Communication is one pillar in an array of soft skills that can revolutionize your business acumen. Stellar communication skills can take your leadership to the next level. If you’re a small business owner or franchisor, this next step can even prove critical to the ultimate success of your company.
While you can’t become a communication expert overnight, you can still learn a lot from excellent communicators and elevate your skills with practice.
First, we’ll look at the skills that make up effective communication skills. Then we’ll touch on what you can do to improve both your written and verbal communication.
What is a Strong Communicator?
A strong communicator is someone that can intentionally and effectively use the following five skills:
1. Intentional Word Choice and Organization
When novices think of communication, they usually think of word choice. It’s important to choose words with not only the correct meaning but the precise meaning.
But communication is about more than the words you fill your sentences with — it’s also about the order that you say those sentences.
Most businesses endorse pyramid thinking, also called pyramid communication. In this communication style, you begin with the answer first. Then, you summarize the three supporting arguments behind the answer. Finally, you provide any necessary details that contribute to the supporting arguments. This is also sometimes called “top-down thinking” because it captures the big picture first.
Let’s say your business needs to select a graphic design company, and your boss assigns the decision to you. Using pyramid thinking, your answer will look something like this:
- “I’ve decided to go with company X.” (The answer, or decision)
- “Compared to company A, company X’s designs converted 30% more customers. While they may be more expensive, we estimate a 22% more return on investment in five years.” (The supporting reasons for the answer)
- “We gathered our data based on provided case studies and a measurement of the last 6 months of organic traffic from each company’s references.” (supporting details for each reason)
Even if you don’t use pyramid thinking when communicating, it’s important to make your message easy to understand. Consider communicating information using some kind of logic structure, such as chronological order, comparing and contrasting, or grouping advantages and disadvantages. This will ensure you create a clear, well-crafted message in your conversation.
2. Deliberate Tone
Tone communicates how you are feeling. It’s important to understand what emotion your tone communicates because that can change the nuance (or even the entire meaning!) of the words you’re saying. This relationship between tone and word choice is the foundation of sarcasm.
As a listener, it’s often impossible to know where the emotion behind tone comes from. If you’re feeling upset about a personal situation, that feeling can bleed into a work situation via your tone.
Let’s say a boss reprimands an employee about an unfinished task. The boss has had a difficult morning, and that frustration comes out through their tone. The employee will likely think the boss is frustrated about the task, even though that’s not the truth. Repeated poor communication like this can influence the employee’s perspective of their boss, and that entire relationship as a whole.
Skillful communicators know how to intentionally align their tone with their word choice. This allows them to communicate exactly what they want to — no more, no less.
3. Active Listening
You’ve been hearing about the importance of listening since kindergarten, and there’s a reason. Great listening isn’t just staying quiet — it’s active listening. Active listening skills can include:
- Following along with their words in your head,
- Listening for the emotion behind the words, and
- Asking relevant questions to ensure you’re understanding their points completely.
Effective communicators have great listening skills. When you truly listen to your conversation partner and give them your undivided attention and focused eye contact, you’ll hear what they’re thinking and they’ll have confidence that you understand and care about what they’re saying.
Listening can also help you identify what other stellar communicators are doing that’s so effective!
4. Nonverbal Communication
Body language is a type of nonverbal communication that speaks volumes. When considering your body language, try these three things:
- Sit up straight with your shoulders and hips facing the speaker. Your body posture speaks volumes about your attention. This kind of consistent body language toward your conversation partner also prevents you from getting distracted!
- Make eye contact with the speaker. This is another way to show you’re paying attention. If this is challenging for you, focusing on an area just to the left or right of their eyes is recommended.
- Be mindful of your facial expressions. Your facial expressions, like your tone, communicate how you’re feeling about what you’re hearing. Even if you completely disapprove of the plan your employee is presenting, it’s in bad taste to let that show on your face. Consider how your emotional reactions could influence the people around you, and school your face accordingly.
