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You may be an excellent writer. You might even be an outstanding speaker. But are you an excellent communicator? It is so easy to get lost in all the noise of today’s world. So, make sure that you are heard and that your intended message is conveyed appropriately and effectively. Business communications are not only about what you say but how you say it and even what you don’t say at all. For your convenience, we have compiled super condensed tidbits of information to help improve your communication skills around the office, across the web, and on good old fashioned paper.

  • Maintain the “you” attitude when providing constructive feedback. You might be afraid to give any negative feedback to anyone because of how it may be received. However, feedback is a necessity in improving everything from customer service to the product itself that is being sold. You can (and should) provide feedback in a way that doesn’t sound negative and motivates the recipient. Constructive feedback, supported with that “you” attitude approach that we talked about last week, is much more appreciated and serves to persuade the receiver into action in a positive manner. The “you” attitude and constructive feedback are tools that enhance business communication and productivity.  In both instances, the focus should not be what the receiver can do for you, but what you can do for them and what you can do to help them achieve their goals. That is, by using the “you” attitude, you outline their needs and how you can fulfill them. For example, in providing constructive feedback to an employee, you wouldn’t merely say, “I don’t understand,” you want to say “your presentation can be more effective if you clarify the steps you are going to take to achieve the goal in mind.” Thus, you are helping them to improve. In any circumstance, do not forget to be polite, understanding, specific, and emotionally intelligent. More importantly, make sure that you are careful to say exactly what you mean so that your message is not misinterpreted.
  • Effectively communicate non-verbally in an online environment. Non-verbal communication is essential in depicting and deciphering the mood of the intended message.  While face-to-face contact has the advantage of always being able to see someone’s facial expression, gesture, posture, vocal characteristics, personal appearance, touch, time, and space (giving many more opportunities to translate a message), the online environment also provides tools to convey non-verbal communication. One standard mechanism used to simulate face-to-face conversation is the use of a webcam. In this instance, all aforementioned non-verbal communication categories would usually resume, just as it would occur during a face-to-face interaction. If a webcam is not present, another tool commonly used is “emoticons” in emails or chat sessions and can signal if a person meant something in a certain way.  For example, if you feel that your intended message may be misinterpreted, you can easily add a smiley face to convey your good intentions. Emoticons are the internet’s way of providing the ability to analyze facial expressions when you would otherwise be “left in the dark.” Besides emoticons, individual keyboard buttons are available to help you get your message across. Take “caps lock,” for example.  A simple button pressed, and PEOPLE ASSUME YOU ARE YELLING AT THEM. Or consider the use of italics to emphasize specific keywords so that you don’t lose the focus on them (note: both caps lock and italics can be regarded as signals of vocal characteristics).  The use of time is another non-verbal action in an online environment. For instance, if you take a long time to email/instant message someone back, you send the unspoken/unwritten message that you are too busy to talk to them or that they are not vital to you at that time.
  • Conversely, if you spend an entire chat conversation responding very quickly to someone you like and then your crush says something like, “I love you,” for the first time…and you take a…long…time…to…respond. Are you not showing how you feel without saying anything at all? Ironically, it is even what you aren’t saying that is now sending a message! Additionally, let us not forget the power of punctuation! Like the exclamation point used in the previous sentence conveyed excitement, didn’t it? Or how about now that you are being questioned? You get the point.  That being said, it is essential to learn how to use nonverbal communication effectively, whether you are planning to converse face-to-face or via the internet.
  • Analyze your writing habits. Writing habits dictate how your message is received. Like most people, your writing habits probably consist of both some good habits and some bad. A good practice to adopt is to maintain standards of etiquette by being thoughtful and careful not to offend anyone. Sometimes this can seem impossible, but you can at least minimize potentially damaging messages. This thoughtfulness is comparable to using bias-free language, another important concept to utilize. Another good writing habit is to frequently use transitions because it lets the reader know the direction your message is headed.
  • Interestingly, using humor in your writing can be considered a “bad” habit because it can confuse or offend the reader, as well as it may draw attention away from your intended message. Also, refrain from using passive voice, rather than active. Likewise, it is bad practice to use “hyperbole” (i.e., I have a million things left to do) and “idioms” (i.e., I didn’t come in to work because I am as sick as a dog) because they can both really impede your intended message, thus it is best to avoid them altogether.

Even if your communication skills are admitted to work in progress, many errors can be avoided by applying the concepts mentioned above, along with careful planning and proofreading, which we will talk about next time!

What do you feel is the most challenging part about communicating in a business environment? Share your comments below, and we love to hear from you!