business communication 101, business communication skills basics, and best practices

business communication 101, business communication skills basics, and best practices


your communication expertise begins by
being intentional about communication rather than treating it as an
afterthought at the very end of a project or worse after communication
problems happen to be proactive about communication we need to make it a habit
to ask ourselves seven key questions when faced with any new project or
initiative these seven questions reflect the variables that exist in every
communication event so what’s a communication event you could be making
a sales call or presenting at a conference or simply chatting with
friends over lunch maybe your company is about to make a major reorganization or
maybe it’s about to make a minor policy change every one of these situations
involves communication and those seven variables are at work when we learn to
manage these variables we increase the likelihood of communication success you
get that sale your conference attendees understand your ideas clearly your
friends will feel a more solid relationship with you to the extent that
we ignore any of these seven variables we risk miss communication the customer
doesn’t understand the value of the product and doesn’t purchase your
conference colleagues think what are you talking about and your friends well
they’re friends so they give you the benefit of the doubt but repeated
miscommunication can leave even our closest loved ones feeling wounded or
upset with us so what are these seven communication questions we need to ask
ourselves I’ll overview them now and then we’ll do
a deep dive into each who should receive this news who would be the best sender
what is the bottom line message how might the message be interpreted do we
want or need feedback on the message what is the best channel how should i
time and sequence this message are any other context issues important these
seven questions can transform your communication efforts if you make it a
habit to ask them let’s do in an assessment of a communication event in
your company using these key questions think of a message that was supposed to
be communicated widely within your organization it could be anything a new
phone system being installed or a new process for requesting travel
reimbursements maybe people were told to cut back on their copy machine use or an
important goal was met last month and the leadership wanted to celebrate the
victory select a situation that seems fairly typical of the communication in
your workplace first who were the receivers or the people who heard the
news did the right people get the message in your situation one of the
leading communication problems is assuming that everyone who needs to get
a message actually got that message when we take the time to identify each party
who should receive a message we’ll avoid this common problem next who is the
sender of the message was the sender the best person for the job why or why not
third what was the intended message did people get enough but not too much
information did they know what they were supposed to do in response to the
message fourth how was the message interpreted do you think that you and
all of the other receivers heard the message in the same way did it mean the
same thing to all of you did the sender clarify any aspects of the message that
might have caused confusion or emotional upset getting senders and receivers to
align their thinking is one of the most challenging aspects of communication
next how did the message get from the sender to the receiver or what was the
channel of communication was it an email a one-on-one
a large group meeting maybe a notice on your intranet or a blurb in the
newsletter what would have been the best way to get the message from point A to
point B ours sixth question is about feedback were
receivers asked to share their thoughts on the message if people did give
feedback did anyone respond to the feedback or was communication pretty
much one way feedback allows us to make sure that the message was received and
understood the way that we had hoped finally let’s consider context in your
communication event would there have been a bad time to communicate the news
when would have been the best time did location or relationship affect the
message so how did your organization do you can think of another message that
needed to be communicated at your departmental or team level and assess
that event using the same questions did you have more success with a smaller
group what areas received the lowest scores
is that typical we explore each of the seven key areas you’ll find it helpful
to work through each movie in a sequential order but plan to really
focus in on those sections where your organization needed the most improvement
now that we’ve covered the seven key areas make it a habit to ask these
questions of yourself and others nearly every day once you know your purpose make a list
of all the people who should be involved in the project or should know about your
work we need downward communication that is
messages that flow from the top levels of management to the employees
throughout the company downward communication is most common but can
become distorted if passed through too many people
remember the childhood game called telephone one person would whisper
something to the next person in the circle who would then whisper it to the
next and so on the last person in the circle would say aloud what she heard
which was never what the first player had originally said the game was fun and
made us all laugh but in business it’s not funny
