How to become an effective communicator in business
In business, it can be tough to get your point across clearly.
If you’ve ever felt like you’re struggling to be heard among your team, partners or sales prospects, then it’s time to become a more effective communicator.
In this guide, you’re going to learn exactly what business communication is and how to have more meaningful and results-driven interactions.
You’ll also learn how to apply those principles into your written communication, ensuring you reach your goals and get things done.
Table of contents
- What is business communication?
- 1. Learn to truly listen
- 2. Prepare what you want to say
- 3. Positive & engaging body language
- 4. Be clear and practice brevity
- 5. Make your written communication punchy
- Wrapping up
What is business communication?
Business communication is the act of two or more parties coming to a mutual understanding on an idea, issue or task that needs doing. As a small business owner, it can be the key to unlocking new clients, negotiating with potential partners and leading a talented team.
Being an effective communicator requires mastering the art of explicit conversation. You can’t spend all day talking with your coworkers, but you can learn how to productively listen and respond in a way that adds value to your business. Because while it’s important to be in touch when necessary, it’s equally as important to learn when to disconnect and focus on getting your job done.
Creating processes within your business to help achieve this is a great place to start. Regardless of the size of your business, how you communicate will ultimately affect how productive you and your employees are. And technology has made this easier than ever before.
With this in mind, this guide aims to break down the core elements that will help you communicate more clearly and effectively. We’ll tackle both obvious and direct communication, as well as more subtle non-verbal forms of communication through body language.
1. Learn to truly listen
Listening is something we all think we’re good at. But how many times have you found your mind wandering? Or worse, realise you were just waiting for your turn to speak?
Learning to truly listen and becoming a good communicator will help you in all your business (and personal) interactions. From dealing with unhappy customers to understanding your employees better, your business will perform at a higher level when everybody feels heard.
Engage with the other party
The first step to effective listening is to make sure you feel like you’re engaging with the other person. This means facing them head-on and not looking around the room.
There’s nothing more powerful than eye contact when building rapport. And while we’ll talk about body language later in this article, this can help you be more present with the person you’re communicating with.
Once you’ve given your full, undivided attention, make sure you’re relaxed and dial out any distractions. This includes both external distractors, such as:
- TV screens in the background
- People walking by
- Other people’s discussions
- Background noises
As well as distractions that may come from “within” the conversation, including:
- The way the other person speaks
- Their mannerisms
- Their accent
Be open to new ideas and criticism
One of the biggest killers to a good conversation is reactiveness. That is, reacting to what the other person has to say about you, something you’ve done or your behaviour.
Which is why you should enter every interaction with the intention to learn. Sure, you can tell them how you feel, but you should do so in a respectful way.
For example, if someone criticises you for performing a specific activity, and you felt it was the right thing to do, respond with something like:
“I’m surprised to hear that, could you tell me what you think I should have done differently?”
Clarifying questions like these first demonstrate that a) what you did wasn’t meant maliciously, and b) uncovers the root of their feedback.
The art of listening is more about taking on board what the other person has to say, and less about waiting for your turn to talk.
When you cut someone off, you’re sending a subliminal message that you don’t care about what they have to say and that you feel you’re more important than them.
The solution is simple. Focus on what the other person has to say and be present.
Now, cutting someone off may simply be a case of you thinking at a faster rate than the other person. And if this is the case, you need to be aware of it. But being armed with this knowledge will allow you to change your behaviour and become a more effective communicator.
Ask questions and empathise
A good listener strives to fully understand what the other party is trying to communicate. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to ask the right questions.
If you feel a point has an ambiguous meaning (i.e. it could mean one of two things), dig deeper into this thread.
Asking questions can also help you build stronger relationships with your team. For example, if an employee shares a story about a restaurant they’ve visited, you could dig deeper into this thread by asking something like:
”That sounds great, I’ve not actually been there yet. What did you love about it the most?”
Questions of this nature accomplish several things:
- It shows you’re interested in what your colleague, employee or manager has to say
- It allows them to share their experiences with you, establishing a deeper connection
- It builds rapport while providing new information about their tastes
Let’s say an employee is dissatisfied with another employee. Instead of reacting, you could get to the bottom of why they feel this way with questions like:
- I hear you, why is this behaviour distracting you?
