Too many entrepreneurs become estranged from their teams, turn off partners, and lose deals, all because they lack basic communication skills. Often this lack of skill gets passed down to teams and the problems are perpetuated through the organization.
Does your employer know how to communicate? Do you?
As important as these skills are, somehow they don’t teach this stuff in schools. Now, according to Simon Sinek, when our educational system and parents create graduates who lack basic social graces, it falls on employers to make up the difference.
But what if you’re an entrepreneur with no one to help you build the soft skills? Or an employee trying to advance with no mentor in sight?
The journey starts with these 15 tips to build your workforce communication skills, offered from working entrepreneurs, speakers, authors and coaches. The first one is mine.
1. Ask more than one person to do it, and nobody will.
In psychology it’s called the bystander effect.
When someone else is present, before I act I’ll stop to consider if my actions are socially appropriate. I run a marketing agency, and when I ask a group of people in my agency to do something, as in “Hey, will somebody copied on this email take care of XYZ task?”, it’s much less effective than asking a single person to take responsibility.
Being a passive bystander is virtually hard-wired. This is why individuals who take emergency training are directed, when someone gets hurt, to point at someone and say “You in the red shirt, call 9-1-1!” Rather than, “Someone call 9-1-1!”
2. Say what you mean, mean what you say.
Leonard Kim is the founder of Influence Tree, and says that meaning what you say is hard. “In order to do this, you have to show compassion and empathy, and talk to the other party like they matter to you. Because guess what? They do.”
Your actions after you speak are just as important, because if you didn’t follow through on what you said in the past, people won’t trust you really mean what you say in the future.
3. Use simple global communication.
More than ever we’re doing business across cultures, and simple language is key, says Jan Smejkal, the China & APAC Community Director of Startup Grind. “If you are building a business in a country where the knowledge of English is relatively low, and where the cultural differences might cause additional difficulties, focus on:
Using simple language to deliver the message. (Note, simple does not mean simple minded.)
Avoiding sarcasm, which can easily be misunderstood.
Getting the right partner and employees who will help you bridge the language and culture gaps.”
4. Don’t rely on your device.
“A real conversation is almost always more valuable than a digital one,” says Carl Woolston of MaxMindsetCoach.com “Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone or set up a real meeting. Relationships are about connection, and connection is an investment.”
5. Study your body language.
Robyn D. Shulman of EdNews Daily says: “Your body language can have greater power than words.”
Here are four places she says to get awareness:
Eye contact — pay attention and check if your listener is checked-in (or out).
Posture — get relaxed and open.
Your arms — decide what you’ll do with them.
Vocal tone — sound warm and approachable.
6. Keep quiet.
Joseph Lazukin, Founder of Tifti.com calls this expert positioning.
“If you’re not the expert,” he says, “don’t insert yourself into conversations and discussions where your untested advice may backfire and discredit you from future relationships and opportunities.”
“The power of listening and of being a quick study in the presence of others when communicating in a private or group setting is often underestimated,” he says, “but remains easily one of the most powerful traits for advancement and growth you can possess.”
Related: The Benefit of Quiet
7. Listen to listen.
“We are trained to listen to reply,” says Virginia Phillips, author, speaker and coach at Academy of Entrepreneurial Excellence. “But if you can listen to gather data about another person’s situation, perspective, and personality, you can apply a greater level of emotional intelligence and increase your chances to influence the conversation and the individual.”
8. Simplify, simplify.
Murray Galbraith is CEO at Myriad, a landmark tech and innovation event based in Queensland, Australia. He says to do the hard work of streamlining your communication before you deliver it.
“Filter your message down to its core elements before attempting to communicate it to others. Reducing cognitive load is the greatest gift you can give a modern professional, and they’ll be far more likely to acknowledge — and ideally, accept — the value you’re offering.”
Related: Simplify Business Communication
9. Boost your emotional IQ.
Cydni Tetro is a high profile tech entrepreneur and co-founder of the Women Tech Council. She says the best communicators have an emotional IQ, or the ability to understand and influence the emotions of ourselves and others. “Learn to read people and situations so you can navigate the complexities to find positive outcomes,” she says.
10. Be willing to say no.
“Unfortunately, most of us want to be liked by others so we tend to agree, even if the right thing is to disagree, or more importantly, to say no,” says David Politis, a marketing and communications professional.
How do you say no?
“Be nice about it,” says Politis. “Explain why you’re saying no, while providing an alternate solution at the same time.”
11. Talk with people — not at people.
Dave Davies, CEO of Beanstalk Internet Marketing says “we all find ourselves falling into this trap, and as a marketer I have to try to stop myself AND clients from tumbling in regularly.”
Business owners often tell people what the owner wants them to know, without interacting to understand what the other person wants. Rattling off technical specs, or cluttering pages meant to be helpful with what THEY want to sell, as opposed to focusing on what the visitor is looking for…This is one of the biggest obstacles in communication I see on a regular basis.”
Related: How to Start Conversations
12. Be concise.
Whether you’re writing or speaking, author Josh Bernoff says that fewer words are better. For example: “Put the key conclusion or ‘Ask’ in the first two sentences.”
Related: 5 Tips for Writing Quick-Read Copy
13. Add value.
“You should look for a way to add value every time you communicate,” says Jeremy L. Knauff, CEO at Spartan Media. “That creates more impact and makes your message memorable.”
A handy tip for how to practice adding value? Before opening your mouth, ask yourself “What value will the person I’m speaking to get from what I’m about to say?”
14. Be consistent.
“When you’re consistent in your words, tone, and all other forms of communication you begin to create a personal brand,” says Daniel Marlin, an entrepreneur and marketer from Cape Town, South Africa. “You’re influencing somebody to work with you, trust you, remember you.”
Related: Sending the Right Message
15. Be honest.
“Integrity in communication is being the same person with the same opinion all of the time, no matter who’s asking, says Cheryl Snapp Conner, CEO and Founder of Snapp Conner PR. “You should be 100% honest; always. It is possible to be both honest and tactful, and this is a trait you should hone.”