Thursday, June 30, 2016

We Can Hear You Now! How to Keep Business Communication Crystal Clear.

While the adage is true, “watch what you say,” it’s equally important to consider how and where you say it, too. The success of your small business relies on professionally-executed communication. A strong combination of the what (content), how (style) and where (channel) in your communication will prove triumphant and productive for your brand.

SAY WHAT? You receive an email from a colleague who needs a favor. It includes a lot of slang and ends with “know what I mean?” And you think to yourself, “no, I have no idea what you mean!” It’s common practice to be too casual when we communicate in professional settings. Perhaps, it’s in an effort to appear cool or suggest that something is “no big deal.” The thing is, if we don’t understand what's being requested, how can we judge if it’s a big deal...or not?

  1. Do your best to not leave someone guessing. A request to edit a budget shouldn’t be comparable to working through a Sudoku puzzle. Take time to be clear and concise. Personalities, gender, age and differing levels in the office hierarchy can all affect someone’s interpretation of your message.
  2. Be mindful and considerate of punctuation (it matters) and animation. Emoji’s have a time and a place and ALL CAPS almost always get lost in translation.
  3. Invite opportunity for follow-up and or feedback. For example, ‘great job’ is vague. ‘Great job on that sales pitch -- it was engaging and inspirational’ is clear and constructive.
  4. Don’t assume. If in doubt, leave it out. Your sense of humor is not a carbon copy of your co-workers’ and there is a good chance they’ll be left wondering, if you were kidding. Save your stand-up routine for friends and family.

MORE THAN WORDS. Successful exchanges aren’t just the content you deliver. Your reception, willingness to participate and reaction are all factors that play into effective communication.

  1. If you say you'll be “available,” it’s important to also be approachable. Wearing headphones when you’ve said you’re ready to help, sends mixed messages. However, if your door feels like it’s forever revolving, think about posting and hosting Office Hours. Set aside time when people can come by to see you. It’s flattering to be popular but you’ve also got work to do, we get it. Being organized about communication doesn’t downplay its importance. People will appreciate and respect your time, too.
  1. With that said, not all office interactions are perfectly planned. Even if it’s spontaneous, people will leave a conversation with a formed perception. Take a deep breath or ask if they can come back in 5 minutes, so you can tie-up loose ends before chatting. That prep-time could prove valuable in managing and maintaining a relationship and make a positive outcome more likely.  
  1. Body language sends people a nonverbal message. If it’s poor, the communication can lose a lot of its value. Pointing fingers and folding your arms are negative behaviors. Also, a lack of eye contact during conversation is a no-no. Your facial expressions or lack thereof could leave someone feeling disrespected. Regardless of your role in a business, being engaged and focused on the other party will leave them feeling relaxed and empowered instead of perplexed and disregarded. Do unto others as you’d want done unto you.

TUNE IN. The channel you choose for your communication plays a hefty role in its success rate. Your medium of choice should match your message. Would you leave a sticky note to address a Human Resources issue? If so -- abort that mission. The sticky note might be easier but not always appropriate or considerate.

  1. Technology breathes life into most businesses. But not all platforms are created equally when communication is concerned. Remember your audience when you choose your channel to communicate. Is texting or a group text the best arena for detailed conversation about next month’s big picture project?
  2. Social media is a powerful tool but it’s easy to get comfortable using it personally and blur lines of communication professionally. Just because you chat with your co-workers in Whatsapp when outside of the office, doesn’t mean you should discuss Q2 goals there as well.
  3. Email is probably your go-to means of office communication, right? Since this is probably true for everyone -- that’s a lot of emails. Keep them to the point, if possible -- one screen long. Make the subject line relevant to the topic(s) covered and adjust it as needed.
  4. Phone calls are a dying art -- guilty as charged -- but they do still happen and can be very necessary. Respect others’ time and keep the conversation focused. There’s a (really) good chance neither one of you want to be on the call but it could save you 2 days of email exchanges.
  5. Maintaining a face-to-face -- or at the very least verbal -- connection will always hold value in the workplace. Don’t get stuck in a technology rut. Distance making the heart grow fonder doesn’t exactly apply to business. Of course, there will be scenarios where you can’t be in the same place at the same time but making it a habit could create unnecessary friction. Make effort to congregate with colleagues, even if it’s only a monthly event. And if something involves feelings, default to in-person or phone.
  6. If in-person meetings are infrequent or geographically challenged, try incorporating an organizational tool into your team structure. Our office uses Trello to communicate due dates, check lists and status updates on projects. It’s especially helpful for collaborative efforts. When you’re working independently towards a common goal, it’s helpful to be on the same page or in the case of Trello, the same “board.” I do caution, a tool like this isn’t a standalone. Communication about expectations and strategies is best left to in-person meetings when possible.

Well-delivered, well-timed and considerately crafted communication saves you time and frustration. Why create a reason to repeat yourself (only more clearly), re-meet, or communicate on multiple channels? I’m exhausted just thinking about it. Not sure what tone or channel is best in a particular situation, take a moment to ask yourself, “how and where would I want to learn about this.” We can hear you now.

BBB’s News and Opinion Blog serves as your source for business topics and industry news like tips on hiring for your small business and ways to grow engagement with your audience using social media. For more information you can trust, visit us at, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

Written by Stephanie Benz, Senior Social Media Associate for Better Business Bureau Serving E. MA, ME, RI & VT.

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