I wrote a blog earlier this week about the importance of practicing the fundamentals when it comes to business. The fundamentals we talk a lot about in other areas of life like sport, but don’t really consider within business. To me it is the same principle, strip something back to its basics, completely master it and reap the rewards. I now want to dissect that idea in a little more detail with some follow up blog posts. In this post I am going to focus on one of the fundamental practices I outlined previously – communication.
The art of exchanging information. Good communication creates efficiency. In the words of Chili Palmer (played by John Travolta in the movie, Get Shorty) “I’m not gonna say anymore than I have to, if that.”
That’s great communication. Being able to get your point across in the most concise way possible. You don’t want to waffle on about pointless information and lose the interest of the person that you are communicating to, and waste everyone’s time in the process.
Great communication should be direct. Don’t include useless filler like “it would be great if you can” or “I don’t mean to be a pain”. These are just extra words, creating a longer communication for the recipient to digest, and can create uncertainty about the point you wish to get across.
Great communication should be given to recipients the way they prefer to digest information. This might be more for the marketers out there but can also apply to anyone working in business. No doubt you have multiple ways of communicating to people, phone, speaking, email, instant messenger. If you know someone responds faster through certain methods then use them.
Use precise actionable phrases if the purpose of the communication is to get someone to do something for you. If what you want that person to do is vague in anyway, then there is a good chance that they won’t do it, or just won’t understand it. Be precise in in your actionable request, and repeat it in your concluding sentence in a positive way.
Give exact deadlines if you need something done by a certain time. “If you could do that for me today” doesn’t cut it. “Please send this to me by 5pm today” is much clearer and just as easy to write or say.
Bullet points are everyone’s friend if you have multiple points you want to make, or action points to take away. A list of bullet points is easy to read, non-ambiguous and makes things very clear. It also makes it easy for others to copy as headings in their reply.
Bold writing on words or phrases that are important is fine and puts emphasis on that point. Which is exactly what you want to do so why not just do it. The same principle applies to underlining and other formatting styles. Used correctly, a very neat, clear and concise message can be put to your recipient.
Keep it simple and avoid any confusion. Don’t overload someone with a large amount of information. It just creates the possibility of that person getting confused or overwhelmed. When sending out large amounts of information, it can make sense to split it across multiple communications. It may take a little longer but is much more efficient if a chain of communication is being created which covers different points or issues.
Follow up, especially if you are working to a tight deadline and you need someone to do something for you. A polite reminder or two is not going to upset anyone and will have a huge impact on your ability to meet a deadline.
Methods of communication in business
For all you startups and small businesses out there, I want to take a bit of time to help you figure out what the best forms of communications are for your business. Some of them might be obvious but these are not always the most effective.
One of the most widely used forms of communication in business and understandably so. But when sending emails consider this, will your email be lost in the hundreds of emails that person may receive each day? If you are emailing a C-level executive or manager then it likely will be. Email is also easy to store, monitor and search, making it a great communication method for more authoritative forms of communications.
A very direct form of communication. Picking up the phone and giving someone a call is a great way to avoid any miscommunication or ambiguity but can also be very invasive. If they are in the middle of something, the phone call may act as an unwelcomed distraction. Perhaps an email would be better suited so they can get to it at a time more convenient for them.
The most direct form of communication. Again, fantastic to avoid any ambiguity but there is also the chance a message may get forgotten. Not great if you are working to a deadline and need that person to do something. Perhaps following up with an email to ensure they get the message and took away the relevant action points could help avoid this situation.
Instant Messenger (IM)
A great way to send a quick informal message within an organisation but this also has the ability to be lost or forgotten. Sometimes, busy people might not even use IM as they see it as a distraction from their work. In any case, if you need someone to do something for you and send them an IM, make sure you check in with another communication method to ensure they received the message. I would recommend using IM for sending those reminders to people. A quick and non-invasive method to deliver these types of communication.
You might not see this as a form of communication but it can be a very powerful one if used correctly. Imagine this situation, you go speak to someone in your office that you are working on a project with. You ask them to do something by a specific time. Instead of relying on them to remember and sending them multiple reminders prior to the deadline, just set up a calendar invite for them. You can set a reminder and let the calendar software do the work for you. This has the added benefit of allowing you to include a body to the invite. Perhaps an agenda, research notes or conferencing details.
Project collaboration platforms like Slack or the recently announced Microsoft Teams could be useful if you have a lot of projects going on within your business. These types of platforms provide a simple place for teams to work on projects together. They are relatively easy to use but may require a bit of training to get up and running. They are well worth the investment in the long run, especially if most of your work needs a collaborative and team effort.
To master anything you just need to put in the time. This blog might help you to understand some useful tips and tools to improve your business communication but you will not truly appreciate it until you put it into practice. By trying out different forms of communication you will soon start to understand what works best in each situation. You may even feel like you have mastered it but don’t get conceited. Keep on practicing as we live in a constantly evolving world and the way people prefer to communicate is included in this evolution. Keep an eye out for new tools and methods and keep trying new things. Finally, remember communication is about working together, so whatever solution you think can work, ensure you consider the views of others.
As soon as you have mastered the art of communication you will see a drastic improvement on the efficiency of your work. Then you can move onto mastering other business practices which will be covered in future posts.