try to communicate directly to as many receivers as possible upward
communication allows management to learn about problems that only frontline
people are privy to when channels are in place for employees
to be heard by their leadership they feel more valued upward communication is
notorious though for being skewed toward the positive no one wants to give the
boss bad news and no one wants to confess when things aren’t going well so
upward messages tend to suffer from a positivity bias you can use opinion
surveys Q&A sessions advisory boards Ombudsman hotlines suggestion boxes skip
level interviews anything you can think of to encourage upward honest
communication in your company horizontal communication is often overlooked yet
that dreaded silo mentality begins to grow when departments or units see
themselves as independent actors rather than part of a collective system if you
notice a lack of lateral communication you can initiate conversations with
people at your level in other departments
consider a once-a-week coffee or even just a quick drop by to chat about
current projects powerful collaborations often begin as simple conversations have
you started thinking of who you should have on your list
there’s one more group to consider who might be an unintended audience emails
are so easy to forward as communicators we want our message to be received by
the intended audience and we need to be aware of unintended audiences so think
carefully about who could end up here in your message I want you to give some serious thought
to the best senders of your message your senders should be influential to the
receivers what is it to be influential the ancient Greeks would explain it this
way when asinus speaks the people say how well he speaks but when the most
Feeney’s speaks but people say let’s march the most thinnest is our
influencer here someone who can change the actions of others what makes a
person influential and a good candidate for sending messages people generally
influence us if they have some kind of power in our eyes and that power falls
into five categories legitimate power happens when people comply with a
request because the sender has a certain title or position let’s face it
sometimes we do what the boss says because the boss is the boss we respect
the position and demonstrate that respect through compliance reward power
refers to behavior motivated because a sender can reward you in some way you
follow up quickly with a request from a potential client because he has the
power to reward you with new business or just the opposite coercive power happens
when a sender can punish you in some way or take away good things in life you
follow up quickly with an existing client because he has the power to take
his business elsewhere people are influenced by expert power when a sender
really knows her stuff why not follow an expert right and finally referent power
is influenced that happens as a result of credibility or similarity these five
power categories are not absolute rather influence is situational you might be
influenced by your financial adviser on what stocks to purchase but she might
seem less influential to you when you’re deciding
color to paint your kitchen don’t make the mistake of assuming that you are the
best sender of your message if someone else could be more effective passed the
torch focus on your purpose and if enlisting someone else to be a
spokesperson of your idea would help give the idea wings go for it
tap into the influence that will work now that we’ve identified who should
hear our message we must remember that these people will interpret our message
to understand its meaning see the lines drawn through the heads of the senders
and receivers these little lines remind us that no listener is an empty vessel
awaiting our message rather people have mental filters we all have preconceived
notions assumptions biases good and bad our unique way of seeing the world your
receivers have their own perspectives about you and your message these mental
filters can skew how our message is heard and understood our third key
communication question is how my message be interpreted let’s consider a few
examples I send a memo to remind John about an upcoming safety meeting how
might John interpret my message he might think doesn’t trust me to remember
anything or hmm safety is important around here or isn’t that nice
being helpful in trying to ease my burden now this example from the
emotional intelligence activity book cautions us that even a simple reminder
email is subject to interpretation the relationship I have with John his state
of mind when reading my email and my specific word choice can all affect the
meaning for John if I’m mindful of the possible interpretations I can clarify
my intent by adding one extra line to that email something like I know your
plate is really full right now just wanted to be helpful mental filters are
the source of far too many misunderstandings but by being
thoughtful and proactive you can help overcome this common communication
barrier let’s add a fourth important
communication question to our process what is the bottom line message we’ve
identified our purpose so we know the core idea but we have all of these
different receivers with different ways of interpreting the same message so we
must learn to focus and frame the idea carefully let’s start with focus our
first task is to identify the bottom line message what is the one thing your
audience must remember when they walk away from your meeting or after they
read your memo how can you tell if your communication has a core message a great
self check is to share your intended message with a friend or a colleague and
