How to improve your communication

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We think we’re good communicators, but are we really? Author and communication expert Kris Cole says it’s a question we all need to think about, because good communication impacts on business performance. And that impact can be damaging and expensive.

Seventy percent of mistakes in the workplace are the direct result of poor communication. Poor communication can lower productivity and increase mistakes. Often a job has to be redone. Poor communication can destroy the spirit of a team and a relationship with a customer or supplier.

Communication is a skill that needs to be learned. Cole says that there are things you can start doing now:
•    Start communicating openly yourself. Ask yourself where your business needs to be in five years. What specific things does everyone need to do to help it get there? How can you encourage others to help you get that growth?
•    Make sure everyone knows you value what they do and that their contribution makes a difference. Your staff need to know this and they won’t unless you communicate it.
•    What we do communicates even more loudly than what we say. Most people aren’t born great communicators. We all need training and practice and feedback. Helping yourself and others to communicate is a real investment in your business.
•    We can’t influence people if they don’t like and respect us. A good communicator is someone who’s genuinely interested in people and who cares and understands their way of looking at things, even if it’s different to your way. A good communicator can state their ideas and points of view clearly and in a way that doesn’t cause offence. In his book Crystal Clear Communication, Cole discusses techniques to help people like and feel comfortable with us. Basically they involve making sure the other person understands that deep down inside, we’re both pretty similar. We can do this through our body language or our voice, or the way we use words, or we can establish points of common interest or experience.

Cole says you should try saying the following sentences out loud, each time putting heavy emphasis on the words in bold:
    “I never said you stole the money.”
    “I never said you stole the money.”
    “I never said you stole the money.”

Here’s a sentence of only seven words and it can have seven completely different meanings. Our voices can give us away. Watch the way you emphasise words as that can cause someone to misinterpret what you’re saying.

Body language
The way you move your body is very important and body language can give you away. Cole says you can say, “Hey, my door is always open. Come and see me anytime.” But if every time someone comes to tell you something and you keep writing, fidget, take a phone call or check email, you’re making it clear they’re an interruption and not important. You’re proving how worthless your words are about your open-door policy.

In fact, research shows that 93 per cent of a message comes from our body language and our voice, and only seven per cent from the words we use. The better you can understand a person’s body language, the more effective you’ll be as a communicator.

Listening skills
Cole says that the more we listen, the more we learn how to persuade people because we find out what’s important to them and their world.

Listening helps us build better relationships at work or at home. It should help us discover what’s really going on, which means we can make better decisions, solve problems more effectively, and reduce the number of conflicts and disputes.

We learn to communicate from the people around us and if they’re avoiding issues, there’s a good chance we’ll do the same. Try listening to what you say and look at other people’s reactions. There are some specific things you can do with whingers, backstabbers, gossips, show-offs, or bullies in the workplace.

Communicate with employees
It’s best not to avoid issues, because they’ll resurface one way or another. Of course when a conversation gets too tense, it’s wise to take a break. But, if you’re always changing the subject at the first sign of a conflict, you’ll never get good communication or good relationships or solve problems.

When you praise an employee for good work, it’s more powerful to be specific. Cole says you might say to a team member: “Hey you’re great, I’m so glad you’re in the team, the way you handle those customers is just fantastic, you always get it right first time with them and I really appreciate it.”

Cole says that being specific and not patronising makes sure that the behaviour you’ve stated clearly gets done again and again. Your team member will see it this way: “Oh I see, so that’s what’s important to you, fine, I’ll keep doing it.”

If you’re patronising and say, “Hey, you’re lazy,” people have really no idea what you’re talking about and so they don’t know what to do, or what not to do.

It’s far better to tell them clearly and courteously without the need to resort to threats.

Cole says you should never take their laziness or poor performance personally. He says that difficult people are difficult with everyone, not just you. Don’t take it home with you, and don’t lose sleep over it.

Difficult people
Take a deep breath, keep thinking clearly and keep your cool. Try to remember that they’re probably doing the best they can but probably don’t have the skills to behave any differently – at least right now. Listen to what they’re saying but filter out what’s making them difficult so you can get the facts and the important part of their message but not the unpleasantness.

Don’t take that on board and let it ruin your day. Let them know you’ve heard them and understood their point. Do this by repeating the gist of what they’ve said in some sort of summary.

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