Excellent communication is critical in every aspect of business: From inductions to communicating your processes and procedures; for effective internal meetings; in conversations about performance; to write clear and effective emails; to enable effective meetings with clients; in order to communicate the company vision; for dealing appropriately with conflict. The list goes on, because conversations are the basic unit of currency for business.
Communication is so simple conceptually. It is the practice that can be challenging, especially when we are pressured for time, or must communicate with a ‘difficult’ person.
So often in recent years, in our drive for efficiency in all aspects of business including communication, we have neglected effectiveness. We have focused on sending out our requests and messages in the shortest possible time and at the time most convenient to us.
In a work environment this is most often done via email—a tremendously efficient way of communicating, we tell ourselves. Yet, actually, sending an email is not communicating at all.
Communication is a cycle, so nothing has been communicated until you have received feedback from the receiver, indicating that they have understood the message as you intended it. Frequently there is no reply to an email request until the task has been completed. If the message was understood correctly, and acted on correctly, the task arrives and is complete and correct. Both parties are satisfied. However, if the message was not completely understood the task arrives incomplete or incorrect, and both parties feel dissatisfied, perhaps even frustrated or angry.
Apart from the level of dissatisfaction or frustration, there is now rework to be done and therefore time wasted. This also assumes that the person is actually happy to complete the task again; and, given that they consider they completed it correctly the first time, they may not be very enthusiastic about completing it a second time.
When we write an email, the message is usually followed immediately by our signature. There is no attempt to check that the message has been understood, or accepted, or committed to. No wonder we are frequently disappointed by our poor communication – which we often prefer to call someone else’s lack of skill or lack of understanding, or even lack of common sense.
When we do attempt to check, via email, that the message has been understood as we intended, we tend to write our instructions or message and then ask closed questions or make statements unlikely to elicit a response. We make statements like ‘Please call or email if you have any questions.’ When we don’t receive any questions we assume that the message has been correctly understood and that the task has been committed to.
However, research and our own anecdotal experiences tell us that people often don’t ask questions, even when they are unsure about some aspects of the task and therefore have some questions! Often people don’t want to appear incompetent or lacking in confidence so they don’t ask; rather, they hope that their assumptions will be right or that they will ‘be able to figure it out’ as they progress with the task.
There is both science and art in communication and it is important to master both aspects.
The science is the structure associated with the communication. You should start by considering two key questions:
- What is the outcome that I want from this conversation?
- What is the best way to get this outcome, with this person?
This enables appropriate preparation, which in some instances will be very quick and easy and in other instances will be rather thought provoking.
You need to consider the message you want to convey and the language most appropriate for the receiver of the message. You also need to consider the most appropriate sequence for your message, and this will be determined by the personality of the receiver. There are tools and techniques to enable you to do this effectively.
To your success,