You always hear about how important communication is to the success of small businesses. It may sound simple, but being a strong communicator is nuanced.
It's not just about knowing English perfectly or being able to hold a conversation extremely well. The best communicators are able to concisely get their ideas across, convince others around them to get behind these ideas, and build as well as maintain strong relationships through dialogue.
These skills almost always need to be learned, and are even taught in executive MBA programs, for example.
Here are six qualities that all good communicators have in common that you can use to both train those around you and improve your own abilities:
1. They are honest.
In the short-term, it can be easier to be untruthful. It helps avoid immediate conflict and makes others feel better when you find ways not to tell hard truths.
For example, let's say Mike just gave a lackluster presentation and you found his ideas unimaginative. Telling him he crushed it might boost his confidence and it might even be the easier thing to do today.
You're making a deal with the devil when you do this though. If you avoid being candid, you're doing him a disservice. You're falsely validating his work when he needs to improve. Although it'll be hard for him in the short term, it'll ultimately help Mike since he will not continue making the same mistakes.
Framing criticism or negative thoughts in the right way is the answer here. Try pointing out some positives in Mike's presentation first, before gently explaining areas for improvement.
Lying, though, is counter-productive and just extends the problem forward into the future when it may be even harder to deal with.
2. They are proactive.
In addition to being honest, the best communicators do not put off hard conversations. They will bring up an issue as soon as it feels necessary.
Instead of letting resentment build up over someone's work style or habits, for example, strong communicators handle the issue early on. This makes the problem short-lived, and creates a faster resolution.
Strong communicators are also proactive when they interact on projects. Instead of asking someone to edit a report the night before a deadline, strong communicators make sure that person knows the report is due well ahead of time. This leads to better editing, and less stress down the stretch.
3. They ask good questions.
In order to get to the root of the problem, or even to get to know somebody well, thorough questions are critical.
Good communicators are thoughtful about the questions they ask in order to uncover all necessary information. You know there are good communicators at your small business when you don't have too many repeated conversations and many employees have formed strong relationships with each other.
4. They listen.
As much as people think that communication is only tied to the words you say, listening is just as important. You can ask one hundred insightful questions, but if you're not really listening to the answers, it's all a waste of time.
Top communicators listen not just for content and small, important, details, but also for changes in tone. They sense when someone's mood or attitude alters during a conversation because of subtle inflection changes that require full attention to really notice.
These subtleties are so valuable because they can mean the difference between strong and weak relationships or even whether a problem is solved completely or not.
5. They are concise.
If you gave a doctor two hours to answer "what was the impact of the Obama administration on U.S. healthcare," it shouldn't be too hard for her to make some convincing points in that two hour window of talking. A much more challenging proposition is to give someone five minutes to do that. Or two.
This requires picking out the most important details and words to use as well as putting them in a compelling format for the audience.
Top communicators are concise. They make you listen more because there's a faith that what they'll say matters. The human attention span is only so long. Being to-the-point is critical to capturing and keeping it.
6. They are reliable.
Reliability is tied directly with communication. You can tell your boss that you'll have the report done by Friday morning, but if you don't get it done, then your words will lose impact each time this occurs.
People with a reputation as stellar communicators back up what they say through their actions. They follow up on their word and make sure to deliver what they said they would.
In my opinion, these people may actually know themselves better than workers who are flakey or make false promises. People who are reliable when communicating know what they can guarantee and what they cannot. The smart manager sees this, and it certainly affects that worker's career trajectory.