To achieve the positive outcomes we require from our business interactions, we need to communicate accurately and effectively. So how can you improve your interpersonal communication skills?
If you are asked to name the most important tool you use in your day-to-day life you might not think immediately of your communication skills, but our ability to communicate effectively in business, as in all areas of life, is key to creating and maintaining the positive and rewarding relationships we need to succeed in our daily tasks and our careers.
What we communicate is not just about the words we use; communication depends on how what we say is interpreted by other people and can be very different from our intentions. To achieve the positive outcomes we need from our business interactions, we need to be sure we are communicating accurately and effectively. Here are five techniques you can put to use straight away in your next business conversation.
1 First, build personal rapport
However important or pressing the subject you need to discuss, always start the conversation with a little small talk to show that you are interested in the person you are speaking to beyond their ability to do you a service. It’s important to be genuine and to show that you remember small details from your previous contact with this person. Congratulate them on an event you remember them talking about, ask about their holiday or weekend, their elderly parent, or how their child is doing at school or in college. They will be pleased that you remembered and seem genuinely interested. You can also use this technique with people you have not met before in order to develop a relationship which will promote your business requirements.
2 Then, remember to listen
To be heard by anyone, your first step should be to show that you are listening to them. Communication is a two-way experience and only when you listen carefully can you understand where people are coming from, what kind of person they are, and respond appropriately. Most people appreciate it when you listen and respond by giving you a deeper level of attention – they listen to you. Ask an interested question, then listen intently and without any sense of judgement, and the other person will respond with openness and appreciation.
3 When you speak, do so with encouragement and without finding fault
Just for a moment, visualise a person in your life who you find negative or difficult to talk to. Whether that person is your mother, your mother-in-law, a grumpy girlfriend, a hard to please colleague … we tend to avoid talking too much with people who complain and criticise. Nobody likes to be told they are wrong even if they are; that’s human nature. If you speak with encouragement, focus on what’s working and on what can be done to improve, you are more likely to be heard. To be heard, communicate what can be done in the future and make sound recommendations without finding fault. Acknowledging your colleagues efforts will make them feel good about the things which went right – then you can say what could be done to improve.
4 Your tone of voice and your body language matter
It’s not only what words you choose to say but also how you say it that matters. The tone of voice you choose can sound judgemental or critical even if you don’t want to, so be sure you are not intent on complaining or finding fault. Tone of voice can put someone on the defensive regardless of the words used – just think of the most sarcastic person you know! However stressful your day has been, however annoying you may find this difficult colleague, take a moment to create a feeling of calm which will influence your tone of voice and way of speaking.
The same is true of body language, so remember a few simple body facts. It’s important to make eye contact (but don’t stare!) and smile at the person you’re conversing with. Don’t look over their shoulder, don’t fold your arms and always turn your body towards the person you are speaking to. Equally, don’t look down at the floor or hunch your shoulders, and avoid setting your jaw, ‘squaring up’ to the other person, or stepping into their personal space. A friendly positive approach invites a positive response.
5 Care about the person with whom you are speaking
This comes last because it is probably the most important tip to bear in mind. You have created a rapport, listened and encouraged, but the more you can put yourself in the other person’s shoes, the better you can find the best approach in communicating with them. If you have to tell someone disappointing news, then imagine how you would feel and what you would worry about. For a colleague trying unsuccessfully to get time in your principal’s busy schedule, the main feeling may be frustration (which may come out as anger) combined with anxiety about the effect of a time delay on their problem, so bearing this in mind will help you find the right words to ease the problem.
If the recipient of the bad news is your boss, prepare beforehand by thinking of ways to address his or her concerns to minimize his stress and save them time searching for solutions. This will also minimize the impact the bad news may have on your day.
Good communication skills give you the power to influence others’ actions and their impression of you. They should enable you to fulfil your business requirements and leave both parties happy and relieved. Communication is a key skill for the successful PA who will recognise that everyone wants to be treated with respect and care, and success is largely about good ‘people skills’.
If you take time to improve your interpersonal communication skills and listen, care, and communicate in a way that keeps their interest in mind, most people will return the favour and support your career success.