To become an industry leader or even to simply advance in your career you must master the art of communication, or the process in which individuals interact, exchange and interpret meanings. Mindlessly conveying information through idle chitchat is easy. Effectively communicating requires skill and finesse. In order to successfully communicate, you need to be able to present ideas effectively, persuasively, clearly and concisely.
How to Master the Art of Communication in Business
As an essential quality in the business world, communication can make or break your career. To become an industry leader or even to simply advance in your career you must master the art of communication, or the process in which individuals interact, exchange and interpret meanings. Mindlessly conveying information through idle chitchat is easy. Effectively communicating requires skill and finesse. In order to successfully communicate, you need to be able to present ideas effectively, persuasively, clearly and concisely. Communication is only successful when both the sender and the receiver understand the content in the information presented in the same way. So how do you master the art of communication?
Understand the basic communication principles First, you need to be clear about why you’re communicating and then communicate your message without misunderstandings and confusion resulting. Lessen the frequency of misunderstandings with clear, concise, accurate and well-planned communication. Consider your objectives since you must articulate it to achieve it. • What do you want your audience to remember? • What do you want to convey? • What do you want your message to achieve?
Secondly, you need to know how to send the information in such a way that it can be correctly decoded by the receiver. Success in this depends upon both stating the information clearly but also in anticipating and eliminating any potential sources for misunderstanding. The key: knowing your audience. Your message is being delivered to individual members of the audience, all of whom enter the communication process with his own ideas and beliefs which will undoubtedly influence his understanding of the message. Also, it is essential that you understand the strengths and weaknesses of the different communication channels which include, but are not limited to, in person, phone, email and text. Make sure to use the appropriate channel for your message. For example, giving lengthy directions over the phone probably isn’t the most effective route. Likewise, neither is providing negative feedback via email. Examine the strengths and weaknesses of all communication channels in relation to your message to ensure you choose the channel which will communicate the message the best. Be receptive to feedback from your audience, especially when communicating in person or over the phone. Pay close attention to both verbal and non-verbal reactions to your message to help gauge if the audience has understood meaning of the information presented. Another way to increase your communication skills in business is by removing any barriers that may cause misunderstandings. Potential barriers to your message can be anything from being too lengthy, using the wrong communication channel, being disorganized in your presentation of the information, using poor verbal and non-verbal language, offering too much information too quickly, not understanding the audience’s culture and not presenting a simplified and concise message. In addition to these general guidelines, you can hone your communication skills by focusing on more generalized areas of communication such as creating effective and lasing first impressions, conveying correct non-verbal body language, efficiently communicating verbally, actively listening, focusing on developing your writing skills and learning the proper etiquette for communicating through technological channels.
Create a lasting first impression The objective of creating a lasting first impression is to establish comfort, trust and rapport with the person you are meeting. It only takes a quick glance, approximately three seconds, for someone to evaluate you when meeting for the first time. Their opinion of you is quickly formed based upon your appearance, body language, demeanor, mannerisms and how you are dressed. In business, it is critical that you always create an impression of professional presence. Some easy ways to make a powerful and effective first impression are as follows: • Make friendly direct eye contact to develop mutual trust. • Stand up and sit up straight as good posture creates an instant impression of competence and shows you’re comfortable in business situations. • Maintain eye contact through the hand shake and address the person by name. • Arrive ten to fifteen minutes ahead of the scheduled time. • Dress appropriately for the meeting. Know the traditions and norms as you don’t want to show up in a business suit when everyone else is dressed casual. • Maintain a clean and tidy appearance. Do a thirty second quick check prior to the meeting. • Smile with warmth and confidence. • Be courteous and attentive.
First impressions are all about generating a perception of professional presence to establish credibility. Use your body language to project appropriate confidence and self-assurance by standing tall, smiling warmly to put others at ease, making friendly eye contact, greeting with a firm handshake, extending courtesies to everyone, projecting genuine enthusiasm and graciousness and by dressing appropriately.
Re-emphasize your message through non-verbal communication Only about seven percent of emotional meaning in a message is composed of the actual words and another thirty-eight percent is communicated through our tone of voice and voice inflection. This means fifty-five percent of our meaning in messages is conveyed through non-verbal communication which include facial expression, gestures and posture. So even while you may be saying one thing, your body language may be expressing something completely different. Savvy professionals utilize non-verbal communication skills to build trust and rapport with customers and colleagues by keeping their body language consistent and congruent with their verbal message. To thrive in the business world, you must learn to not only convey your message verbally but also non-verbally. Use non-verbal communication consciously and intentionally to make it a source of power and strength in your business interactions. First, understand your non-verbal communication strengths and weaknesses then break down the components and practice impactful, consistent and natural execution beginning with eye contact. Try starting with the following: • Examine your entrance into a room. Are you noticed when you enter a room? • Do you offer your hand immediately when meeting someone regardless of race or gender? • Do you consistently make eye contact with others when in meetings and throughout conversations? • Do you tend to gesture in a distracting way that could hinder someone’s ability to connect with you? • Are the non-verbal signals you send clear and consistent with your message? Or are people generally confused as to where they stand with you? • Are you aware of your facial reactions in different situations?
Our physical presence is the thing others notice when meeting us so make sure you exude energy, have correct posture, a firm handshake and make friendly eye contact. Learn to not only master your initial body language but also your reactions to others as well such as maintaining an impassive face when angered. Lastly, learn to match and mirror by adopting the manners and mannerisms of the person or people with whom you are interacting. Matching energy levels, facial expressions, tone of voice, vocabulary and pace is the quickest way to build rapport in the communication process. Non-verbal cues provide a context for interpreting the raw content of communication so you need to ensure that your verbal and non-verbal message remain in sync.
