By Alyssa Gregory
Updated September 26, 2019
Communication is the foundation of every relationship in your life. Without effective communication, there can be misunderstandings, problems, and conflicts among your staff, your clients and everyone else you come into contact with. Poor communication can make a work environment frustrating, and create a large amount of employee turnover.
These tips can help you fine-tune your communication skills so you can save time, reduce stress and become more productive by communicating effectively in your business interactions.
Limit Distractions and Listen
Most of us are not very adept at listening to others. Everyone is distracted, and average attention spans are reportedly beginning to shrink. There are a few actions you can take to limit distractions so that you can focus on what others are saying.
You could try closing your email client, turning off your phone ringer, and closing the door to your office. These few simple actions not only reduce your distractions, but they also do the same for the person you are listening to and lets them know you are focusing on them.
Take the time to focus on the person in front of you. You probably have several important issues to deal with that are on your mind. However, you can use this time to not think about them.
The person you are listening to believes what they have to say is important. Slow yourself down and establish a give-and-take that allows both parties to speak and listen. Try not to make snap judgments, and wait patiently for them to finish speaking. These are the first steps you can take toward becoming an active listener.
Active listening is the art of listening to understand. There are several techniques you can use to increase your listening and retention skills. As you listen, use verbal prompts to keep information flowing. Prompts such as “Really? What did you do then?” gives them an opening to further explain something.
Rephrase and speak back what the person is telling you. This feedback lets them know that you are listening and understanding. For example, “So the machine was working fine, and Bob told you that if you did it this way, the machine would work better. Then it stopped working?” demonstrates an understanding of the circumstances that an employee says led to a piece of equipment breaking down.
Typically, to get more information from someone you need to be able to ask questions designed to solicit the right information. The person you are talking to may be too excited to listen to you as you are trying to figure out what is going on, so your questions will need to usually be clear and concise.
Body language is another indicator of listening. You should ensure your body language is not suggesting anything other than openness and interest. You can do this by mirroring the postures of the other person, or leaning in to concentrate.
Ask the Right Questions
To get the information you need to understand someone, you’ll have to be able to ask the right questions while presenting an open mind. Relax your body, uncross your arms, and listen for opportunities to ask questions.
Usually, there are clues given by people that should alert you to the questions you should ask. Listen for keywords and phrases to help you figure out which questions will unravel the information you need.
Consider the case of an employee who has not been meeting goals and is generally unhappy at work. If you don’t ask the right questions, you may never get to the root of the issue, which may not be easily identifiable.
If the person was motivated upon hiring and performed well until a few weeks ago, they may have developed some personal issues, not be challenged by the work anymore, or have problems with a coworker.
Don’t Rely on Meetings for Information
Meetings are one of the worst settings for communication between parties. People will not speak their mind, and you will not be able to uncover the truth in most situations. Most people walk into meetings with their defenses automatically up.
Meetings can be beneficial for quick briefings or direct informational communications that everyone present has an interest in. However, there is no need to gather everyone together if not everyone has a stake in the topics, or if it is not well-planned and organized.
For more effective communications, choose a setting that is more likely to keep people from putting up a personal barrier. One on one settings or a well-planned meeting with only the people involved tends to work well, as this keeps the focus on just the issues they deal with.
Combine Communication Methods
Face-to-face or voice-to-voice communication is great for eliminating the confusion that often comes with an email. Leading by email is never a good practice because it eliminates the personable approach you can take by talking to someone, and emails are rarely as clear to the audience as they are to the sender.
Video calls are a wonderful way to communicate because you can see the person you are talking to and share documents while working to understand each other. Visual interactions are important because we give cues when we talk that can help people understand the point being made.
If most of your communication takes place in situations other than face to face, you can create summary videos or presentations that outline what was discussed, what the next steps are and who is responsible for what.
Communication is one of the best methods to resolve conflicts or disputes. As a business owner, one of the worst things you can do when faced with a conflict, dispute or complaint is ignore it. There should be a response issued immediately, even if it’s just a brief statement that you’ll look into the issue.
When people reaching out to you feel like their issue is important to you, and receive feedback on their concerns, you will be more likely to keep clients and employees happy.
Use the Feedback You Receive
If you are already communicating with your clients, employees, and co-workers, you will probably receive feedback regularly. You may not be soliciting it, but an active listener can find information everywhere.
Listening to everyone you come into contact with is a goldmine of useful information on the way your business, products, and services are perceived by clients and potential clients.
To make positive communication changes, you should use the information you gather to improve your processes. Create a process for collecting the feedback you receive in one place, then set aside time at regular intervals to analyze it and create a plan for implementing and tracking improvements.
Ultimately, effective communication can be one of the most important skills you use in your business. If your communication skills can use some fine-tuning, take time to analyze how you communicate. Then try to focus on ways you can improve your skills over time. You might be surprised how much simply listening can change your relationships with staff, clients, colleagues, and family.