Communications Skills are Not Optional!

One of the great ironies of the times in which we live is that while we have more ways to communicate with one another (and too often, the world) than ever before, our ability to do so effectively has devolved to (metaphorical and sometimes literal) grunting.  Email makes getting messages and documents to anyone, anywhere instantly a simple thing, but is rife with pitfalls.  Social media has enabled endless communications, often unencumbered by the thought process, going from zero to outrage in a single thread, post or tweet.

The fact still remains, however, that good communications skills are essential for both the internal functioning of any business and connecting effectively with customers and prospects.  Knowing what needs to be said and then actually getting that information heard should be at the top of every team’s list of “must dos” for business success.  With the disclaimer that I often run communications workshops for my clients and those take time and reinforcement to achieve success, there are some key considerations which can get you started thinking about communicating differently.

First, hone your listening skills.  Yes, good communications starts with good listening.  Would you want to engage with someone who finishes your sentences, claims to have the answer to questions that haven’t been asked yet, or who knows just what you need before you had a chance to share them? Of course not.  People want and need to be heard, and then responded to.  In private life that lack makes for bubble wars on social media.  In the business world, where people buy and work with people they like and trust, connections have to be real and built over time, and that starts with giving them your undivided attention for as long as is needed.

Second, take the time to validate what you think you know.  Ask qualifying questions, confirm your understanding, ask if you’re getting it right.  Even if you did get some things wrong, allowing yourself to be corrected builds trust and with trust comes better interactions.

Third, consider communications styles.  Some people are very comfortable in the abstract, talking conceptually about how, say a brochure or web page (or kitchen for that matter) will look in the proposed result.  Those are the ones who you see on the HGTV shows who can walk into a horrible looking place and say “we can move this, tear out that, replace these items and it will be perfect!”

On the other hand, many people are the opposite: they’re as concrete as it gets.  Explaining without showing an actual model or picture is a fool’s errand because to respond to a recommendation they have to actually see it—then react.  Those are the people who look at the same room in the example above and say “I hate this place.  Let’s go.”  If you don’t match your communications style to your listener’s everyone will get frustrated and nothing will get done.

Lastly, be sure the think about your mode of communication.  Depending on the topic, the intended recipient and the urgency, different tools work better than others.  This is doubly important given the plethora of available means of being misunderstood. In the interest of space I will point out what I think is the most misused means of communications: email.  Yes, email.  It promotes passive aggressive behavior.  I’ve seen studies which indicate that 98% of people say things in email they wouldn’t say to the recipient in person.

Email promotes laziness and false progress.  Don’t want to deal with a problem? Forward it along (“Bob, I think this one’s better handled by you…”) and get it out of your inbox.  The issue isn’t necessarily solved or advanced, just dumped.  An email that says “Let me give it some thought and I’ll get back to you.” can stall resolution.  Claiming you never got it in the first place is just plain silly.

Worst of all though, is email does not provide the cues we need to fully understand meaning.  We’re sensory creatures: we read body language, voice intonation as well as the words themselves to discern meaning.  In an email, short of a hyperactive use of emoji, all you get is words.  No wonder email threads can get so long, silly and ineffective.  In my experience, if you can’t sort out an issue in three email cycles, get on the phone or walk down the hall if you want it sorted out. No problem has ever been made better by more and more emails.

Effectively communicating is hard—sometimes very hard.  But taking a bit of time to be thoughtful about what you’re saying and how you’re saying it can pay off handsomely whether in interpersonal situations or professional settings.

Speak Your Mind