Communication is the way: 5 tips on working with other people

Former presidential speechwriter, James Humes said, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.”

That quote sums up why every small business owner must make effective communication one of their highest priorities. Without this valuable skill, their entire staff is essentially leaderless.

5 things you must understand to better communicate with other people

It’s often easy to brush away “poor communication” as a vague problem that will eventually get resolved on its own.

However, the truth is that poor communication in the workplace is actually a very serious, costly problem. In fact, when the Economist Intelligence Unit researched the problem for their report, “Communication barriers in the modern workplace,” respondents claimed that communication barriers led to

  • Failed projects (44 percent)
  • Low morale (31 percent)
  • Missed performance targets (25 percent)
  • Lost sales (18 percent)

In short, poor communication is no small problem. It can actually be a crippling issue that keeps a small business from meeting its full potential. Business owners should consider following the five tips to keep this from happening in their organization.

1. Words play a (very minor) role

Growing up, most kids learn the expression “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Though “never” may be a bit ambitious (everyone’s feelings are hurt from time to time), it turns out that this saying’s interpretation of the impact of verbal communication may actually be fairly accurate. According to studies, communication is made up of the following three elements:

  • 55 percent body language
  • 38 percent tone of voice
  • 7 percent the actual words used

While most experts agree that this is not a hard-and-fast breakdown, the point is that communication entails a lot more than just the words people say.

For in-person communication, it’s vital that individuals pay attention to their body language and what kind of tone they’re using. Otherwise, the most well-intentioned words could fall on deaf ears.

Likewise, when added emphasis is needed, speaking in person — or even via phone — may better facilitate communication than doing it through email.

Of course, everyone is going to have their own communication styles. Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that nonverbal cues play a role. Almost universally, individuals should be careful not to cross their arms or fidget when talking to someone face to face. Maintaining eye contact will help improve the communication as well (as long as you’re not staring).

2. Keep meetings to a minimum

In-person communication isn’t necessarily always the best option. There is a place for email, instant messaging, and old-fashioned phone calls in the modern office.

But more meetings is almost never the answer. In fact, most small business owners would probably see a huge boost in morale if they announced that they were reducing the number of regular meetings held in the office.

Most middle managers spend 35 percent of their work week in meetings. For those in upper management, it’s 50 percent. And yet, executives deem more than 67 percent of their business meetings as complete and utter failures.

By all means, keep having them, but limit meetings to five to eight people. Research has shown that meetings with more people don’t lead to greater teamwork. They actually do the opposite.

Before holding a meeting, managers should always ask the following questions:

  • Is this really necessary?
  • Who has to be there for a successful outcome?
  • What can I do beforehand to ensure the meeting is focused?

This exercise should help to cut down on unnecessary meetings that lack quality communication.

3. Hold more one-to-one reviews

If most small businesses decreased their meeting frequency by even 10 percent, much less 25 or 50 percent, managers would have more than enough time to hold monthly one-to-one reviews with their employees.

In most companies, these kinds of reviews are only done once a year. This makes them largely useless as a tool for improving an employee’s performance. If someone’s review isn’t held until December, but they’re displaying problems in July, that’s the time to address it. Likewise, if the issue is immediately addressed in July, what’s the point of bringing it up five months later?

Teamwork often suffers because of annual reviews. That’s because, by the time everyone’s annual reviews are held, the entire makeup of the team may have changed. People leave the company, move to other teams, and get promoted.

Hold monthly one-to-one reviews, and employees will feel a greater sense of accountability. It can also be a nice way to provide consistent recognition to those who are constantly performing at an above-average level. This kind of ongoing communication is key for keeping employees engaged and headed in the right direction.

4. Listening is essential to communication

Too many leaders get hung up on the active types of communication — mostly talking — and spend very little time trying to become better listeners.

This puts them at a real disadvantage, as listening is central to effective communication and may be one of the most important teamwork skills an individual can develop.

Among hospital managers, “active listening” has become a major priority because of how many medical errors are caused by health professionals who don’t hear what patients are telling them. This kind of listening entails

  • Asking questions of the speaker
  • Paying attention to their tone of voice
  • Not interrupting
  • Restating and summarizing what the person says

This type of communication is just as important for small business owners, because little misunderstandings can balloon into huge problems.

5. “Why” is the universal language

While there are near countless communication skills an individual could master — and the four above are certainly important — the most vital may be understanding “the power of why.” In Simon Sinek’s 2011 bestseller, Start with Why, the organizational expert makes the point that “There are only two ways to influence human behavior: You can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”

If workplace communication is largely about influencing other people, then this is an extremely important point. One of the most valuable communication skills may be the ability to simply and succinctly describe the “why” behind what an individual wants.

Likewise, whenever communication is breaking down between coworkers, the fastest way back to cohesion — back to restoring teamwork — may be backtracking to rediscover their mutual “why.” By establishing that imperative foundation, employees can then begin communicating on common ground again.

For this reason, managers would do well to keep this “why” front and center by regularly bringing it up at meetings. With so many priorities, it’s sometimes easy to forget about the one that matters most.

Better communication leads to a better small business

Everyone knows how vital it is to lead by example. A leader who doesn’t practice what they preach won’t find many people motivated by their words.

The same holds true when it comes to improving communication. Small business owners who want to improve their companies should start with bettering their communication skills.

Setting this example for their staff will inspire better communication across the entire company and help improve the bottom line.

Annabel is a Marketing Communications Manager at JotForm. She’s passionate about writing and has worked in communications roles domestically and internationally. When she’s not blogging about SaaS or online forms, she enjoys international travel, loud concerts, and artisan coffee. You can reach Annabel through her contact form.

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