Revive verbal communication Face-to-face communication will always be the best communication channel. Never underestimate the value of voice tone and the emotion carried through body language, especially when critiquing someone or providing negative feedback. If you are disagreeing with someone while your words may be expressing your disagreement, your tone, posture and eye contact may, at the same time, be expressing your value and respect for the other person’s opinion. While a phone conversation is also a better channel of communication, it still falls a distant second to face-to-face interactions. We rely on the rich stew of non-verbal cues to interpret the meaning behind another’s words and face-to-face meetings help offset potential barriers that could misconstrue the intended message. So, if you are ever in doubt about which method to use, communicating with someone face-to-face is always the safest and most effective method of ensuring your message is communicated effectively. If you have difficulty expressing yourself verbally, try some of the following to help sharpen your verbal communication skills: • Watch verbal interactions in your office to listen to how individuals present ideas to clients, to hear the tone of voice and voice inflection used when presenting ideas and how points of difference are debated. • Practice expressing your ideas to friends and family and have them critique you. Make sure you know whether they grasped what you were trying to convey or not. • Get a part-time sales job to help you gain confidence in expressing yourself and verbally communicating with others. • Utilize stories, quotes and jokes to help convey your message. • Organize your ideas beforehand and prepare your message. • Choose your words with care. Speak specifically, concisely and avoid careless language. • Be positive in attitude and in word selection. • Use vivid language, examples, remain upbeat and use a variety of voice tones to keep audience engaged. • Tape yourself to better understand your unique communication style.
Mastering verbal communication develops personal growth as well as improves upon business relationships and interactions. Words have the power to create emotions and move people to take the action you desire. Capitalize on the power of verbal communication to help you achieve your career goals.
Know the power of active listening While expressing your own ideas is important in communication, actively listening to others is just as important to mastering the art of communication. A big chunk of communicating effectively involves listening successfully. Only about 25-50% of what we are hearing is actually remembered which means you must make a conscious effort to not only hear the words someone is saying but to try to understand the total message being conveyed. Do not underestimate the power of silence. Focus your listening by not thinking about what you are going to say next, instead make a conscious effort to mentally concentrate and stay physically alert. Becoming an active listener takes time, patience and practice. Utilize the following elements below to help improve your active listening skills. • Focus your attention on the speaker. Closely pay attention to their non-verbal communication. • Show that you are listening through your body language, gestures, smile and occasional nod. • Acknowledge what the other person is saying with an occasional nod or “uh huh.” • Provide positive feedback by paraphrasing what was said, asking open-ended questions or periodically summarizing. • Defer judgment until the speaker has completely finished presenting their message. Do not interrupt. • Do not allow your personal filters, assumptions, judgments and beliefs distort the information you are hearing. To clarify understanding, summarize what was said. • Give the person your undivided attention. Do not allow yourself to become distracted by your environment.
Listening is more than simply hearing the words being said. Actively listening entails focusing on voice tone, word selection, non-verbal body language, voice inflection, not jumping to conclusions and not distorting what is being said by our own perceptions. Actively listening is about being objective and open to what someone is communicating without allowing our personal beliefs to influence the message. Build better business relationships and decrease relationship conflict by refining your ability to communicate through active listening.
Illustrate distinction through remarkable writing
As a more concrete form of communication, the written word leaves less room for errors and mistakes. In a technologically adept society, where written communication is quickly becoming the preferred method of communication, being able to communicate effectively through writing is an important skill to refine. In today’s workplace, employers actively seek individuals possessing the ability to effectively communicate through the written word. So, how can you polish your writing skills? • Avoid slang words. • Steer away from symbols and avoid clichés. • Always spell names correctly. • Keep sentences short and simple. • Proofread, proofread, proofread. • Revise documents until they are clear and concise. Avoid any extraneous information. • Make sure documents are logically organized. • Edit your writing for word choice and redundancies. • Use correct punctuation and proper grammar. • Improve your vocabulary by using a dictionary to look up the meaning of unfamiliar words. • Read every chance you get. The more you read, the more you expand your vocabulary and increase your awareness of effective writing.
Learn to view writing as a skill that must continually be refined through practice and effort. Practice effective writing every chance you get, even when writing simple emails to friends and family. Written communication has a lasting impact and a permanent presence, so always take particular care with what you communicate through writing.
Demonstrate proper etiquette in technological communication As the twenty-first century workplace becomes more diverse and more technologically adept, your communication abilities must continually be refined to ensure career success. As the old management model of dictatorship is replaced by participatory management and greater usage of teams, the old communication method which favored in-person or voice-to-voice communication is being replaced with impersonal communication methods such as email, fax and voicemail. Despite increased usage in technology for communication and while they provide a quick solution for conveying information, keep in mind that these methods leave greater room for misunderstandings and conflict. Try to only communicate factual information through these channels. Reserve all communication which involves any emotions being expressed for personal methods such as in person or over the phone.
Tying it all together Exemplary communication skills are some of the most sought-after qualities in the business world. As Robert Kent, the former dean of Harvard’s business school, so adequately summed up, “In business, communication is everything.” Without the ability to communicate effectively, we are unable to accurately convey messages, let others know what we think or feel, build partnerships, motivate others or resolve conflict. As you rise higher professionally communication skills will only become more essential to your success. Successfully being able to communicate equates to a successful career.
Leslie Whittaker has been a published writer, graphic designer and communications consultant since 2002. Published works include articles in "Professional Car Wash & Detailing" and "Statis" magazine as well as copy writing for numerous web sites including eHow.com, ReferredU.com, and anythingcarwash.com. Whittaker holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and communications from the University of North Carolina.