Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people. – Jim Rohn, American entrepreneur and business philosopher
No matter what industry you work in, product you sell, or service you offer, I guarantee your business involves a lot of communication with other people. It’s inevitable. We spend hours communicating with customers, vendors, staff, and colleagues every day, even if it’s not in person. Obviously communication is important and we have lots of opportunity to practice, but are we actually good at it?
Take a second to think of someone you’ve worked with who was a really BAD communicator.
Probably didn’t take that long, right? We’ve all dealt with the rambler, the interrupter, the complainer, the overcomplicater, the narcissist, the one who’s always looking at his phone and the one who thinks everything is about her.
We all have things we can improve on when it comes to communication, even if we don’t know what they are yet. How we come across to others has tremendous implication in the success of our businesses. Here are some ways to take control of how you communicate.
Put down the phone
Honestly. It pains me to need to write this. If you are engaged in conversation, your phone should be off or in airplane mode. If it’s a more relaxed atmosphere and/or you’re waiting for an emergency (I’m talking 39-weeks-pregnant-wife-scenario here, people), keep it in your pocket on vibrate. There is nothing so distracting or infuriating to realize your conversation partner missed your last three sentences because they got a Words With Friends notification. And don’t think that people on the phone can’t tell when you’re distracted. They can.
Checking your phone during a meeting doesn’t make your partner think you’re important. It makes them realize you view them as unimportant. Nobody wants to do business with someone who doesn’t take them seriously.
Take people seriously. Put your phone away.
Along those lines, make sure you genuinely listen. As you look at the other person, focus on what they’re saying. Be completely in the moment. Make mental notes if you have to. Make physical notes if you have to (and if it wouldn’t be creepy, given the topic).
Now isn’t the time to be thinking about your schedule, what’s for lunch, or even how you’re going to respond next. It’s certainly not the time to be interrupting with stories, personal woes, or conversational one-ups. If you listen intently, you’ll be more prepared to answer appropriately. And never interrupt someone’s thought with premature questions. If you let them finish, they may answer it for you.
Cut out the fluff
Believe it or not, sometimes clearer communication means using fewer words. Take this for instance:
I’m just writing to see if you had gotten a chance to take a look at the proposal I had sent maybe about a week ago. If you need any more information on that or have any questions, feel free to give me a call at the office at (555) 555-5555, or email me back at [email protected], I really appreciate it.
Checking in – did you receive my proposal from last week? My contact info is below if you have any questions. Thanks!
One of my biggest email struggles is over-complicating the message in order to sound more personable. I add phrasing and extraneous words to make my emails more conversational. The problem is that emails aren’t read like conversation. Many emails don’t get read at all! People receive dozens of them a day. If you want your messages to be read and understood, brevity is key. Let your personality shine in-person and over the phone.
Be straight with people
There are a lot of emotions, politics, and difficult decisions that come into play in business conversation. It is not the time for passive aggression, dropping hints, or flaking out when things get hairy. Sometimes it’s hard to relay a message you don’t think will be received well, but it’s absolutely crucial to keeping your sanity and managing your business relationships.
A customer should not take it as a personal affront if you turn down a freebie request. A vendor should not be offended if you let them know that you found a supplier that’s closer and less expensive.
An honest, confident “no” is better than an unwilling “yes” which ends up leading to grudges and bad feelings. Sometimes maintaining relationships (and open lines of communication) means making a hard decision every once in a while. If your gut tells you it’s right, hold your ground, be honest, and know that people will respect you more for it down the road.
As with any business skill, half the battle is being mindful of how you can improve. Use these tips as a springboard and see if you can find other areas that need some help. It might be uncomfortable at first, but making a solid effort can ensure you’ll be communicating openly, honestly, and professionally in no time.