to splitting shifts and a memo on how you see the pros and cons, that will give us a good starting point for the conversation.” Specific, time-bound, and gives your reason for the request.
These insights lead to the one immutable bit of advice – think ahead. A bit of forethought, even scribbling out your thoughts ahead of the conversation or before you start to write the “real” email or memo will save you having to say it again, which wastes time and increases frustration.
Once you become a clear communicator, you can help others develop more effective business communication skills, a positive ripple effect that can make you more valuable to your organization. When you know the hallmarks of clear expression you will be aware of when it’s NOT happening and why, and you will be able to ask more intelligent questions to help your colleague give you the information you need to do your job. Think how much happier others will be when a few easy questions from you help make sure you get their point – if they don’t thank you at first when you’re asking questions they should thank you later when you’ve been able to get them what they need without false starts, “guessing and stressing,” and re-work.
How Everyone Benefits from Clear Communication
This may be intuitive, but let’s explore just a few ways effective business communication helps an organization –
You and your colleagues get more done when you are on the same page, share a vision, and are clear about how you’re going to achieve it. Business coach David Grossman, on his leadercommunicator blog, offers five ways a strong internal communications strategy helps employees and the business, and they’re right on.
Customers feel closer to you when there is no confusion and will be better advocates for you when they find it easy to express what you do and why they value it. Every company wants to reduce its customer acquisition cost and increase each customer’s satisfaction and value to the organization, and clarity is one way your prospects and customers will judge you. If a customer can articulate why they buy from you, if they give you a larger share of their business because they find you easy to work with, if they regularly refer you to others, you’ve increased their value to you, because your clear communication has increased your value to them.
For “customers,” substitute any other key stakeholders. Do you distribute, sell, install or implement through third-parties? Better make sure they know how you position market your products and services, and clearly understand your business roadmap. Your board and investors must be informed so they can give good guidance, make sound decisions, and stay supportive of your efforts.
To summarize, as an individual and member of a team you will get more done with less frustration when you are an effective business communicator, and it can definitely help your career. A recent business survey showed one of the top soft skills desired by hiring managers is the ability to communicate clearly.
Your department, division, location, your entire organization benefits when you build closer relationships with your customers and other key audiences. Enhanced understanding leads to increased empathy, and that can translate to more sales, increased trust and forgiveness if something ever does go wrong, and a general positive feeling about your brand and your people.
And who knows, maybe you’ll end up with a meeting or two fewer on your calendar.
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