Effective communication

There are a number of forms of communication essential in a successful career. We bring you tips on mastering internal, external, oral and written forms

There’s one thing that makes every relationship work – it doesn’t matter whether that relationship is romantic, with a peer or in business – that thing is communication. In all relationships, ineffective or poor communication can be extremely frustrating and it is often a source of conflict. The four main types of communication vital in the office are internally within your business, externally with clients, orally and in writing.

An inability to clearly express thoughts, ideas and demands can lead to employees not performing well or in accordance with a company’s demands. Such a situation may take place when an employee is not truly aware of what is requested of them. A good style of communication and a positive approach can ensure that employees and managers understand each other and are more effective at the workplace.

It is very important for communication to be ‘two-way’ – employees should not only listen, but always have a chance, and be encouraged to ask questions, discuss, express own ideas. Feedback mechanisms and sharing best practices internally should also be an integral part of organisational performance and performance management systems in particular.

When communicating internally, try to be concise and clear and explain your goals and objectives very precisely. Don’t try to bluff or make false claims. Failure to fulfill those claims could earn you or your company a bad reputation.

Being able to communicate effectively with clients is an ever increasingly essential requirement. The communication process with them should start immediately in order to learn what the client wants and expects and to also learn more about their business – and the need for communication will continue throughout every phase.

Taking the time up front to communicate with the client will build a solid foundation, save time and avoid potential miscommunication later. It is a good idea to have some sort of intake process to go through with clients to make sure important points are not missed.

In addition, it’s also helpful to have a method or system for client communication beyond that point. Simply responding to emails or phone calls as they come in with no records may not be the most productive of systems, particularly when working with several clients at a time. At a minimum, create and retain email folders to keep track of messages to and from specific clients.

One of the biggest frustrations for clients is talking to them with terms and phrases that they don’t understand, so avoid using technical terms and jargon that is likely to lose or confuse them (or at the very least, explain what the terms mean).

One thing that can really help communication is using real examples. Explaining options over the phone or through email can be challenging and ineffective. By using examples, things can become clearer for clients and enable a more accurate and informed response.

While communicating with clients, whether face to face, on the telephone or by email, remember to always stay professional. Clients are paying for professional services and they will expect to conduct business in a professional manner. That’s not to say you can’t get to know your clients on a more personal level, but remember that what you say and write can impact the client relationship.

According to the authors of Business Communication: Strategies and Skills, approximately 75% of time is spent in verbal one-to-one exchanges. There are key components for effective good old‑fashioned face-to-face communication.

Of course, grammar, perfect sentence formation, using powerful vocabulary, punch lines and pronunciation can be treated as the very heart of face-to-face communication, so always be careful to use the appropriate communication. There are other less obvious face-to-face issues to consider however.

Body language is essential. Finger-pointing, fist-pounding, and making grandiose gestures are perceived as aggressive. On the other hand, smiling too much, speaking too softly, looking at the floor and wringing your hands can make you seem uncertain or indecisive, as can a lack of eye‑to‑eye contact – although too much can appear like staring. There is also the need to have self‑confidence while speaking and the content you are explaining should be clear and straight to the point.

Feedback and listening are also important. Feedback is a supportive process that should contribute to the reinforcement of ongoing behaviour. It can also be a corrective process to induce change. Listening is the most difficult skill to learn and often considered a ‘natural’ ability. Listening requires hard work and participation by all involved. Approximately 40% of the workday may be spent listening.

When you are communicating through the written word, it is easy to knock out a quick email or blast out a memo, but unfortunately, when we communicate too quickly with the written word, we run the risk of creating the wrong impression.

There are several things to remember. First, know what you want to say before you say it. If you’re writing a longer memo or email (more than a paragraph or two) jot down an outline, even if it’s on a scrap of paper. This will keep you on subject and make sure you say what you actually want to say. Try to keep it simple and don’t get convoluted or use big words. Stick to the point to get the business dealt with.

Once you’ve written your communication, go back and re-read it. Does it give the right impression? Is there anything that others can read and misinterpret? If you’re not sure, have somebody else read it. Also do remember to check the spelling. Incorrect spelling looks very unprofessional.

Before sending the communication, look away for five minutes. Although this is good business practice for all communication, it is especially so for emails and letters created in response to someone else. Communication written in anger or haste is never a good idea because of the risk of misinterpretation and, additionally, is often less effective.

We are living in a world with millions of others and that means we’re going to be constantly required to communicate. Doing so effectively will allow more time to carry out the job in hand, rather than rectifying errors or misunderstandings.

"One of the biggest frustrations for clients is talking to them with terms and phrases that they don’t understand, so avoid using technical terms and jargon that is likely to lose or confuse them"