If these steps feel too artificial for you, think of how you hold your body in job interviews, and try to emulate that posture and eye contact. Remember that when you’re changing your natural behavior, it will always feel artificial at first. With practice, it will come to feel natural!
5. Timing, Privacy, & Method of Communication
Even the most carefully worded message can fall flat if communicated at the wrong time or place. Make sure that you provide constructive feedback in private if at all possible. Trust your interpersonal skills. Be wary of communicating sensitive, emotionally charged information over digital communications. On the other hand, business communications are often best handled through email to preserve a written record.
How to Develop Your Communication Skills
1. Improve your emotional intelligence.
If you aren’t familiar with emotional intelligence, or emotional quotient (EQ), this is the time to brush up on why EQ is important and how you can improve yours. Effective communicators generally have top-notch soft skills such as emotional intelligence, social skills, and the ability to control their own emotions.
2. Ask a trusted peer or work with a coach.
Sometimes, you need a professional who has experience teaching, mentoring, or coaching to show you any communication barriers — and help you correct your deficiencies. If you have a business acquaintance with admirable communication skills, reach out to them. Study them in action. Don’t know anyone or are unsure where to look? Try LinkedIn or search online for private coaching businesses. You can also look for a local networking event and practice your communications skills there.
3. Take a class or join a group.
Miss the days of backpacks, new pencils, and classrooms? If so, search the catalog at your local community college for communications classes. Often, these classes are effective and relatively inexpensive. You’ll find many four-year institutions provide online learning opportunities, too.
You may have also heard of Toastmasters, a national organization that focuses on leadership, presentation, and communication skills. With local chapters and an extensive online presence, you can find tools such as local chapter meetings and newsletters that can help you become an effective communicator all for a small membership fee.
4. Solicit feedback.
Try asking your coworkers what aspects of your communication style are working and which ones aren’t. How is your tone of voice when you convey delicate information? Do you use a friendly tone? Do you ask open-ended questions? What about your nonverbal communication style? Are you practicing active listening? Do you use affirmative language? While it may be difficult to hear the answers if they aren’t all complimentary, it’s worth asking. You can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s broken, and constructive criticism is an essential component of that process.
5. Be Mindful of Cross-Cultural Communication
Communicating across cultures adds another layer of complexity to any communication task. To improve your cross-cultural communication, begin by researching the communication differences between your culture and that of your conversation partner. Let them know about any communication patterns you have that have the potential to create misunderstanding. Ask them how they prefer to communicate day-to-day information as opposed to urgent information. Like all skills, cross-cultural communication H
The Advantages of Strong Communication Skills
Communication happens all day, every day in both your personal relationships and professional lives. Here’s what you can expect by improving your personal and workplace communication:
1. A high-functioning team.
Effective communication reduces unnecessary competition within departments and helps employees work together harmoniously, according to the LinkedIn article, “Top 3 Benefits of Effective Communication in the Workplace.”
2. Stronger business relationships.
When you can communicate better internally and externally, you can foster deeper connections with employees and clients.
3. Happier employees.
Consider how productive employees are when morale is low. Now consider the opposite: Happy employees mean motivated employees who enjoy what they do.
4. Fewer problems in general.
If problems at work seem to find you no matter what you do, perhaps it’s time to take a hard look at your communication skills. Is there frequently a breakdown in communications at work? Is your lack of transparency with employees causing problems? Is there a communication issue with your clients? Now is the time to boost your skills and boost your business.
Practice Makes Perfect
When your thoughts and intentions are accurately understood by your communication partner and vice-versa, you are a strong communicator. It’s not always easy to communicate, and it takes a bit of practice, but the benefits to your business make skillful, authentic communication worth it.
Considering becoming your own boss and starting your dream company? Do you own or franchise a small business? Guidant can help with financing and simplifying your business upkeep. Contact us online or call 888-472-4455 today.