Published 14 Jan 2021

 

Communication, written and oral, is the cornerstone of civilisation. When performed effectively, it allows structures, relationships and transactions to work efficiently and without friction. However, due to its mundanity, it can be easy to overlook the importance of being able to speak and listen well when it comes to the arena of the workplace. But, like any skill, it can always be improved with sufficient practice. Here are some ways that you can start to assess, evaluate and improve those all-important skills, today.

 

1. Always Listen: ‘There is only one rule for being a good talker- learn to listen.’- Christopher Morely.

It seems obvious but, how could we possibly start anywhere else? Responding to what another has said or written is the definition of communication and always the first place to the start when assessing skills in that field. Fundamentally, people want to know that they are being listened to so don’t be afraid to ask for clarifications to make sure that you understand completely. It sounds basic, but the key is to make the person that you are talking to feel as though they have your undivided attention. If you are on a phone call, for example, do not send an email or a text message simultaneously; have one conversation at a time and make it the most effective it can be. To improve this skill, it may be useful to keep a pad and a pencil by your phone or computer and take notes during a call, email exchange or meeting. That way, you will be sure that you are listening to everything that is being said and responding appropriately and effectively.

 

2. Speak Less, Say More: ‘Wise men speak because they have something to say. Fools speak because they have to say something.’- Aristotle.

Efficiency is everything in communication. One of the main issues with lack of efficiency is using too many words. Your meaning can easily get lost behind walls of adjectives, imagery and jargon that are simply unnecessary to make your point. This is a trap usually fallen into by those nervous of being unable to communicate their point; they become unsure and try to overcompensate by waffling. Focus first on communicating the basic message before laying any comparisons or flowery imagery on top. These rhetorical techniques can be powerful tools, especially in persuasive writing or speaking but all your efforts will go to nothing if your actions are not built on a solid, clear argument. As a general rule, use no more than two complementing and corresponding adjectives per sentence or turn of speech and no more than one image (simile, metaphor) per paragraph or extended speech turn. Remember, you are not writing a novel; the essence of business communication is clarity.

 

3. Remember Your Audience: ‘Every act of communication is a miracle of translation’- Ken Liu

Tailoring your speech or language to your audience has two main benefits. The first is that, as touched on earlier, your audience will feel that they are being spoken to directly and that they have your undivided attention. Secondly, it is a sure-fire way to maintain clarity and help the person you are communicating with to understand your message. While it may be appropriate to use acronyms and informal language with your team as they are closer to you personally, writing ‘Hey, TTYL’ has no place in emails to your boss.

 

4. Check, Think, Say: ‘We never listen when we are eager to speak’- Francois de la Rochefoucauld.

Always take a moment to check and double-check yourself before every act of communication. In social settings, humans do this all the time; a speedy cost-benefit analysis to calculate whether what we are about to say is offensive, inappropriate or irrelevant. In business, this is no different. When writing an email, it is easy to rely heavily on spelling and grammar check tools but, while these are useful at hoovering up and mistakes in sentence structure, they do not effectively assess the wider context of what you have written. Take time to double-check what you have written and, much like with efficiency (see 1), check that you are getting your point across. Likewise, in a face to face interaction such a meeting, take a moment to collect yourself before speaking. Pay close attention to what you say and how you say it because most communications rely on non-verbal aspects such as tone, inflexion and pitch. Honing this skill will allow you to avoid embarrassment and help others respect and understand you further.

 

5. Maintain a Positive Attitude: ‘Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success.’- Paul J. Meyer

Each and every instance of communication is attempting to reach a goal. Whether you are aiming to order the correct coffee or wanting to know how your friend’s weekend was, you are participating in a transaction. In business, these transactions are inherently collaborative efforts and are therefore fuelled by positivity. If you are hopeful that what you are proposing will work, those you are proposing to will be hopeful also. Smile when you are speaking, even if it is on the phone as unconscious positivity will affect your speech and you are more likely to be responded to likewise. Even if somebody is saying something to you that you do not agree with or feel needs reconsidering, avoid negative language. Instead, start by indicating that you understand their idea and then choose some constructive words and phrases to build in your thoughts: ‘I enjoyed reading your proposal and can see its great benefits, however, I would suggest tweaking the wording of the final paragraph to achieve the maximum effect’.

Work at these skills, even if you feel you are a great communicator and both you and your teams will feel the benefit in your business.