- Listening is key
- Empathy matters
- Paying attention is a minimum
Communication in business settings is one of the single most important skills you can master as a leader or employee. Being able to effectively transmit what you’re trying to say to another person is a much more difficult skill than usually gets credited.
How can you learn to communicate better? It takes a certain degree of desire on your part to make a change to a skill that is often assumed to be inherent, and not later learned. But it can be learned, if you are willing to make the effort. Below are three ways to improve your communication in business.
Learn To Listen
The single most important skill you can have in business is really listening to what other people are saying. Even if you have a difficult time mirroring what someone is saying, you need to really hear the other person – whether it’s your CEO or your direct reports.
How does one learn to listen, especially if you’re used to everyone just doing everything you say? Never offering feedback? Forget about daring to criticize. Then you’ve got yourself in a feedback loop and need to listen to more people who’s opinions you value. And if you don’t include opposite voices you may never get valuable advice.
First, focus on the other person. What are they trying to tell you, not what do you want to hear, or what do you want to reply to them. Take the time to truly listen to what the other person is saying. If you feel like you want to make notes, that should not bother someone else in a business setting, although it can be crass in a home environment. In both arenas, you should not necessarily be looking to score points or just rebut arguments. There should be real thought put into the words being spoken to you, you owe the same intensity to your interlocutor.
This applies to verbal and written communications. Before you fly off the handle, consider if someone could be expressing themselves somewhat awkwardly in a medium they don’t aver. Some people are better writers, some better verbal speakers, some better creating visual works of communication. Try to meet people where they are, hear their words and what’s behind them – and if you don’t know what their motivation is, ask.
Learning to listen can take you far in a business career – you will hear what is said, and beyond that, you will hear what is meant. Once you’ve listened, and heard, it’s important to recognize the other person in the conversation, with empathy. Everyone goes through similar things, and yet not everyone responds the same way, or with the same emotional distress. Some employees may see you grouching at someone and take it to heart that something is wrong; others will recognize that it’s a product of your emotional system that you’re showing has gotten out of whack. You should endeavor to have all your communications be simply professional.
By really understanding another person’s point of view, you are essentially giving yourself the gift of sight. Even if you don’t agree with you coworker, manager, etc., you can see their point of view and understand where they are coming from. As political divides in the United States will tell you, facts don’t always matter when people feel a certain way. In a business environment, keep it professional, and let the other person know you can see where they are coming from.
These days it is more difficult than ever to, as they say in advertising, get eyeballs. But if you are in a meeting with another person there is very little that is as disrespectful as not giving the person with whom you are speaking your full attention. Put away the laptop, phone, and spreadsheets until the proper time, and take the moments you need to really connect to the person you’re talking to.
If you are a leader at your company, this is especially important. I can remember a meeting where the SVP of our department played on her phone the whole time. Now, was she really playing? Maybe she wasn’t but was looking at her super important emails. But if the emails are more important than the meeting, maybe the meeting could have been an email, too.
So ask everyone to put away or not even bring their phones, if they won’t need them. If it’s a performance review you’re giving, make sure you have the right amount of time scheduled for any questions or feedback you might get from your team, and encourage the lines of communication in business to be and stay open. Don’t forget to say the right things, and bring your whole self to whatever moment you are in.