ask the question what do you think is the most important takeaway from this
speech or email or slide deck if your friend didn’t get your bottom line
message go back and simplify focus more on the key idea and repeat it more often
focusing on one key idea is challenging there is so much we need to communicate
but it’s better to successfully communicate one idea then to
unsuccessfully attempt to communicate a bunch of ideas focus your message on one
key idea now that we’re focused on one central
idea we frame that idea for our intended audience consider the audience’s
knowledge level possible reactions and reason for listening frame your message
to align with the unique needs of your listeners when we present to executives
for example we realize that they are most concerned with the big picture and
bottom line results when someone makes a technical recommendation your CEO needs
to know how much it will cost what the risks are and what the benefits are the
engineer who will actually create the solution has a much different list of
needs some marketing experts say that repeating a message three times will
work while others live by the rule of seven a Microsoft study on audio
messages concluded that between six and twenty repetitions is best regardless of
the exact number of repetitions or effective frequency it’s pretty clear
that once doesn’t cut it commercials air over and over and over
because advertisers know the value of repeating a message Nikes just do it
campaign has been used for over 26 years Eminem’s that melt in your mouth not in
your hands have been around since 1954 don’t give up if you state your message
once and don’t feel heard don’t expect everyone to hear remember believe and
act on your message because you sent out one email or talked about your idea in
one meeting focus on your bottom line message your must remember message frame
for your unique audience focus and frame you feedback is a message about the original
message it takes one-way communication and turns it into two-way communication
there are dangers with one-way communication one of those dangers is
misunderstanding a manager tells an employee to do a certain task but then
rushes off to a meeting the employee without a chance to clarify
misunderstands the task does it wrong and creates all sorts of problems
another danger with one-way communication is low morale a team is
told they have to move to a new location and are given no input into the decision
they feel unvalued and morale sinks market alignment can go haywire when
companies rely on one-way communication to customers a company could decide to
offer a new product without getting feedback from its consumer base millions
of research and development dollars later the project gets scrapped because
customers aren’t interested you want to build opportunities for feedback into
your organizational communication process to avoid these dangers but there
are dangers in seeking feedback as well feedback takes time feedback is
dangerous if we ask for input but have no intention of addressing concerns or
using the shared ideas morale sinks even lower if leadership pretends to be
listening but then isn’t really responsive so I’ve been honest about
potential dangers of feedback it can slow things down and it creates an
expectation that the feedback will be responded to but at the end of the day
the benefits far outweigh any potential drawbacks internal feedback can be just
as beneficial as customer feedback Google holds fixit’s or problem solving
sessions with employees in one fix-it session employees shared 51 different
suggestions for how to improve career development those ideas were voted on by
thousands of other employees and the three top ideas were implemented
a year later employee satisfaction went up on the annual employee survey
including double-digit increases on the career development questions the
benefits of feedback are undeniable we would all improve the organizational
communication in our companies with two-way communication make it a habit
when planning your communication efforts to build in that feedback loop your communication plan is almost
complete we now figure out how to get your message from sender to receiver
what is the best channel should you send an email have a meeting call people if
the message is our vehicle for communication the channel is the road we
choose we begin our choice by exploring the richness of each communication media
available to us richness is measured by whether or not a channel supports
immediate feedback provides verbal and nonverbal cues and has a personal focus
so how would you rank the following channels on richness phone
videoconference brochure email and face-to-face did you’re ranked list look
something like this face to face meets all of the richness criteria when we
meet in person you get instant feedback you can see and hear what I have to say
and it’s innately personal because for person-to-person
videoconferencing when the technology works well has many of these same
features we lose the body language and facial expression cues when we move to
telephone and we lose all nonverbal cues with the exception of emoticons when we
move to text but individual emails still have a personal focus that brochures
lack does this mean we should never use email or brochures well of course we
will and we should the channels that are less rich are still good channels as
long as we use them for unambiguous and simple messages there are other factors
to be considered in our channel choice need for permanence makes a written
document actually better than a face to face speed and cost also need to be part