- Do you feel that [employee] is doing this deliberately?
- What do you feel would be the best approach to fix this?
These questions show that your employee is being listened to while opening them to new ideas.
Remember, the key to good listening is engaging and connecting with people. By asking the right questions, you can make deeper connections by understanding their true motivations and reasoning behind their feelings.
2. Prepare what you want to say
How many times have you had a meeting with someone, only to have them meander around the point they’re trying to make?
You may be making this mistake yourself. The best way to fix it? Prepare exactly what you want to say before your meetings and interactions.
Let’s take a look at five steps to prepare for more productive business meetings (and conversations).
Step 1: Know who you’re talking to
Just how you would do market research to understand an audience before running a campaign, you need to know who you’re talking with to communicate productively.
Understanding your audience will help you manage how to talk to them, as well as what you need to prepare to make your point or convince them to embrace your idea(s).
Before stepping into a meeting (either as a group or one-to-one), it’s useful to prepare the following information:
- Their priorities and what’s top of their mind
- How they prefer to communicate
- The language they resonate with
- Their communication style (passive or assertive)
The last one will be particularly key, as it will help you decide on how to proceed with the next steps in this section.
Step 2: Have a clear outcome
In business, every conversation needs an objective. In other words, what are you hoping to achieve?
Deciding on a clear goal or outcome is key. This is especially true in sales meetings, or when dealing with senior decision-makers. You must know exactly what you’re aiming to achieve, and the steps to get there.
If you’re not sure what the objective of a meeting is, ask other attendees what they’d like to get out of it. Make sure this is clear in order to steer your interactions in the right direction.
Step 3: Define an agenda or necessary steps
We say “necessary steps” because, while meetings are structured, more informal conversations can be more free-flowing. By defining these steps ahead of time, you’ll be able to effectively lead the conversation toward the outcome you’re aiming for.
With any interaction, your agenda should simply be the steps necessary to reach your outcome, no more.
As a business owner, your time is precious. Keep meetings brief and ensure everyone stays on track. There’s no need to meander if you’ve already set clear outcomes.
Consider breaking your agenda into three parts:
- Reviewing the current situation
- Deciding on action points, who’s responsible and timelines
- Defining the next steps and answering any (relevant) questions
Pro tip: When in a sales meeting, use these action steps as a way to communicate expectations. State “this is what we’re going to do today” and list out what you’re going to cover. This will assure your prospects that they’re in the hands of a professional.
Step 4: Anticipate objections
Not everyone will agree with what you have to say, and this is true in any business interaction.
Which is why you should anticipate any objections in advance. This will allow you to prepare a strong argument that offers a middle ground or make valid points where necessary.
This is a particularly strong technique in sales, too. When you know your product or service inside out, you can say “no” with confidence and good reasoning. In other words, you can take a more consultative approach to sales.
Step 5: Plan for the follow-up
Meetings and conversations should never fall off a cliff. By this, I mean there has to be some kind of follow up activity.
Follow-ups should keep everyone in the loop on what’s happening with the actions you set earlier on. Note that this doesn’t mean setting up another meeting. A simple email, chat message or providing updates and marking tasks as “Completed” in your project management software will do.
Regardless of what the activity is, keeping everyone informed and accountable will get things done.
3. Positive & engaging body language
As a leader, how you say something is as important (if not more so) than what you say. Dialling in and perfecting your body language in order to communicate effectively is fundamental.
Body language is the non-verbal communication you use to hold yourself in a meeting. It’s the confidence you present when answering questions, the smile you give when acknowledging a good idea or the eye contact you make when listening to a team member, client or customer.
Unlike other areas of business communication, body language is nuanced. It also has a big impact on how people perceive us.
