Learning how to improve business communication isn’t as daunting as it may sound. If you’re like most people these days, you spend over a third of your life engaging in work activities. With that in mind, doesn’t it make sense to make that 33 percent-plus time block flow as smoothly as possible?
Let’s face it: The work environment often seems to involve putting one fire out after another – even if you’re not a first responder. When conditions are so urgent and deadline-oriented, it’s all too easy to put talking to each other in a lowly status on the to-do list.
It’s not just a matter of making it a point to meet regularly with the people you supervise although that is important, too. It’s not even about those big, company-wide meetings or your annual employee appreciation events. These days, communication is much more multi-faceted. Watch a professional sporting event such as a football or basketball game, and you will immediately observe how much ongoing contact there is among team members and coaches. That’s because the dynamics that require adjustments are constantly changing. Your office is no different.
Because staff won’t automatically create this “huddle” mentality, demonstrate the commitment to make it a part of the culture from the top down. Carve specific time in each day for short meetings, and keep everyone accountable by asking each group to delegate someone to be the record-keeper.
Another way to let everyone know the importance you place on communicating is by distributing a company newsletter. Of course, this printed or electronic document can be the formal voice of the organization that explains new policies to employees, but it can also be a forum for creativity and fun. Make of it what you want; just be sure that it doesn’t fizzle out.
Since communication is a two-way street, you need to be an expert at both kinds of travel. For one thing, your message must be presented clearly to everyone who needs to be made aware of it. Ideally, you should transmit it multiple times and in different ways to ensure that everyone receives it and can act on it or ask questions if there is confusion.
By the same token, business communication requires that you have an accurate picture of where the other person is coming from. In a milieu where time is often of the essence, it can be hard to put aside your legitimate need to make your important point in order to hear someone else’s side of the story. However, only by doing so can progress be made.
As a leader, part of your job is to identify problems and facilitate solutions. To that end, you must not avoid those painful conversations that might make you uncomfortable, the ones that involve confronting employees and laying out consequences. During this sometimes tense process, it is imperative that you are willing to ask questions and truly listen to the other person’s side of the story before drawing conclusions. Through it all, fostering mutual respect is a must.
There is no place for totalitarianism in the business world. If your zeal to make your point is too overwhelming, you might be taking over the entire conversation without even realizing it. Everyone on your team – and that includes the people you supervise – should be given a voice.
Regularly conduct a self-check to keep your grandstanding tendencies in check. After you run a meeting, honestly ask yourself how much of the time you took up as opposed to the percentage you allotted for employee collaboration and feedback. If it’s too lopsided in your favor, you’re being too autocratic. If the balance has swung to the point where you couldn’t get a word in edgewise, your staff may be mutinying.
Long before that insurgence we have just hinted at becomes a reality, small signs of trouble will start to appear. It’s tempting to ignore these rumblings. After all, who wants confrontation or unpleasantness? You might catch yourself thinking that maybe the situation will resolve itself without any work on your part.
Any gardener worth their salt will quickly set you straight when it comes to this mentality. When they see the tell-tale chutes that signal pernicious weeds, they immediately root them out. Why? Because they know that weeds, like interpersonal work problems, don’t just go away on their own. Instead they grow and multiply, often smothering the healthy things that had once been flourishing nearby.
When you sense difficulties brewing, square your shoulders, take a deep breath and dive in. Meeting the situation head-on when it is in its infancy is infinitely preferable to sorting it out later when it has had time to dig its tentacles into multiple facets of your staff interactions and their performance.
The people you supervise and interact with each day on the job are not robots. In addition to their work responsibilities, they are unique human beings. They have hobbies, families, responsibilities, quirks and endearing traits.
While you probably do not go to work for the purpose of making friends, that’s not what we’re talking about here. Relating to the people around you on a personal level has numerous benefits. For one thing, you gain a better understanding of their abilities and constraints. If Millie’s husband requires chemotherapy or John’s son needs to be driven to his math tutor’s home every Thursday, these employees’ jobs may not only be affected but they might appreciate some extra support.
Furthermore, interacting with staff beyond the simple delegation of tasks gives you an excellent sense of what motivates them as well as their work style. Once you learn that Kay is only at her best in the morning after a blueberry muffin and a strong cup of coffee, offer to bring her favorite food and beverage to your next breakfast meeting. She will probably be more productive and, perhaps more important, she will know without a doubt that you care about her and see her for the unique person she is.
When you make it your mission to improve business communication, everyone wins. You gain enhanced relationships with all of the men and women around you as well as work days that flow more smoothly and harmoniously. Your colleagues feel listened to and respected even when difficulties arise. Considering that you spend as much time with these people as you do with your family members and friends, it only makes sense to foster the best possible environment of mutual respect and collaboration.