“Intelligence, knowledge or experience are important and might get you a job, but strong communication skills are what will get you promoted.” ~Mireille Guiliano~
At a performance review meeting, Sean’s boss told him he needed to improve his communication skills. “You express yourself articulately, and you’re assertive, but you can go further,” his boss told him. His boss went on to describe a range of communication-related skills that would help Sean become a stronger leader, some of which Sean had never thought about developing.
Articles on business communication skills often address the importance of being assertive in the workplace. In some cases, however, they don’t discuss the “hidden” skills that are essential for strong communication, like the ability to view the world from someone else’s point of view. When you’re equipped with a wide array of communication skills, you’ll be poised to succeed in all realms of business. Here are the six ways to improve business communication skills.
- Practice good office politics.
Participating in office politics is essential, and that’s not a bad thing. Done well, it means influencing company culture and building your influence. Showing loyalty to your boss, honing strong relationships with allies, and networking with different circles of people in your organization are all examples of participating well in office politics. It all comes down to being respected and noticed by others, and showing respect and appreciation in turn, in order to grow your influence with them.
- Communicate across functions.
Strong communications across different organizational areas is essential for maximizing productivity. Your team isn’t going it alone—you depend on all the other teams in your organization, and if you’re not communicating closely, your relationships, processes, and outcomes are suffering. Get to know the people in other areas of the organization, and become a liaison between these different areas of business to improve the flow of communication. Along with members of these other teams, work to define your joint goals and establish how to coordinate your efforts.
- Learn to understand different working styles and personalities.
Learning how others think and work is an essential part of leadership. During one-on-one sessions with people you manage, ask them how they learn and work best. Some employees might appreciate receiving an email about an important topic the day before a meeting, rather than being asked their opinion on the spot, for instance. Navigating these differences is a vital task of a leader, and it will greatly improve the effectiveness of the team.
- Become a pro at conflict resolution.
Conflict resolution may not be fun, but that’s why it’s such an in-demand skill. Learn to master conflicts by addressing their root causes, helping everyone to feel heard, and asking for solutions from everyone who’s invested in the issue. As you guide both parties toward compromise, you’ll gain greater respect and trust from them both, enhancing your relationships and reputation in turn.
- Be assertive yet humble.
Assertiveness is one of those obvious business skills that articles on communication in the workplace tend to tout, and it’s definitely an important quality of a leader. However, the strongest leaders balance assertiveness with vulnerability. They know how to ask for feedback on their performance, be transparent about issues that affect everyone, and gain the trust of others by putting them at ease.
- Use virtual communication effectively.
Resisting using virtual communication will prove a major hindrance in today’s workplace. Virtual communication offers a way of making the playing field more equitable for people who may have trouble physically getting to work for long hours each day, like parents of young children. It also makes working with contract staff more viable over long distances. Plus, job training and coaching can often be done via virtual communication for a lower cost. Get comfortable with virtual communication, and many doors will open.
“As you build strong business communication skills, you’ll enhance cooperation and relationship-building throughout your team,” Sean’s boss said. For the remainder of their meeting, Sean’s boss helped him craft a plan for improving in these areas. He also gave him business articles to read on improving communication skills. Sean left the session energized and enthusiastic about making the changes, knowing his boss was priming him for taking on greater responsibility down the road.
Are you working to improve your business communication skills? For specific guidance, support and tips on becoming a master communicator at work, you can contact Joel for executive coaching or visit his hundreds of articles.
What business skills have you focused on developing? How did they improve your leadership? Share your stories here.
“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” ~Warren Bennis~
Client Ethan asked:
A lot of misunderstandings and hurt feelings are cropping up in my organization. Crucial information often doesn’t get shared; people often feel their voices aren’t heard. As an aspiring leader, I know I need to find ways to fix the situation. What should I do?
Coach Joel answers:
Ethan, these issues all come down to improving your communication skills. Taking initiative to address them is one of the most important things you can do to prove your leadership abilities. Building your influence and leading your organization to success means improving your organizational culture by overcoming these hurdles.