of our decision and finally affect your leadership team once your Department to
know what an outstanding job they did on a project last week
which channel would have the better effect a mass email to everyone on the
team or a personal handwritten thank-you note to each team member if you need to
communicate the seriousness of a new policy are you better off posting a
message on a bulletin board or attending a staff meeting to talk about it
Channel makes a difference consider richness permanence speed cost and
effect so we’ve made an intelligent and informed decision when selecting our
channel our highway for the message but we may still encounter a few roadblocks
in our path let’s imagine that your HR director needs to communicate a
time-sensitive change in the benefits package to all employees the message
starts with a face-to-face visit to the vice president’s who are in turn to tell
departmental directors who in turn are to tell unit supervisors who in turn
tell their staff good plan unless one of those directors also had ten other
messages to communicate to her supervisors who were now on overload and
another director communicated the message but two of the supervisors were
on vacation so didn’t pass the message along to their staff some staff members
don’t have a reporting line to any of those vice presidents you might notice
that the communication is all one-way and we’ve already discussed the dangers
of too little feedback when some employees have heard the message and
others haven’t the rumor mill kicks in as it inevitably will when people
experience a communication vacuum the grapevine which is the rumor mill is
fascinating it’s an informal network of communication that often moves faster
than the formal channels but isn’t always as accurate rumors and
misinformation can spread rapid-fire hence that great line a lie can travel
halfway around the world while the truth is still lacing up its boots
we can’t dictate an order to stop using the grapevine rather we can attempt to
limit its damaging effects by sharing a wealth of information in the formal
channels when people aren’t thirsty for information they’re less inclined to
participate in rumor spreading concede that the rumor mill exists attempt to
understand its nuances and use it when appropriate to supplement the slower
formal channels meetings are a channel that we rely on
heavily in the workplace more so than we might realize look at your calendar last
month are you coming in pretty close to that
estimated sixty two meetings given that we spend so much time in meetings I want
to share two tips that will instantly improve the effectiveness of your
meetings neither one will cost you a dime and both are quick easy changes to
make first make a minor adjustment to your agenda to improve the efficiency of
your meetings most agendas look something like this strategy realignment
quarterly sales regional marketing plans I suggest that you add an objective to
each agenda item like this determine next steps for strategy realignment
report quarterly sales brainstorm regional marketing plans people prepare
and interact differently if they are listening to brainstorming about or
acting on deciding on an issue let them know in advance what mental space to be
in as they enter the meeting then add a time frame to each agenda item the time
frames allow people to gauge how much sharing is appropriate if you reach the
end of the allotted time and the team has not finished that item you can
simply ask do we want to continue this discussion and eliminate some other
agenda item or can we in the next two minutes wrap this up
teams frequently realize that they are belaboring a point and will choose to
wrap up and move on suddenly naysayers are ready for a vote people full of
conversation are ready to be quiet and you move on I’m always amazed at how
effective this tactic is once you have your agenda in order your other meeting
tip is to make sure that all important controls are being filled this includes
information giver information seeker initiate
devil’s advocate encourage ur facilitator gatekeeper and note taker if
you notice that some of these roles are not being filled you have a few choices
you can step up and fill that role yourself you can bring the gap to the
attention of the team and ask for volunteers for each role or you may have
to be a bit more creative improve your agenda and get those roles assigned to
make the most of one of our most used channels you are down to one final question to
ask yourself as you craft your communication action plan what context
issues should you consider all of the variables senders receivers message
feedback are affected by the context that’s the situation surrounding your
communication event for example imagine going to a meeting at 2:00 in the
afternoon you had a heavy lunch the conference room temperature is just a
little warm and you’re feeling very sleepy now you’ve never met the
presenter at the meeting before most people in your office complain about
meetings it’s common practice to attend but not really engage and right before
you walked into the meeting you got a call from your friend cancelling your
dinner plans tonight so you’re bummed all of these
situational issues can affect your perception of the speaker and your
overall interaction compare that meeting to one that you attend when you’re wide
awake feeling happy in an office that routinely has productive efficient
meetings and you’re good friends with the presenter the new situation changes
everything as communicators we certainly don’t control all the contextual
variables at play I can’t help it that your friend cancelled dinner but we
