The biggest key to having an efficient and smooth workplace is communication. Unfortunately, most communication in business is not carried out effectively. Here are some tips on how to communicate effectively at work.
1) Be more precise. If you want something done, whether you are talking in person, on the phone, by email, or by instant messenger (IM), set a specific date and time when you need it completed by. Get feedback from the person helping you that they heard you, are ok to proceed and will get it done by your allotted time and date. If they cannot meet your timeline, work with them to adjust according to their schedule to find a date and time that works for both of you.
2) Follow the 5Ws. Many times confusion and misunderstandings occur because communication is not clear and detailed enough. I talk about the importance of the 5 W’s (who, what, when, where, why & how) in my book 25 Things They Don’t Teach in Business School. I’m going to briefly re-introduce it here but in the context of communication.
Before you end a meeting, discussion, or conversation with someone, especially if the meeting involved action items, you want to ensure that everyone is on the same page. To ensure effective communication in the workplace, make sure to cover the following 5QW questions and points before you wrap up:
Who needs to get the work done? This will likely be the person helping you or someone on their team.
Who does the work need to be sent to once completed? Does the work need to be sent to you or to someone else?
What needs to be completed? An entire project, certain deliverables, a report, an analysis, etc.?
When does this need to be completed by? Give the individual a deadline that you can both agree on so everyone is on the same page. Effective communication is all about capturing right details.
When can the person helping you start getting to work on this? Consider that the person helping you may have to wait on someone else for information before they can get started. Also consider that they have other things on their plate as well. Additionally, consider if is there something holding you up from asking them to start? Maybe you need the go ahead from someone else first?
Where does the deliverable need to be sent? Directly to the person’s inbox in electronic form? Directly to their desk in paper form?
Why does this work need to be done in a particular way and by a particular deadline? These are really important questions to cover when communicating with someone in business or in any other field. You owe it to the person helping you to give them the big picture. Furthermore, if you give them the overall synopsis, they just may have a better to look at things or a quicker way to get the task done that you may not have thought of previously.
How should the task be completed? Is this something that should be done in Excel? PowerPoint? Hyperion?
Many of these points may be a given depending on what tools or methods your company primarily uses. Pick and choose the questions that are more relevant to your situation, but make sure that you cover as many of the above points as possible when you are working with someone. A very large part of communicating effectively in business is about asking the right questions.
3) Be fully engaged. Do not let yourself get distracted by your computer, phone or emails. I disagree with others who say that answering your phone, or checking text messages or emails makes it appear as if you are not interested in the conversation at hand or the person in front of you. I do not believe that people today really take it personally or read into it much. I do agree, however, that you should ignore your phones, computers and emails when you are talking to someone. Giving in to distractions while communicating with others greatly reduces communication effectiveness. My reasoning is that attending to distractions breaks the flow of a conversation and in doing so, you are also distracting your listeners. They get distracted just as much as you do and the strength of your message will be lost.
4) Keep your point short and simple (KISS). When leading a meeting, have 1-3 main points and make each point only a few words long. You want to make your points memorable and easy to understand and follow. This will improve the chances of your being heard and understood and your message remembered and acted upon. It can be hard to pick just a few points and a few words to encompass the message, but you need to think, “If I could only have people remember 1-3 things from my discussion today, what would they be?” Doing this will enhance the effectiveness of your meetings at work.
5) Ask open ended questions. In my book I discuss why you should ask open ended questions and how much you are limiting yourself and others when you ask closed ended questions. I also show you several examples of questions that you can ask to make your communication at work more effective. I’m not going to go into too much detail on this here, but I will give you one very simple, day-to-day example from my book that will show you the value of asking open ended questions and how it can enhance communication effectiveness:
“Imagine you are planning a birthday surprise for a colleague. You decide that you will buy something for everyone on the team to eat in celebration of your teammate’s birthday. So, you ask him, which is your favorite, cake or brownies? And he answers brownies.
At that point you would think you know exactly what to get him for his birthday. Brownies are exactly what he wants. But maybe he does not like brownies all that much. Maybe he does not like cake and between the two, he would pick brownies. But if it was up to him, he would not pick either. In fact, he would rather go without.
While I am sure he would appreciate the effort, he will not be completely satisfied on his birthday and your surprise snack would be a bit of a waste.
The better question would have been what is your favorite dessert? Or if you were thinking something other than desserts you could ask what snack he is absolutely unable to resist. This is where you will hit gold. Out of all the options in the world maybe he likes chips, or candy, or pizza. Maybe he is a fan of cupcakes, or donuts, or cookies, or muffins, or ice cream. But you never would have known. Moral of the story: ask open ended questions. The answer might surprise you.” – Excerpt from 25 Things They Don’t Teach in Business School: A User’s Manual for Office Politics by Trishna Sharma.
6) Add visuals. You are not going to be able to pop up with a slide deck in every conversation you have, but when possible, add visuals and images to strengthen your points. This is especially important when giving presentations. A picture is worth a thousand words. Adding visuals is also something I discuss in more detail in my book and it is something that can really make your communication and message much more effective. Images can really get your point across even when words cannot.
7) Know when it is better not to say anything at all. Sometimes the most important thing about communicating is knowing when not to say anything at all. Always listen to what others are saying and think before you speak. Formulate your words carefully so you give not only a large impact, but the exact impact you were aiming for. But even before you speak, judge whether anything needs to be said at all. Sometimes silence speaks more than words. Knowing when to and when not to speak is something that comes with practice and time. It is more an art than a science. But it is something that can enhance your communication skills.
Effective communication skills in business is a must for anyone who wants to have an easier road to success at work. When you communicate well, are clear, ask the right questions and think before you speak, you are not only making life easier for yourself but for others as well. By clarifying possible questions and making expectations clear, it takes some of the stress and burden of having to figure things out off of others.
If you like this post, be sure to check out my book 25 Things They Don’t Teach in Business School for more specific tips on how to communicate effectively during meetings, with teammates, as well as in different forms of written material. I go into detail and provide template examples that you can apply immediately. If you have not purchased it already, you are missing out!