- Communication channels are undefined.
When it’s not clear whom people should talk to about particular types of issues, communication is likely to break down. Your workplace needs to have well-defined channels of communication for handling projects, and managers need to set the tone for communicating well. Each person needs to know which coworker to talk with about a particular issue. Additionally, you need a clear path of communication between departments, meaning communication roles must be clear. One member of your team might be in charge of liaising with the art director regarding a package design, for instance. A clear path of communication is important for handling complaints, too. Employees need to know whom to speak with, and that person needs to know what to do with the information.
- Silos keep information from reaching all stakeholders.
Similarly, with poor communication, information can get stuck in silos. It might just be that departments need help understanding how to communicate better, but there are often deeper underlying issues. It’s not just that people don’t know how to communicate—it’s that they’re not motivated to communicate. Departments may have even come to view one another as competitors because they’ve lost sight of their common goal. Inspiring people to believe in a common vision is the first step toward correcting the problem, and it’s one of the most important ways of demonstrating leadership and getting noticed. Holding collaborative meetings with people from various departments will help people stay motivated to work toward their common goal.
- Communication flows only in a top-down path.
When communication flows only from the top down, employees can feel frustrated, knowing they have a great deal of input that isn’t being used. You might not have control over how higher-up executives handle communication, but you can voice your feedback about it if you have an ally who might be receptive. Furthermore, you can work to encourage the people you supervise to share feedback and suggestions with you. An idea box is a great way to encourage people to speak up when they see something that could be improved. As you grow your influence, your leadership effectiveness will become apparent to other managers and executives, and they might emulate your approach.
- Views are unrepresented.
When holding meetings, ask yourself if you should include particular individuals from other areas of the organization who might have a stake in the topic. For instance, if another department might have valuable input about the project your team is discussing, ask a representative to join in or share input by email. Making people feel heard is just as important as gaining their valuable input. You’ll be building stronger relationships by taking these steps.
- Unclear terminology leads to lack of understanding.
When people use jargon frequently, others might not understand their meaning—or they might think they understand, but get it wrong. It’s important to ask clarifying questions when people use technical terms or ambiguous language. One department might have an internal understanding of a slang term it uses, while another department might get a different impression of the meaning. Likewise, if people use convoluted language, paraphrase what they said and verify that you understand what they meant. It’s much better to spend a moment clarifying than spending hours or days trying to repair the damage of a huge misunderstanding. As a leader, look out for the moments when team members might misinterpret something, and clarify the issue even when you believe you understand it correctly.
As you improve communication in the workplace, your team will see its productivity rise, in part because their job satisfaction will increase. Be sure to voice appreciation for employees’ efforts to strengthen communication. This will keep them motivated to continue making a conscious effort to improve. Your leadership and influence will grow along with the effectiveness of your team.
Are communication hurdles compromising your team’s performance, order Joel’s book Difficult Conversations for the entire team. If a conflict needs specific support, contact him for executive coaching.
Have you worked to overcome these types of communication challenges? What worked, and what didn’t? Share your experiences here.
“I believe ambition is not a dirty work, it’s believing in yourself and your abilities. Imagine this: what would happen if we were all brave enough to believe in our own ability, to be a little more ambitious. I think the world would change.” ~ Reese Witherspoon ~
Aaron felt like he was stuck. The job just seemed like a treadmill. The same thing over and over. When he took the job 8 years ago, he had visions of promotions and advancement. Now? Not so much.
As Aaron took stock of his career he decided to combat the stagnation. Surely there was a way to get around it. He just couldn’t figure it out on his own. He hired Joel to be his executive coach.
Part of it involved recording exactly what he was doing so he could be prepared and present it as needed.
- Sharing accomplishments. Words disappear and can’t always be remembered. Aaron saw the value in sharing his accomplishments through writing. He wrote a weekly message updating management on the projects he was working on.
