Most business owners are aware that strong communication skills are the backbone of success. But knowing and doing are different things.
While you may be a pro at this under the right circumstances, certain scenarios can make it more difficult to project professionalism when you communicate — for example, when you’re in a hurry and answering emails or when you’re multitasking while discussing something important with an employee.
Being busy can often weaken your communication style, leading to sloppiness, confusion and misunderstandings. Instead of letting this habit creep in, you want to ensure your words and tone work together to reveal your professional nature.
Judgment is an unfortunate aspect of being human. In both regular conversations and professional interactions, we size each other up, gauging the presence of traits such as competence and empathy. Primarily, we use language as the litmus test. It’s not uncommon for business relationships to go south because one party predicts problems based on the other’s communication style (or lack of communication altogether). Customers pick up specific impressions about not only you, but your entire brand based on what words and tone you choose to use.
Former Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries learned this lesson the hard way when he made an offhand remark during a Salon magazine interview in 2006: “A lot of people don’t belong in our clothes, and they can’t belong.” He went on to suggest overweight and “unattractive” people were not in his target demographic. Soon after, the internet exploded with negative feedback calling Jeffries shallow and exclusionary. While Jeffries apologized, he made similar statements later on and never quite restored his reputation with many consumers.
While you may have an easier time than Jeffries at not offending people, there are other communication errors that are even more common in the professional world. You can improve understanding simply by being more direct and transparent while reducing excess verbiage and ideas that don’t matter.
Be Logical and Linear
One of the easiest ways to communicate poorly is by creating unnecessary confusion. A 2015 study found that the average human attention span has fallen from 12 to eight seconds since 2000 — even less than that of a goldfish, which is believed to be nine seconds. For business owners, this means that logical and straightforward communication is more critical than ever if you want people to absorb and act on what you say.
Executing logical and linear communication has everything to do with thinking ahead and coming up with a plan that leads from point A to point B. By doing this, you eliminate wasted time for your listener, who won’t have to replay your words and try to construct meaning and direction from them. Additionally, this communication style inspires confidence in your ideas by showing listeners that you’ve thought things through to the end.
Nowadays, abbreviations such as “tbh” and “lol” are widely use in digital communications. For those who always feel like they’re in a time crunch, adopting this haphazard communication style may be tempting. But it’s possible to be succinct instead of just brief. Being succinct means creating a concise statement that eliminates fluff and unnecessary content while simultaneously getting to the point.
It may take time to hone this particular skill, especially if you are used to speaking often without much thought. At times, you may need to write everything down and go over it to eliminate the excess. But over time, it will become easier and you’ll be able to accomplish this faster as you sift between information that matters and information that doesn’t. Writing out your ideas can provide clarity and give you the advantage of editing before others interpret your words.
“A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity,” according to the Dalai Lama. Not only does this apply to personal relationships, but it plays a huge role in the public perception of your brand. A business owner who is transparent has nothing to hide — and appears more “human” to both customers and employees.
So don’t construct emails to employees, peers or clients as if you’re the Riddler from Batman. Indirect and evasive language gives the impression that something is suspicious, and it can create confusion about the true meaning behind your words. Remember that even if you are honest, you can accidentally fail to be transparent by not explaining things adequately.
Overall, improving communication practices can radically transform your business from many angles. You can earn respect as a thought leader in your industry by being logical and linear. You can cultivate brand loyalty by being more transparent and relatable. And you are more likely to boost productivity and streamline work procedures by giving clear and succinct directions to employees.
Surprisingly, your profits can see a dramatic boost as well. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker notes that about $204 billion are lost each year in America due to poor writing that lacks clarity or focus, which leads to reduced productivity. The impact of your words has a greater effect than you may realize. So be deliberate in how you choose to communicate as a business owner.