3 Ways to Communicate Better With Your Team
By Dan Rose
Our most important business skill is the ability to communicate. Sure, there are jobs where you must have certain technical skills and knowledge, but even in those jobs, communicating clearly with others is vital. It’s often the difference between being simply okay at your job and being great at it. However, for many people, the topic of “communication” is so broad that they can’t get their heads around it. So, I’m going to simplify it.
Today, I’m giving you my three top communication tips that you can start using immediately. They apply to written and verbal communication and can be used by anyone, including people who are self-conscious about their writing skills. Or those shy, tongue-tied people who’d rather have a root canal than speak to an executive.
- Use the appropriate medium for your conversation
This should be the easiest part, but it’s often the hardest for many people. Should you phone, email, text, write a formal letter, or pop into their office and do it face-to-face? Think about yourself when it comes to this.
– How often are you CC’d on endless group email chains for things with which you’re barely involved? Or left off emails for things you’re very involved with?
– Do you constantly get emails in your already overloaded inbox from a co-worker who literally works 17 steps from your office? (Seriously dude, you wear a Fitbit® and can’t walk 34 steps back and forth?)
– Do you get long voicemails from that new girl in the Cincinnati sales office that always gets cut off before she gets to a point, which means you now have to call HER back?
The key to using the appropriate communication channels is to think about:
– What you have to tell someone or a group of people, and if it’s appropriate to send a certain way
– What their relationship is to you—immediate boss, executive, co-worker, vendor or customer
– What the tone of your message is going to be and if it’s appropriate for your audience
– If you potentially need a paper trail down the line
– The most expedient way to deliver it for all involved
In other words, don’t spend 30 minutes writing an email for a conversation that would probably take 30 seconds face-to-face 17 steps away.
- Get to the point quickly
People are busy at work, so they appreciate you not wasting their time. With verbal communication, it doesn’t mean a minute of small talk—when appropriate—doesn’t help. If your message isn’t an emergency such as, “The main water line in the warehouse burst and now the warehouse is flooding,” then a few seconds of conversation will allow the listener’s brain to transition from the task it was doing to concentrate on what you’re saying.
Examples of conversation starters that you can use are:
– “Bill, do you have two minutes to talk over what you need me to do on the Thompson project? I need clarification on one part.”
– “Nancy, I need a minute of your time to discuss two things before our meeting with the Board tomorrow.”
– “Jill, you did a great job on today’s presentation, but a question just popped into my mind. Do you have two minutes to talk about it?”
Interruptions are a way of life in business, but doing it politely and professionally makes you stand out. In the examples above, the speaker/writer asked the other person if he or she had time to talk. This shows the speaker/writer values the other person’s time. The speaker/writer also used specific numbers (two minutes, two things, a minute of your time) whenever possible. It’s a very subtle way of letting the other person know the speaker/writer won’t take too much time.
Today, you can almost guarantee to get someone’s voicemail when you call, so jot down a one or two-sentence summary of what you wanted to talk about before calling. This helps prevent getting tongue-tied (a problem I had for years) when you hear, “Leave a message at the beep[!” I’ve left some of the most rambling voicemail messages in the history of the world that I ended up re-recording two or three times! Yikes. Now, I simply write one or two sentences (along with my call-back number … just in case I have a senior moment) and my messages are all less than 30 seconds.
So, if you do get voicemail, do the following:
a) Say your name (full name and name of the company if the person doesn’t know you)
b) Give a return number where they can reach you. If it’s your cell, let the recipient know
c) State your reason for calling using your brief one-sentence message if necessary
d) Give them a call to action (call you back, send an email, schedule an appointment, etc.)
e) Recommended: If the message isn’t to a co-worker or someone you know well, repeat your name and phone number. That way the person doesn’t have to listen to your entire message again.
In written communication such as texts or DMs, you can use the same style as the verbal with the idea that if they say they have time, you’ll be popping by their office or setting up a quick meeting time.
For emails use the following guidelines:
– Keep it short—no more than four paragraphs of three or four brief sentences in each paragraph
– Each email should be contained to one topic and each paragraph should only contain one idea or point
– Write specific subject lines that say exactly what your message is about and use tags to flag it as important or sensitive in content
- The other person or persons should know what you want them to do
Whether it’s written or said out loud, the recipient should be crystal clear what you need or want from them. Do you need them to find an important file? Reschedule a meeting? Change an incorrect infographic on the 12thpage of a workbook before 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday so that it can go through proofreading and be ready for the online webinar that starts at 10:00 a.m. Wednesday morning? Yes … that’s how detailed your call to action may have to be to eliminate any misunderstandings.
Always put your call to action within the first two or three sentences in a written piece and the first two or three minutes of a verbal conversation. You can explain your reasons afterward. As discussed in #2 above, we often give far too much background information and bury our point, leaving the other person confused or worse, bored. Therefore, say what you need, when you need it and how you’re going to follow up with them. If your email is just for keeping them in the loop on something, let them know that too.