Essential Communication Skills You May Be Missing: Business Careers


Professionals communicating.

At work, have you ever felt the energy get sucked out of the room after a communication mishap? This happens to everyone, even to the most productive and engaged teams. More often than not, what makes these situations so tense is that they don’t stem from large issues; rather, it develops as a result of smaller communication lapses that build up over time.

Communication is fundamentally related to all aspects of organizational performance, leadership, project management, and group interaction. It affects overall company culture and is often a key contributor to working environments that are highly motivated and thrive, versus those that become toxic and less productive.

Here’s a collection of some overlooked strategies that can help you enhance the way you and your team communicate.

Embrace Simplicity and Eliminate Complexity

Before you assign tasks or collaborate, be sure that you can deliver the instructions in a way that’s easy to follow. People don’t tend to trust concepts that they can’t understand, so keeping clarity at the center of communication (even if it takes time on your end as a manager to refine the message) is well worth the effort.

Use Verbal and Non-Verbal Cues

Our average attention span is now just 8-seconds, according to a 2015 study by Microsoft. This doesn’t mean that we’re no longer paying proper attention—it suggests that we rely on more communication aides to process information in a shorter amount of time. Usually, technology assists this process. In face-to-face interactions, it’s the non-verbal cues that will help you hit your communication target. Specific non-verbal strategies you should master include eye contact, gestures, postures, facial expressions, and tone of voice.

Understand the Ways Technology Can Help (and hinder)

If you’ve ever had to deliver a presentation to a group, you’ve experienced how a PowerPoint can change the tone of a meeting. Eye contact? Gone. Interaction? Diminished. As soon as your slides are projected, the group will naturally try to interpret and process the information from your presentation before you even have a chance to provide context. Suddenly, you’re no longer in control of the communication. Be strategic about how you develop your slides so the information requires your insight and contributions so you stay in the driver’s seat, instead of your slides.

Social media adds another dimension that can help and hinder your communication skills. Whether you’re using business-related tools, such as web conferencing and live chat, or social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter, you’ll need to alter your approach to ensure your communication is clear and collaborative. For live chat and web conferencing, you’ll have to develop a keen sense of when certain topics need to be discussed more directly or in-person. Social media platforms should amplify your intended communication style, so carefully craft your post to align with the style and tone you’d use in a regular conversation.

Actively Listen

The simple process of listening demonstrates that you value the opinions of others and you’re open to new concepts. This creates a partnership and will invest your staff in the project or process on a deeper level. In fast paced environments, it can be tough to exercise an active listening strategy, so work to develop these skills in less intense discussions (even with friends and family) by asking more questions, repeating other people’s comments to affirm their perspective, and incorporating more pauses in your conversation that allow for feedback.

Meeting Management

Most people understand the basics of holding meetings in the workplace: send an invite, set the agenda, address each component, and wrap it up in the allotted time frame. The fundamentals aren’t complicated, yet so many of us struggle with conducting effective meetings. If you notice that your meetings aren’t meeting their potential, give some attention to a few of the following areas to enhance the experience:

Reconsider the Participants

It’s wonderful to involve everyone, but if there are participants who lack subject matter expertise, decision-making authority, or a stake in the project, you may unknowingly be spending time providing background or foundational information, which could be holding the meeting back from progressing at a reasonable schedule. In these scenarios, you can either reconsider the participants or alter the meeting schedule so the critical members assemble on a more regular basis and those in the periphery are looped in on a less frequent or as needed basis.

Set Rules of Engagement

Ground rules can help keep the entire group accountable and invested in keeping meetings on track. These can be as simple as participation, the authority to “parking lot” ideas that aren’t related to the agenda, and a commitment to reach a conclusion on each topic. Some groups find it helpful to share leadership roles, to encourage more group ownership.

Make the Agenda Actionable

If your agendas aren’t yielding action items to delegate among the team, then the meeting can end up feeling pointless. If the topics on the agenda are FYIs and information sharing, rather than calls-to-action, the meeting might not be necessary. Or, you may want to revamp the agenda to make it more actionable.

These are just a few examples of the skills and practices that can keep your communication sharp and effective.

What tips do you have for enhancing communication in the workplace?

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