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Small Business Tips

Effective Business Communication Strategies

Rebecca Rustin
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Seeking to improve your relationships with colleagues or make more sales by cultivating stronger customer-vendor relationships? From writing e-mails to practicing active listening skills, the following guidelines can help you improve how you communicate in business.

How do I  effectively communicate in the workplace?

If you work in collaboration with other people, practicing effective speaking and listening skills can help you handle or even avoid conflicts. It can also make your workplace a more harmonious, productive place to work.  Here are eight tips that can help you cultivate practical communication skills in the workplace.

1. Be clear

Whether you are relating to someone else in person, by e-mail, or over the phone, state your goal at the start of the conversation. By doing this, you increase the chances that you will be heard. Think of introductory phrases like, "the reason I'm calling you is …" or "the purpose of this e-mail is to confirm that …"

2. Avoid absolutes

Professional relationships can get heated. If you're feeling frustrated, it's a good idea to avoid starting sentences with sweeping statements such as "You always do this," or "You never take the time to ‚Ķ" These types of accusations are likely to make the other person defensive, ruining your chances of having a productive discussion.  Similarly, you should avoid exaggerating in moments of frustration. An example of this may include accusing someone of "always being late" when they've only been late a few times.  Making generalizations will only cause the other person to argue with you. As a result, you'll only find yourself in an argument that makes it impossible for you to achieve your initial goal.

3. Don't speak for other people

In other words, speak in the first person to relay your personal feelings and experiences. Speaking from a position of authority, rather than based on a series of assumptions, is inherently more effective.  For example, if you're dealing with someone who is always late for meetings, don't say, "When you're late for meetings, you waste everyone's time."  Instead, focus on how the other person's lateness affects you. A response can sound something like, "When you're late, it makes it difficult for me because it means I have to rearrange the meeting's agenda, which makes me feel stressed." This strategy will also prevent you from speaking on behalf of other people, which can make the person you are talking to feel bullied.  

Portrait of businesswoman explaning something

4. Practice active listening

A great way to practice active listening is to focus on non-verbal cues. One way means doing things such as nodding your head to show that you agree with what the other person is saying. You can also lean forward to display your interest.  If you are under critical scrutiny, avoid building your counter-argument in your head while the other person is still talking. Doing this will prevent you from hearing everything they have to say.

5. Ask questions

As the listener, it can be helpful to ensure you hear the message accurately. If something isn't understandable, ask questions that will help shed light on what the speaker is saying.

6. Confirm what you understand

By using your own words to rephrase your understanding of what the other person is communicating, you'll show that you have been listening and that you get the message. Granted, this doesn't have to mean that you agree, but it shows that you are receptive.  For example, if someone is accusing you of being late for meetings, you can reply, "So what I'm hearing is, when I'm late for meetings, it creates more work for you and that makes your job harder." A response like this is also a crucial aspect of active listening and communicating effectively.

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7. Share your perspective

Once the other person feels heard, it's time for you to share your point of view. Ideally, the other party will use the same active listening skills you've just used, which will help ensure a productive exchange.  When sharing your perspective, try to be as candid and plain as possible. Start by identifying the points that agree with you. The rapport you build will help create a healthy communication bond.  Next, share any points might disagree with you while remaining polite and respectful. If the situation you are dealing with is complicated, break everything down into aspects you can address separately.

effective business communication, photo of people talking, working at office

How should you communicate with clients?

Cultivating effective communication skills is a crucial part of customer service, and can help you to generate and retain business. Whether you are dealing with a potential client for the first time or communicating with someone you've been working with for years, the following guidelines are indispensable.

1. First impressions matter

If you're not pleasant to deal with, your clients will turn around and find someone who is. A favourable way to ensure that people will want to work with you is to be friendly and polite from the first point of contact.  For instance, consider starting e-mails with phrases like, "It's nice to meet you," or "Thanks for getting in touch!" You can also end communications by saying, "I look forward to working with you," or "Hope to hear from you soon."

2. Be prompt

The sooner a potential client gets a response from you, the more appreciated they will feel. More specifically, a fast response lets your clients know that you want to work with them. A prompt reply is especially valid if you have a service-based business or if you must field customer service questions.  Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean responding to all e-mails and social media mentions within five minutes of receiving them. But try to respond within one business day if you can.  It's also a good idea to turn on your e-mail's auto-responder when you go on vacation or if you know you won't be able to respond for an extended period. If you get too many e-mails in a day, consider hiring an assistant to help you.

3. Treat your clients as real people

Have empathy for your clients or whoever uses your product. Establish a human connection and try to see things from their perspective. Avoid using scripts in e-mails and phone conversations, which could turn off your clients.  When meeting clients in person, ask a lot of questions to make sure you understand what they are trying to accomplish.  Start with the five Ws: Who? What? When? Where? Why? Once you get a clear understanding, take the opportunity to tell your clients how you can help them.

How can I improve my communication skills?

The number one thing you can do to improve communication is practice empathy. Think of how you would react to what you are saying if it was coming from someone else. Everyone's perspective is different, so the ability to step into someone else's shoes can enhance the quality of your exchanges tenfold.  Next, when interacting face-to-face, always practice active listening. Start by asking questions, paraphrasing what you've absorbed from the conversation, and paying attention to non-verbal cues.  Finally, whether you are writing an e-mail or interacting in person, be clear and concise. Make sure you state your purpose, so other people know what you need from them. Using the right approach will help save a lot of time, and make your work life more effective!

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