• Alison Folwell

Testing, testing, 1,2,3…. Is your communication getting through?

How often do you see “good communication skills” listed on a job ad, or a CV? When was the last time you stopped to think about what it actually means?

Having clear communication with customers, suppliers and staff is vital for any business.

The better your communication, chances are, the better your services levels, staff satisfaction levels, supplier relationships and customer loyalty will be.

But communication is a tricky beast. The problem is, what suits one person doesn’t necessarily suit another; and what one person understands isn’t necessarily what another does.

There are some big questions to ask yourself when it comes to communication. These include:

- What is it you’re actually trying to say?

- Why do you need to say it? What outcome are you looking for?

- Who are you speaking to?

- Are you using the right medium to suit that person?

- Is your message clear?

- Is what you’re saying being understood? Are you sure?

- Is your organisation aligned in the messages going out?

- Are you listening as well as speaking?

Be clear on your objectives and purpose

If you’re not clear in your own mind what you’re trying to say, or achieve, then that will come across. Confusion is the enemy of action, and if you’re confusing people with mixed messages and multiple calls to action, don’t be surprised when you don’t get the response you wanted.

Ask yourself what you want to say, and why you want to say it. If you’re really clear on those points in your own mind, your communication is likely to be all the clearer for it.

Be consistent

That doesn’t mean always say the same thing, but across your organisation, your staff should be aligned in the main messages and means of communication they adopt. If you have brand guidelines, make sure everyone knows what they are.

Lead by example – and literally, give examples if you want people to follow a particular structure or format. Your organisation will appear all the more professional for it, and you can be sure that every member of staff is putting across the right messages in the right way.

Be relevant

This is probably the single biggest point of communication. Relevance is everything. If the person you’re speaking to feels that what you’re saying doesn’t apply to them, or doesn’t matter, then they won’t listen or act.

If you’re sending out sales emails, be as personalised as you can be. If you’re trying to get new leads, make your pitch customised to the recipient – think about what THEY care about, and put yourself in their shoes. If they feel you’re speaking directly to them, they’re much more likely to listen.

Be genuine

This is about more than just honesty and transparency. This is also about using a tone of voice in your company messages that suits the products and people you’re dealing with.

There’s no point using jargon-filled marketing speak if that’s not how your customers talk – just like there’s no point trying to dumb down a technical product if your customers expect a high degree of specification. Know your customers, know your suppliers, use their language (within reason!!) and be true to your own company values. Using professional, polite, plain English goes a long way in most cases!

Be choosy

Don’t overload people with too much communication. Be respectful of how many emails and calls they get on an average day and choose your communication times and methods carefully. Communicate what’s important and relevant to them (not just to you!) and think about when they might be in a position to receive that communication and act on it.

Think also about which medium you’re using. Do you have to email, or would a phone call be quicker? Do you have to phone if it’s not urgent, or would a gentle email be better? Twitter probably isn't the place to be chasing invoices, and Facebook messenger isn't the place for a 1:1 with your direct reports.

Everyone you speak with is different so consider how YOU would like to receive a particular piece of information – but remember that everyone is different, so what suits you might not suit everyone.

Be helpful

This isn’t so much about being considerate for the other person’s sake – actually, the more helpful you are, the more likely you are to get what YOU want.

Chasing up an invoice? Include all the relevant information in one place so there are no excuses to not act. Making an appointment or trying to make a sale? Make sure you include clear, easy to follow calls to action, as well as things like links to make the process as easy as possible.

Every additional action you ask someone to make is another barrier to stop them acting – so make life easy for them, and you have a better chance of getting the results you want.

If your message isn’t understood, that’s on you, not them

We all tend to have a habit of assuming that someone else’s misunderstanding of what we’ve said is their fault, not ours. “I made it perfectly clear,” or “I explicitly said…” are common complaints. But if the other person hasn’t understood, it’s not always down to them not listening – a lot of the time, it’s down to the original communication not being clear enough.

YOU might know exactly what you mean but other people can’t read your mind – and remember, language, tone and meaning are highly subjective and open to interpretation. Don’t leave it to guesswork for people to understand you!

TIP: Before you send out that sales email, complaint or instruction, get someone else who isn’t involved to read it first. If they can explain clearly what you’re trying to communicate, then great. If they struggle, you may need to change it so it’s clearer.

The power of a good conversation

Conversations are immensely important. They form and develop relationships, they build trust, they impart and receive information. Done well, they can motivate, develop, persuade and entertain. Done badly though, they can be deeply damaging, creating rifts in relationships both in and outside work, and can create major issues of miscommunication.

There is a huge amount of information out there about how to have better conversations at work and we will revisit this in a later blog too. But a few things to bear in mind when considering work conversations are: plan ahead for what you want and need to say, and how you are going to say it; focus on what the other person is saying and really listen to them, rather than just wait to speak; be clear in your conclusions and check consensus in actions. That goes for meetings, phone calls, video conferences, sales pitches, staff reviews, feedback sessions – it always pays to think it through and always seek understanding and clarity.

A quick checklist for good communication

- Do you know what you want to say and why you want to say it?

- Have you considered the medium you’re using? Is it right for what you’re trying to say?

- Have you thought about who you’re speaking to, and whether they will understand?

- Are you listening to what the other person is saying and giving them a chance to speak?

- Have you checked that the recipient received the communication?

- Have you checked that they understood it?

- Are the actions you want them to take really clear?

- Have you made it easy for them to do as you ask?

- Do people know how to communicate with you?