In my work with entrepreneurs and business leaders, a common question I get is how to be a better communicator. In the rush of daily activities, it’s hard to find time to carefully craft the right messages to all your constituents, route them through all the right channels, and have any insight that they have been heard and understood. It’s even harder to find time to actively listen to input.
Yet I assure you that there should be no higher priority for any business leader than effective communication, if you want to improve your impact and effectiveness. Great business leaders, including Richard Branson, who oversees over 400 companies controlled by the Virgin Group, believe that poor communication can and has cost large organizations millions or more per year.
In my experience, there are many factors other than time spent talking and listening that are key to effective communication. Here are some of the key ones for you own self-assessment and focus:
Really listen to some input before you produce output. Communication is much more than disseminating information and giving orders. Active listeners tend to give more accurate and relevant info, and people’s perception of your communication is more positive and effective. My recommendation is to listen more and talk less.
Some people I know in business talk too much, and they count that as communication. Sometimes this is out of nervousness or insecurity, or you just like to show that you are in control. I recommend you listen to several perspectives before you share your own.
Focus on the future rather than rationalizing the past. Everyone discounts defensive explanations of events, needs to know the next step forward, and what their role in that step might be. If your message is too general, such that no one can relate, it will be totally ineffectual. Your challenge is to paint a picture that each receiver personally can relate to.
In addition, the allure of future potential is normally greater than today’s issues. This is especially true for growth opportunities, motivation, and the process changes. Consider how you can package any message as positive for the future, rather than a problem now.
Keep your key messages short and straightforward. Recipients automatically assume that long and complex messages are suspect, or they discount or ignore them. Asking people to alter their view or accept a new direction requires clear and convincing words, without a long justification. Use several short messages, rather than single long one.
Tune the message to show empathy for the recipients. Practice your active listening to understand first the factual and emotional perspective of others, before crafting any sensitive message. Make sure your own perspective or possible biases do not come out as a key driver. Communication with constituents should not appear to be a debate.
Showing more empathy definitely requires that you focus on increasing your emotional intelligence, or EQ. This can be learned, and rates a person's ability to recognize emotions, to understand their effect, and to use that information to guide communication.
Appeal to multiple recipient senses and channels. With today’s multimedia tools, there is little excuse for only text or words in your communication. Don’t hesitate to add pictures, short videos, or sound-bytes to solidify your message and impact, both logical as well as emotional. People expect to see supporting evidence and multiple angles.
Highlight collaboration with relevant groups and experts. You always increase the credibility of your message, if you can show it is the result of collaborative agreement between relevant groups and experts. Often it helps to ask for additional collaboration through questions, to show that you value others’ input in deciding a course of action.
Show optimism, confidence, and competence to gain trust. Your appearance and the way you deliver a message is very important. People tend to believe and accept messages quickly from people they trust. Message wording and body language must be positive and credible, and consistent with the best leadership image you can display.
Speak from your personal identity rather than any business title. People in your organization, and customers, want to hear from another person, not someone hiding behind a business name or inanimate role. This fosters real engagement and emotional commitment, and distinguishes your message from advertising and other propaganda.
A business leader’s time demands never end – it’s impossible to focus on every request with the same urgency. However, communication is one of those tasks that, if done in exemplary fashion, has the potential for a huge payback in productivity, team engagement, and success; or if done poorly, can sink your business. Now is always a good time for an investment in your own future.
*** First published on Inc.com on 5/25/2022 ***