In order to succeed in business, you have to know how to communicate. Hard skills can only get you so far, and the ability to manage, guide and express yourself to your colleagues as well as clients can go a long way to creating overall success.
The question, however, is whether your current communication skills are really up to scratch. You might be able to craft a brilliant email, but do you talk over other people at meetings? Perhaps you’re a fantastic active listener, but your body language seems stand-offish to your clients. Maybe you are warm, open-armed and welcoming, but your written communications result in people being turned off from your enterprise.
Are you putting enough of a focus on your skills of communication? And, if not, what can you do to rectify it?
“Your grammar is a reflection of your image.” – Jeffrey Gitomer
Despite the growth of other forms of media, many people still choose to engage with others through the written word. Memos and adverts, social media and blogs, the ability to turn a phrase or string a sentence together remains as important now in both communication and building your brand as it has ever been. Ignoring this fact, then, is a decision that only the unwise would make. And yet people do.
The strangest part of this phenomenon is that people who aren’t great at written communication tend to be the ones who overestimate their skills in it. In one study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers from Cornell University found that people scoring at the bottom of grammar tests thought themselves to be above the average. The issue was that they were unable to tell accuracy from error – meaning that they were making mistakes without knowing it.
For a business, that could be a nightmare: Imagine if you had an employee happily writing poorly-worded emails to important clients without any knowledge of the fact that they were putting themselves and your business in a bad light. Poor writing can be solved, but only if the person knows they are doing it, and your place of work has the right culture for them to feel comfortable in expressing their need for help.
Which, rather neatly, brings us on to the next type of communication: Verbal.
“Say what you have to say, then stop.” – Rudolph Flesch
Verbal communication is, at its heart, a two-way street. A good leader will know that you don’t talk at your employees or your clients; you talk with them. Look at the rise of social media – something that enterprises have embraced wholeheartedly as a way to have a conversation with their users. The same is true with the “manager with an open door”. While it may be a cliche, it is an indicator of something that any wise leader will know: that transparency is key to a well-functioning office, and a big part of that is the way you verbally communicate with the people around you.
Of course, some factors are more important than others in success in verbal communication. Some of these you can control, others you can only mitigate. The Queensland government, for example, provides the basics of effective verbal communication for business owners, including varying tone and pitch, using “I” statements and choosing the right speaking style.
However, it also highlights the importance of being able to effectively listen. Too often, leaders in a position of power simply wait their turn to speak instead of actively processing what their employees are saying. It’s an indicator that a person has already decided what they are going to say, regardless of what the other person is about to communicate. This is hardly a way to build a business culture that encourages open communication and understanding – something that is integral to any enterprise that wants to retain staff, efficiency and good business outcomes.
“There’s language in her eye, her cheek, her lip.” – William Shakespeare
But verbal communication is only one part of communication when speaking face-to-face. There is the saying that body language is 80 per cent of communication (though the exact proportions seem to fluctuate depending on who is quoting it), and, like many a saying, there is a definite truth to it.
What differentiates body language communication from written and verbal is how important it is in the workplace in particular. It isn’t just about communicating meaning or emotion, but about how well your team functions too. A stand-offish stance, crossed arms and a frown can tell you a lot about what someone thinks about the current conversation, but did you know that body language can affect how much someone learns as well?
A study from Stanford discovered that large, irregular movements from a person trying to teach someone were associated with poor test scores from the student. While the researchers involved were quick to say that this did not show causation, nevertheless the results did show that this unusual body language could predict poor training outcomes. If you’re a leader trying to train new staff or upskill current workers, it is clear how this could end up affecting your workplace efficiency.
Communication is a key pillar of business, and society in general. A full command of it is integral for any leader in business, regardless of type – are your verbal, written and visual skills up to scratch?