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Solve the Biggest Business Problem

If you're drowning in buzzwords and ineffective meetings, it's time to take a step back and work on your communication style.

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Does your cup runneth over with buzzwords around alignment? Circle back, sync up, check in, put our heads together, take it offline, get on the same page, chew on that, stay in the loop ... Why so many buzzwords?

Simple: Communicating effectively and aligning teams is a critical part of success. It's also where professionals often struggle. Even people with strong communication abilities often fall into traps-some claim to be too busy, others are pulled in too many directions, and some just don't take enough time to think about how to communicate most effectively. When we don't communicate as well as we should, we often see confusion, frustration...or worse.

The best way to make a difference in company norms and to improve the communication style of others is to start with your own communication style.  Humans mirror the style of those around us, so by enhancing your ability to work with others, you'll also be improving the communications skills of your colleagues.  Here's how:

1. Use the right medium for your audience.

In today's hyperconnected world, we have a lot of mechanisms to communicate on business topics: phone, email, text, or face-to-face.  Think about who you're communicating with and operate in their world. Introverts like Bill often like to think through materials on their own and have time to digest. Extroverts, however, may prefer to read a few initial thoughts and have time on the calendar to use the whiteboard and work through problems in person.

2. Prepare the right materials.

Recently, we were getting ready to meet with a senior executive at a large client. After spending hours packaging our financial projects into a "digestable" PowerPoint format, our materials didn't connect with the client and we struggled to get the buy-in needed. We switched to the more detailed Excel model, and the executive quickly became comfortable with our work and conclusions. Moral of the story: Ask about your audience's preference for materials upfront, and be willing to quickly change gears to keep them engaged. Sometimes the right approach involves no formal materials.

3. Hold shorter meetings more frequently.

Scheduling blocks of time for meetings is great, but there's no rule saying 30 minutes is the minimum meeting time. When you find yourself busy and pulled in multiple directions, focus on shorter, more frequent meetings. A 10-minute check-up each day is often much more effective than a two-hour meeting once a week.

4. Get creative.

Steve Jobs was well-known for taking people on walks when he had something important to discuss. Have you tried to connect with people outside of the office? Over drinks after work? Morning coffee? Perhaps a dinner with spouses? Don't fall into the trap of meeting in the same conference room on the same day and time every week. Test and learn ... and remember to keep your communication style fresh.

5. Respond in the right way.

We all disagree with people from time to time, and sometimes discussions get heated.  When someone is upset and taking fast, try deliberately talking slowly. If someone is talking loud, try lowering your volume rather than escalating the situation. Oftentimes, a little contrast in styles can turn conflict into collaboration.

Communication is the largest source of disruption in the professional world. There's no one-size fits all method for everyone in your Rolodex. However, taking the time to think about how you are communicating can save a lot of time and trouble down the road.

What communication techniques work best for you? Comment below or drop us an email at karlandbill@avondalestrategicpartners.com.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Jun 19, 2012

KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree.
@karlstark




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