For example, depending on how we control aspects of our facial and body expressions, we can use non-verbal language to appear more:
- Assertive: This means being able to put your ideas forward, and convince others of your strategy and vision
- Interesting: Engaging with people is much easier when they’re interested in what you have to say. Body language can make your words more impactful
- Confident: Leaders who exude confidence are leaders that attract strong talent
How do you want to present yourself in your interactions? Here, we’ll provide some practical tips for improving your natural body language.
Posture, eye contact and facial expressions
These are the basics of maintaining strong body language, but well worth mentioning. Let’s run through each and how to improve them.
Body language must-haves:
- Good posture: How you carry yourself is one of the first things people notice. If you’re slouched over, this conveys a lack of confidence or motivation. Stand up straight with your shoulders back slightly to convey authority and presence.
- Strong eye contact: Keeping eye contact with who you’re talking to indicates you’re engaged with them, truly listening and interested in what they have to say.
- Earnest facial expressions: A smile says a thousand words. If you’re looking to make an employee more at ease, staying calm and smiling while talking will do the trick.
On the flip side of this, you should be wary of the other person’s expressions and mirror them depending on the situation.
For example, if they have a serious demeanour, then matching your body language will show them you’re taking the situation seriously, too.
Extend an olive branch to break down barriers
In many business interactions, people put up “walls” to defend themselves against unwanted attention or conversations. If you truly believe you have value to share, or if talking to an individual is imperative, then there are a few ways you can help them open up to you.
First, identify these barriers in their own body language. This will usually translate into their arms being crossed or avoiding eye contact.
If this is happening during your interactions, offer them something to bridge the gap in rapport. This could be a cup of coffee, or perhaps a business card (if you have one).
Even a reason to get out your phones and exchange information (or content) can break down these barriers.
Know when to smile
We’ve talked about the basics of facial expressions. But when should you be smiling (and when shouldn’t you)?
Smile when things are good, of course, but also smile in tough times. For example, when delivering the news of a client no longer working with you, or when addressing a challenging task, deliver it with a smile. This act expresses optimism and shows your team that you’re moving forward in a direction where everything is going to be ok.
This doesn’t mean you should use a smile to cover up hard truths. Be honest and open when delivering your message, but also appear that you’re in control of the tough situation. Losing a client can be troublesome and you shouldn’t sugarcoat that. But, if you emanate positivity and perseverance, your team will follow suit.
Not only does this send a message that everything is under control, but it also sends your brain the same message. Instead of resisting the change, you embrace it.
4. Be clear and practice brevity
William Shakespeare once said that “Brevity is the soul of wit”.
Talking for hours about a topic is easy. Condensing that same topic into 10 minutes (or 10 seconds) takes preparation.
But the benefits to brevity is in the total time saved and how strongly it builds relationships. This is especially true in public speaking.
Brevity also leaves your “audience” wanting more – whether that’s on stage or in the boardroom. If you waffle, people will disengage. In sales meetings, this can lose attention and deals.
The art of brevity is simple. It requires preparation, knowing the start and end destination and getting there as quickly as possible. With that in mind, let’s explore a few actionable tips to inject brevity into the way you communicate:
- Avoid unnecessary repetition: Don’t be redundant. Repeating the same thing in the same exact way over and over will get you nowhere. If you want a point to stick, repeat it in a varied way. Which brings us to our next point.
- Utilise necessary repetition: People are prone to zoning out due to information overload. Repeated messages, delivered in intervals, are key to making yourself truly heard. Reinforce your messages in varied ways to ensure people accept and grasp them, but space them out to avoid dilution.
- Remove filler language: We’ve all been guilty of saying “you know” and “uhm” once or twice. Avoid filler language by pausing instead of trying to fill the silence. Saying nothing is better than saying something that adds no value.
- Avoid irrelevant information: Focus only on what matters to the subject at hand and the people you’re talking to. Having certainty and expertise around what you’re talking about can make this a breeze.
- Focus on the group: When speaking to a group of people, focus on the information that benefits everyone. Save topics that require one-to-one discussions for a later time.
If you want to see brevity in action, look at famous speeches from famous prime ministers, presidents and TED Talk speakers. The way they talk to the public is how you should be talking in your business communication.
