The ability to communicate well is arguably the most important skill of a manager because so many other skills depend on it.
You can’t lead a team if you can’t make them understand your vision. You can’t inspire or motivate people if you can’t get your ideas across. And you can’t negotiate with your contractors and customers if they talk circles around you.
But communication skills are readily learnable. Here are some pointers if you would like to improve in this area.
Tune in to your target audience
When you want to get a message across to someone, whether verbally or in writing, you may concentrate on what you want to say – that is, the message you want to send. That’s the first mistake. Instead, think about what you want the receiver to understand.
To do this, you have to consider who your audience is and how they are likely to filter your message. You would present the same information very differently to your spouse, your sales force, your management team and your golf buddies.
Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and imagine how your words will come across. Think of all the ways the person could misconstrue your message, and plug those gaps with clear language. Einstein said, “Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.” This should be your goal in business communication.
Try to say what you mean in as few words as will convey the meaning, but not fewer.
Stay away from technical jargon unless you are talking to experts. Opt for simple, direct language, not multisyllabic words that send most of us to the dictionary – for instance, a “gap” is better than a “lacuna.”
Avoid overused buzz words that make people’s eyes roll – “skills” are better than “core competencies.” And avoid coarse terms or impolite references. (Example not needed.)
Improve your written skills
While the preceding applies to the written word as well as the spoken one, there are more considerations when writing.
The advantage of writing is that you can take more time to think about and refine the message. The potential downsides are that there is a permanent record, and your spelling, grammar and punctuation skills are on display.
A lot of business writing is disorganized, careless and full of errors. But many problems can be solved by bringing some structure to the task. Here are five steps that will help you become a better business writer:
1. Nail the basics. Unless you are already a linguistics buff, study a list of commonly misspelled and misused words. Learn the correct way to use capitalization and punctuation. (Do you know the difference between affect and effect, i.e. and e.g., a hyphen and a dash?) Read a short book on grammar or language usage.
2. Organize your material. For anything longer than a paragraph or two, it is essential to start by making an outline. Think big picture about the message you want to put across. Your outline can be as simple as a list of your main points and the order in which you intend to make them.
3. Write. First consider your audience and the message you want them to receive. Write as simply and clearly as possible. Make your points fully, and then stop.
4. Edit/rewrite. Fine-tune your work. Look for ways to polish it. Concentrate on organization and transitions.
5. Proofread. Many people confuse proofreading and editing, but they are quite different. When you are satisfied that your document is finished, proofread it for any mistakes or typos. Otherwise, leave it alone.