should manage those that are within our control timing and location are two
parts of the context we often can control if you need to give an employee
some critical feedback it may be convenient for you to stop him in the
hallway right after the staff meeting because you’re both there anyway but
convenience is not a good rationale for a context decision if others can
overhear your conversation you risk making that employee feel humiliated or
defensive organizational climate is part of the context mix and causes 15% of
communication problems according to the Zaremba study climate is the emotional
tone of an organization it’s a sense of how comfortable people feel with one
another and the company a supportive climate
will encourage interaction and flow of communication while a defensive climate
will slow the flow a supportive climate will predispose people to look for
positive intentions rather than negative for example when you communicate a
change in a supportive climate people give that change a chance and approach
it with an open mind rather than immediately finding fault and resisting
doesn’t that sound great so how do we create a supportive climate professor
reading a pioneer in the organizational communication field identified five
conditions necessary for a supportive climate supportive credible open
participative and emphasizes goals evaluate your organization on these five
dimensions of supportive climate write one action you could take this week to
boost each factor even a little bit drive positive climate by communicating
a commitment to organizational goals ethical questions surround communication
is it ever okay to lie is a lie of omission still a lie when you anticipate
and report best-case scenario is that hopeful and therefore ethical or is it
exaggeration and unethical is strategic ambiguity that’s the practice of being
intentionally vague to avoid responsibility is it unethical or is it
just savvy business practice how much information should you share to stay on
the right side of the ethics line what do you do when confidentiality and
transparency clash answers may seem easy while these are just hypothetical
questions but when we face real situations the decisions can become
challenging with so many ethical dilemmas possible how can you make good
choices and let me share just a couple of tips first remember that a positive
communication climate requires credibility and openness so use these
two pillars when you face communication ethics questions secondly think ahead of
the types of ethics situations you’re likely to face take a moment now to
brainstorm at least five or ten ethically questionable communication
situations you could encounter researchers at Northwestern University
discovered that people are less likely to lie if they have a conversation about
their ethical decision first this is true even if the truth meant the people
get paid less during an experiment pre-emptive thought and conversation
helps us stand our moral ground so take some time now to consider how you will
communicate if faced with any of these ethical situations you brainstormed keep
these important things in mind especially if your organization is ever
faced with a crises you a crisis is a unique context that I hope
you never face but if a crisis were to happen in your organization I want you
to be ready with great communication strategy a crisis is any unforeseen
event that can damage your company’s performance and reputation are you
prepared for a product failure that creates tons of backlash how would you
handle a viral video of an employee driving a company vehicle while
intoxicated how about a major security breach a discrimination claim against
your CEO we need to be ready for the unpredictable and the time to fix your
roof is when the sun is shining likewise the time to prepare for a crises
communication event is before the crises unfolds spend a few minutes now making a
list of the 10 or 20 most likely crises in your business
brainstorm economic informational physical Human Resources reputational
and even natural disaster possibilities then walk through our list of seven key
questions determine all of the stakeholders employees victims families
local and regulatory officials the media choose the best sender this may not be
your CEO if facts are still uncertain or your CEO doesn’t have extensive press
briefing experience you may be better off with your PR person upfront at least
at first your receivers will likely fall into one of four mental filter
categories supporters who think highly of your organization and will defend you
during a crisis straddlers who just aren’t sure yet what to think of you
skeptics they lean towards not supporting you and the haters you don’t
need to win over supporters and you’re unlikely to win over the haters so focus
on messages most curtain it to your straddlers and your
skeptics we’ve discussed the need to focus focus focus your message and when
your message may be reduced down to a headline or a 30-second sound bite on
the evening news you must have your bottom-line message clearly articulated
and upfront what types of feedback would be helpful to your team as they move
forward how do you solicit the feedback that you can use what channels would be
most appropriate for various stakeholders

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About the Author: Oren Garnes

2 Comments

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  2. It's a great and useful video to listen, however could do better with visual presentation: bullet points are misleading and can't follow the message of the speaker. Thanks for the video !

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