5. Make your written communication punchy
We’ve covered face-to-face interactions in depth. But these days, the majority of communication is done over email or chat platforms (such as Slack).
Which is why you need to dial in your written communication and practice similar principles we’ve shared in this article.
Here, we’ll cover how to make your written communication clear for recipients on all channels, as well as the different styles and how to apply them.
The four business writing styles
Just like your face-to-face discussions, knowing who you’re writing to is key. Think of this as “results-oriented” writing. Who are you talking to and what is the goal you’re looking to achieve?
Your writing should also be concise, practising brevity as we covered in the previous section. Every sentence must have a purpose.
There are four main writing styles used in business, which include:
- Informational: The goal of these formats is to provide information and educate, and therefore don’t require a specific outcome. Informational content includes reporting, minutes and financial statements.
- Transactional: This format counts for your day-to-day communication, such as email and business messaging.
- Instructional: This format takes a more educational format, showing other parties how to execute something. Instructional writing includes process documentation, specifications and even blog posts.
- Persuasive: Usually associated with sales, persuasive formats include proposals, sales emails and press releases.
As a business owner, mastering all four will help you communicate better with your teams, clients, partners and sales prospects.
It will also help you get to the point quicker, making for more efficient and productive conversations.
How to write effective emails
Love them or hate them, emails are a fact of business life.
So knowing how to write them effectively will help you reach your goals quickly. Whether that’s sharing important news with your team or guiding a prospect to the next step in your sales process.
There are four simple ways you can make your business emails more engaging:
- Front-load with a purpose: When emailing stakeholders, partners and other executives, get to the point quickly. Emails aren’t designed to tell stories, they’re there to communicate critical information.
- Don’t make me think: If you’re sending an email on “what are your thoughts?”, then you need to re-think the purpose of your email. Do the thinking for your recipient and make suggestions based on the information you have shared.
- Make no assumptions: When sharing new information, you can’t assume the recipient will know the consequences or implications. If there are consequences to a new situation, then you must make it abundantly clear in your communications.
- End with a call-to-action: Once you’ve shared your information, what are the next steps? What do you need from the recipient? Your call-to-action should be the next step to reaching your goal.
With email, it’s especially important to practice brevity. I once learned a good rule of thumb when writing emails is to “cut it in half, then cut it in half again”.
It’s fine to waffle in your first draft, but make sure you cut out any waste and ensure you’re getting to the point quickly.
How to use business messaging apps effectively
Just like email, business messaging apps like Slack have become common in the workplace, And are especially popular among remote organisations.
Just like email, it can be easy to waffle in your messaging. While it can be a great way to build rapport (sharing the funny cat gif you found, for example), it’s best used to uncover important information quickly.
It can be easy to complicate your business messaging systems, so let’s look at how to simplify them:
- Use a topic-driven channel structure: In Slack (and other business messaging platforms), you’re able to set up channels around a variety of topics. Make sure your channel structure serves specific purposes for your business, e.g. “marketing” for all growth initiatives.
- Create an announcement channel: Save time on emails by having a channel dedicated to company news.
- Notification guidelines: Have clear do’s and don’ts when it comes to mentioning people in public channels. When you send a message to “@channel”, everyone gets notified. Which can be distracting. Ensure you have clear rules around the use of notifications.
- Emoji codes: Not all messages need a response, but they do require acknowledgement. Using emojis (such as the thumbs-up emoji) show that your teammates have been heard.
These are just a handful of ways you can make your business messaging processes less noisy and more efficient.
Set rules and standardise the way your organisation communicates among platforms like Slack to ensure people are focused on doing their best work, not getting bogged down by needless communication.
Business communication is about getting to the point quickly in order to reach your goals. Every interaction must have a purpose, with the other person having clarity on what is expected of them.
To recap, being an effective communicator means:
- Listening to what the other person has to say, not waiting your turn
- Being ready and knowing exactly what you have to say
- Dialling in your body language to convey confidence
- Practising brevity and getting to the point quickly
- Applying these principles to written language and digital channels
Start practising these things today, and you’ll quickly see more meaningful interactions in your business.
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