By its very nature, strategic communication is intentional and productive. So, as with any other initiative vital to your business, distractions are its biggest enemy.
Here are a few tips I’ve learned throughout the years for filtering out the noise as a way to get down to the business of exchanging ideas and spreading a message:
1. Eliminate Distractions
Perhaps it isn’t possible to rid yourself of distractions completely. Still, you can certainly dial them down. Whether you are chatting with an employee in your office, talking on the phone with a customer or drafting an all-office memo, give communication the focus it deserves. Put the cell phone on vibrate and disable email notification dings. You might even consider unplugging completely so that there is no temptation to multitask or check your Facebook and Twitter account when you should be giving your full attention to the task at hand.
2. Cut to the Chase
Corporate speak is so commonplace that it has become a source of comedy: “We need to maximize potential synergies to achieve a paradigm shift that will move us toward comprehensively increasing our bottom line.” This turgid and largely useless rhetoric is easily spotted and usually met with frustration. Direct, concise communication is a breath of fresh air. It’s a more efficient way of getting your point across and can put the recipient at ease.
3. Anticipate Audience Needs
Being part of a start-up company, whether as an employee or client, can be stressful. There is inherent risk involved. As a leader and entrepreneur, it is your job to be attuned to what people need to hear and feel. Keep your message upbeat but genuine. Give reassurances when necessary. Remember: more than anything else, the person you are speaking with probably just wants to be heard. Make people feel that you are listening to them and processing their concerns.
4. Practice Active Listening
Participating in a conversation means more than periodically nodding and mumbling “Uh-huh.” It means asking pertinent questions and pressing for clarification when needed. You’ve probably read or heard about the paraphrasing tactic; it’s popular because it works. We all bring our own experiences and biases into any interaction, so when you feel yourself extrapolating more than perhaps is actually being said, stop the speaker, repeat what he or she just said and then ask, “Is that accurate?”
5. Stay Calm, Stay Civil
Emotions can run high in business settings, especially in start-up businesses during tight economies. The stakes are high and livelihoods may be on the line. If you feel yourself becoming angry or defensive, admit that in a calm, civilized tone. It should act as an auto-reset button on the conversation and the other party also should take the opportunity to regroup and try a different tack for getting his or her message across. Professionals know no good comes out of heated exchanges.
6. Respond, Don’t React
As the person in a position of authority, people are looking to you for the final word, decision or direction. A reaction is knee jerk and often emotional. A response, which includes a thoughtful consideration of facts and experience, is infinitely more helpful to employees looking to work toward goals. However, a response may require time and preparation, so don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know but I’m going to figure it out and get back to you ASAP.”
Effective business communication requires attention, focus and skill. Although there will always be pressing needs and distractions that threaten to throw you off-message, you can improve workplace communication by being direct, thoughtful, honest and considerate. In taking such an approach, you also will be setting an example for employees and customers that should serve to elevate corporate discourse.
– Jessica Edmondson contributes on business communication and online business degrees for the University Alliance, a division of Bisk Education, Inc.