He included the challenges he’d overcome and the progress he’d made. The make sure to explain how his work affected the progress of the job. And how the job would impact the company. This gave Aaron confidence his job was valuable and productive
- Meeting Preparation. Aaron doesn’t think fast on his feet. He works better when he has a chance to mull over ideas. This is true of most introverts. So Aaron decided to write out notes about what he wanted to say before meetings.
If you want to say something at a meeting or event, take the time to write it out beforehand. This way you can organize your thoughts, focus on what is essential, and not be fumbling for words when it’s your turn to speak. When you have something prepared, it makes it more likely that you will speak clearly and professionally. And you say what you intended to say.
- Prepare for and schedule one-on-one meetings. Again, if you have an agenda you want to cover, writing an outline of the topics can give you confidence going into the meeting. One-on-ones are a great opportunity to talk about your work and how it affects the company.
This is a great time to discuss your concerns about your career stagnation. Meetings with your boss can help you formulate a plan for your transition into the next step of your career.
- Volunteer for committees and events. Participating in a committee or helping to host a conference or charity event translates to an abundance of networking opportunities. Aaron found that committees and events gave him the opportunity to meet new people, talk about his work, and put his name and face in front of people who wouldn’t normally notice him.
After working this program for several months, Aaron feels much more hopeful. He sees his career stagnation breaking apart. His boss is on board with his goals for a promotion. Many more people know of him and his work. He’s received more praise and people are paying more attention to what he says.
“This is what I was looking for,” Aaron said. “Coaching really helped me. I can’t believe how much more excited I am about my job and its potential.”
How have you pushed back against career stagnation?
“Like all technology, social media is neutral but is best put to work in the service of building a better world.” ~ Simon Mainwaring ~
Ellen Asks: One of my friends told me the boss watched how much time we spent on social media. I don’t want to get in trouble. How can I tell if I have bad social media habits at work?
Joel Answers: Social Media can keep us connected, speed communication, and increase productivity. But it can also be a distraction and a time waster. If you suspect you might be misusing social media, check out these six potential problems.
If you don’t eliminate these problems, you might get fired… or at least reduce your chances for a promotion.
- Wasting Time on Social Media. Do you check tweets, Facebook, and other social media multiple times at work? If you’re not sure, try the old rubber band trick. Put a rubber band loosely around your wrist. Every time you check non-work related media, snap the rubber band. Sore wrist? Chances are you’re overdoing the viewing.
Instead of focusing on what interests you, consider the value you are offering the company. Limit Facebook to breaks, lunch, or other non-work time.
- Sending the Wrong Message. Be very careful of inappropriate post or tweets. There have been news reports of people fired for off-color or socially insensitive posts. Things are never private on social media. Tweets criticizing former or current employers— or even clients, or coworkers— have a way of turning up in the wrong hands.
Instead, look for positive things to say about workers or employers. Save the negative for private conversations.
- Betraying Your Brand. You’ve worked hard to create a professional brand at work. But poor behavior on social media can damage your image. If you lash out, flame, or attack with meanness other points of view, it can come back to haunt you. Take care how you address politics or politically correct topics to be sure they are not offensive to others.
Instead, consider the brand you want to present. The authentic you will behave in a way that reflects your brand at work, at home, and on social media.
- Inappropriate pictures. There are many kinds of good photos you can post to social media. Inappropriate pictures will, again, tarnish your professional image. Avoid photos that are suggestive or portray you in a questionable light. Avoid posting pictures of your fun trip— the trip you took when your boss thought you were home sick. Instead, use images to create the perception you want others to have of you.
- Dishonesty. Be very careful of misrepresenting yourself and your qualifications on social media. It’s a bad habit to suggest you have credentials or job experience you do not have. Instead, review your profiles and posts to reflect your best you. Work to improve yourself so you can accurately show accolades.
You asked a great question, Ellen. Taking care of your social media presentation and the time you spend there can have a significant impact on your work. Use it to strengthen your brand and showcase your abilities instead of it being a distraction. Then you can turn social media into a good work habit.
Need pointers on how to increase your visibility and strengthen you image? Contact Joel for executive coaching.
How have you overcome bad social media habits at work?
“Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied
customers, which leads to profitability.” ~Anne M. Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox~
Client Theresa asks:
Over the past year, two great employees on my team quit their new job. I was floored. I didn’t see any signs that they were unhappy. We lost a huge amount of talent, and it set us back substantially. How can I improve employee retention?
Coach Joel answers:
Theresa, the six biggest reasons why employees choose to quit their new job within the first 180 days relates to their job satisfaction. Keep employees happy and fulfilled in their work, and retention is likely to be high. However, if your company is failing in even one of these six ways, it’s likely to push employees to look for better opportunities elsewhere. The good news is that as their manager, you have the ability to remedy any of these six major issues that may be influencing employees’ decisions to leave. Of course, you should also be asking your unhappy employees why they’ve quit their new job when they leave, which might highlight other areas in which to improve.
- Lack of opportunities to grow
To thrive in their workplace, employees need opportunities to grow their skills and talent. This isn’t just about career advancement. It’s about feeling satisfied by their work and taking pride in their ability to improve their performance and increase their responsibility. Employees need to work toward goals that are ambitious but achievable, so they’ll feel driven to come to work each day. Setting work performance goals together will ensure they stay motivated.
- Poor working relationships
A poor relationship with a boss or coworkers will make an employee dread coming to work. Furthermore, when an employee has a poor relationship with a boss, she won’t benefit from the guidance and encouragement that a good boss provides. As the manager, you need to overcome any personality conflicts that exist in order to provide the best support possible for your people. Additionally, you need to take note of any clashes that are arising between coworkers, and to mediate these situations as needed. Set the tone for a harmonious workplace culture by cultivating strong relationships with all of your employees, and make it clear that you expect the same from them.
- Not understanding the big picture
When employees don’t understand how their contributions fit into the overall vision of the company, they won’t take as much pride in their work. For their work to feel meaningful, they need to have a strong grasp of how it fits into the company’s goals. That’s why it’s important to talk about vision at team meetings and one-on-one check-ins. Help employees understand how each team objective fits into the vision, and how their own daily work fits into the big picture, and watch their enthusiasm for their work grow.
- Not feeling respected and appreciated
A few words of genuine appreciation each day can make a tremendous difference. Make “thank you” a core part of your vocabulary, and say it for the little things as well as the big things. When employees go the extra mile, recognize them for it in an extra special way. Send an email to the whole workplace that explains what they did, or take a couple of moments during a workplace event to tell everyone about it. These gestures cost nothing and take little time, yet they make a dramatic difference in employees’ level of job satisfaction. Recognizing their contributions to the whole team, including higher-ups, will also boost their opportunities for advancement, which employees will truly appreciate.
- Not having their needs met
If you don’t periodically check in with employees about what they need, they might not feel they can voice their needs. This can lead to a downward spiral of frustration and despair, leading unhappy employees to quit their new job because they don’t see another option. A parent with young children who is having difficulty balancing family and work demands might want flex-time or the ability to telecommute part-time, for instance. Ask employees how they need to feel more supported, and engage in creative brainstorming with them to find solutions.
- Fears about the future
The direction the company is headed in will also influence employees’ decision to stay or jump ship. If promotion opportunities are slim, or there’s a chance their job could be eliminated, they’ll naturally start looking elsewhere. You may not have control over these issues, but you can and should communicate with higher-ups about employees’ need for reassurance. Transparency is key—if employees are left in the dark about potential changes, the rumor mill will create fear and uncertainty. Seeking input and solutions from employees will make them feel invested in the change rather than blindsided by it.
Again, the good news is that when you eliminate these six factors that lead people to quit their new job, unhappy employees are likely to stay. You’ll also have a team of more loyal, dedicated, and passionate employees. By addressing these issues, you’ll become a stronger leader who gets better results from your people.
Call to Action:
Ask yourself which of these six areas you need to improve in. Consider a surveying your employees to find out what would make them more satisfied, too. Then, take at least one step every day to remedy the problem. Email Joel to discuss your progress.
Have you tried implementing the solutions described in this article? How did employees respond?