Four Key Elements of Effective Business Communication
We communicate all the time, even when we are not aware of it. We communicate through gestures, body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice as well as through the words we speak. Add to this mix: language; cultural and social differences; educational background; physical proximity; and individual fears, insecurities, strengths, and weaknesses. This white paper offers a perspective on business communication that involves four key elements: purpose; style; listening; and follow-up.
Four Key Elements
For real communication to occur, both people involved in the communication must have a clear and demonstrated understanding between them. That is, each person can repeat the main points communicated by the other person in his or her own words. To be successful in business requires this kind of effective, two-way communication. This paper focuses on effective business communication, although the information can be applied generally. To untangle the mix described above, and to improve communication, we will focus on four key elements.
In business, when we communicate we usually have a purpose. Sometimes we have not considered that purpose sufficiently before beginning the dialogue. So, first we must clarify our purpose. What do we want as a result of this communication? What would be a successful outcome? To look at it from the other person's perspective, we also need to identify 'what's in it for them' or WIIFT. Examples of WIIFT include a challenging assignment, opportunity for visibility, learning new technology, career advancement, and demonstrating initiative or a willingness to assume additional responsibility.
As an example let's consider dialogue with an employee regarding a new assignment. Initially, we may look at the assignment and consider that its successful completion is the purpose. But let's break this process down into steps, with handing off the assignment being the first step. Our desired outcome FOR THE MEETING to hand off the assignment might be:
- Employee fully understands the assignment
- Responds to questions to ensure understanding
- Is able to restate or paraphrase assignment requirements
- Understands the consequences of completing or not completing the assignment
- Employee has an idea of how to proceed
- Articulates next steps
- Is aware of problems and/or issues
- Or we and employee discuss together
- Employee knows resources available and where to go for help
- We and employee agree on a follow-up status check meeting
- Employee understands WIIFT
Now we have determined that our purpose is to hand-off the assignment successfully. The analysis we completed will help us to anticipate questions and problems, prepare resources, and ensure we've matched the assignment to the most appropriate person. We can use our analysis list above as "success criteria" and actually check off each item as it is completed. Therefore, our communication with our employee leaves no doubt about what needs to be done; providing sufficient detail ensures the person has the skills, talent, experience, and resources to complete the task, knows where to go for help, will meet with us for regular updates, and knows WIIFT.
With a successful handoff of the assignment, we have begun to establish a paradigm for communication during the assignment work, including follow-ups to check status, make corrections, and to compliment upon completion. Clarity in the initial communication benefits both the employee and the manager, ensuring agreement between them regarding the desired outcome of the assignment, expectations of the manager, and how to find help and guidance through tools, resources, and status checks. A clearly identified purpose can mean the difference between success and failure. Thinking through a purpose may take time initially but will form a consistent habit of clarifying desired outcome - which usually leads to better results.
Style has to do with who we are and how that style affects our communication. We may engage in dialogue with little knowledge of the impact of individual differences. Some of us may have a higher awareness of style differences but still not use it when communicating. Some of us may raise awareness when we have a problem and only then examine our communication! Let's stop for a moment and further define "style."
Style is influenced by many factors, some of which were defined at the beginning of this article. Position at work, for example, influences communication. We may email the boss in a different tone than we use with a peer or someone with a highly technical background.
A longer list of style factors might include culture, upbringing, religion, gender, age, education, language, race, politics - and this is not a total list. Some of the influences of our early years are mitigated or enhanced during our growth and development. In all, we become who we are, and who we are influences our communication. Here is a list of other factors that may affect style.
- Cultural and social differences
- Physical proximity
- Individual fears, insecurities, strengths, and weaknesses
- Work environment