We have all been there. The business meeting where everyone interjects with their opinions and no one takes any notes. The next month there is a follow-up meeting that consists of the very same discussions except that the participants have spent the entire month becoming more emotionally invested, and still there is no one taking notes. A year later the same discussions continue, and we hear it stated that, all evidence to the contrary, there is progress. We scratch our heads and try to have a positive outlook that things are moving forward. Email, SMS messaging, voice, social media, and even the elusive face-to-face meeting. With the multiple forms of instant communication open to the enterprise, one would think our efforts at business communication would be flawless. And yet, somehow, we still fail to deliver effective business communication and the impact to the business is realized in delays, re-work, money, and political repositioning.
The fault seems to lie in the assumption that whatever media we choose, it will somehow deliver the message we want to convey with little investment from the sender. With so many options open to us via technology, we seem to have lost sight of the most basic concepts behind business communication.
Communication, in general, requires preparation, thought, and some way to confirm that the message was not only received in nature but also in understanding. Business communication can be even more complex. The following five points are a quick review of the characteristics that are necessary for effective business communication. Let’s count them down:
Wikipedia states that a plan is a diagram or a list of steps with details. We plan our wardrobes. We plan our vacations. We plan house renovations. We make a grocery list, and we plan dinner. And yet, for some reason when it is necessary to convey a message of importance regarding corporate tasks, deliverables, or business objectives, we jump in, lips first and do not take the time required to actually think about the message it is that we want to convey. Effective business communication requires preparation in advance.
To get the recipients attention, begin a communication with a quick statement regarding the reason and importance of the message. Is this about a key deliverable that aligns with the corporate strategic plan? Does it eliminate an impactful risk? Don’t leave people scratching their heads, misunderstanding, and perhaps even ignoring the message because the importance of the message was not made clear quickly.
We live in the age of instant gratification. If the reason for, and the importance of a message, is not conveyed and understood quickly, you will have lost your audience. Plan what you want to say and state the key message early in the communication.
4. Remove emotion from the room
Aggressiveness; competitiveness; fear; anger; disgust. There is little room for emotion when it comes to making an effective business decision. When people speak directly from emotion, they often miss the objective while vehemently insisting they see the objective more clearly than the rest of the room. Business issues should not be construed as personal objectives. If this is apparent, it is important to separate the people from the problem. That is a key message of mediation and negotiation. The truth is, every day in business is an exercise in mediation and negotiation.
If you want to communicate an important message, and there is substantial emotion in the room, you are best to deliver the message at a different time and perhaps even spend some time rethinking if you even have the right people in the room.
3. Be succinct
This is particularly important in written communication. Today, many business transactions are solely conducted via email. A few key bullets are much more effective than several run-on paragraphs. Let’s also not forget about the rules of punctuation we learned in grade school. The world of SMS text messaging does not excuse us from using punctuation and separating topics into paragraphs.
In the case of in-person meetings, conference calls, and video-conferencing, ensure that the sessions end on time. If you plan your message well, there should be no reason to extend the session beyond the predetermined time. Be succinct in the delivery of your message. Otherwise, the message you want to deliver could be lost as participants search through your words and draw their own conclusions or even disengage and start to make their dinner plans.
The human brain is a very busy organ. As we are listening, we also tend to process other data that is randomly wandering around inside out heads. Sadly, we are not as good at processing multiple data as are the technical devices we access. Always assume that the recipient of your communication may be juggling multiple tasks as your message is being delivered. Because of this, it is important to offer some type of follow-up at the end of your communication. Consider ending a session with a statement such as ‘We will schedule a follow-up session in two weeks. This will give everyone the opportunity to process the new corporate objectives and we will be open to any questions or comments at that time.’ Sending meeting minutes with tasks, owners, and due dates is also a best practice, as is following up with an actual written communication following any hallway discussion of importance.
We’ve heard it before, and I’ll say it again. The top characteristic of effective business communication is listening! None of us are so magnificent that people want to listen to us pontificate! It is irritating and extremely ineffective, not to mention a very quick way to lose respect.
I spend much of my time gathering information from business stakeholders through round-table sessions. Fortunately, I can keyboard very fast and I use this skill to capture important statements and key messages that are spoken during those sessions. There are times when even my perfectly honed keyboarding skills cannot keep up, and when that happens, I stop and ask the individual to repeat their statement. Most times they do not remember what it is that they just said, but they are quite happy to continue talking.
Here’s the thing. If you cannot repeat the last three sentences you just spoke, you might very well be pontificating. The good news is that it is quite possible to learn to listen more and talk less, and the results are measurable in the very short term.
Effective business communication requires effort
In today’s world of instant gratification, we run the risk of losing sight of the importance of effective business communication. We jump in without any foresight, planning, or consideration of the message itself and the recipient. Effective communication does require effort, and by taking the time to prepare, along with adhering to these basic characteristics we can ensure that we are generating positive relationships with our employees, our business associates, and our stakeholders.
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