Whether you want to get a promotion, launch a side business, gain freelance revenue, or quit your job to start a whole new business – there is one thing that will help you go further and faster – and that is better communication skills.
It may sound simple, but it’s true.
I’ve launched a few small businesses, one that grew to over $200m in annual revenue. Before that, I worked for a few different companies and received several promotions.
Yet, early in my career, I was stumped and frustrated. I noticed that I was not getting my ideas across effectively, while other people with whom I worked, were.
I observed that those who communicated well often received plum assignments or promotions quicker, and also enjoyed success that I wanted to emulate.
So, I decided to attend a 2-day communications course. I didn’t realize what a positive impact it would have on my career and life. By investing just a bit of time, I gained a whole new set of tools, skills, and confidence. It set me on an accelerated trajectory.
Soon after, I earned a series of promotions, and within a few years started my own business. I’ve started several and now also serve on boards where I’m compensated for communicating effectively as much as for my technical expertise.
I believe that many of our successes and many of our setbacks and failures in business, relationships, and life, are the result of our communications skills, or lack of them.
Think about your own opportunities, and challenges in your business or relationships; all of them would be improved with better communications.
Communications is not just talking; it’s listening, and being aware of yourself, your audience, your objectives, and theirs. It’s also taking initiative and being consistent.
Good communicators are not born, they work at it. Problem is, many of us haven’t been exposed to role models, ideas or practical advice on how to be better communicators – even though it is the one area that would propel us toward achieving our goals, further and faster.
Learning to communicate better offers dozens of other benefits – it builds trust and better relationships – which you need to achieve any personal or business goal. Good communications saves time by bringing greater clarity so insightful decisions can be made more quickly, and costly, suboptimal choices can be avoided.
Over 25 years of starting, growing, managing, and governing businesses, I’ve learned that I can’t afford not to invest in my communication skills.
I’ve learned the hard way that when I don’t focus on this, the goals and success I hope to achieve take longer, or in the worst cases, simply don’t materialize as I’d planned.
The following ideas are designed for busy people to give you the most benefit and impact quickly.
- Identify and appreciate your communications style
As with most anything, understanding ourselves; our strengths, weaknesses, and our tendencies, gives us insight and direction that result in positive progress faster than when we don’t take the time for self-discovery.
Are you an introvert who prefers to listen, someone who doesn’t really want to be noticed? Are you a talker, or a natural questioner? There are several quick and simple assessments to understand how you prefer to communicate. Mark Murphy of Leadership IQ offers a brief quiz. Mind Tools also offers a quick yet powerful quiz.
Once you have a better grasp on your style, you can harness these insights to make all of your communications – speaking, writing, listening, observing, and responding – more impactful.
- Uncover essential information and connect with people powerfully by listening
I love to ask questions, but have to really work hard at listening to the answers and not interrupting. Whether you are communicating with customers, teammates or business partners, don’t give in to the temptation to rush. In each conversation or meeting, pause to listen & observe.
Do you have weekly management or staff meetings? Instead of treating these as if they are rote, be more intentional about noticing what is being said and not said. This helps you learn more about those team members who are key to getting things done, or about your customers’ needs.
The number one thing great communicators have in common is they possess a heightened sense of situational and contextual awareness. The best communicators are great listeners and astute in their observations. Great communicators are skilled at reading a person/group by sensing the moods, dynamics, attitudes, values and concerns of those being communicated with.
When you decide to be a more intentional listener, and ask more questions, it’s amazing what you learn about people, projects, & even yourself. It’s worth taking a few moments after key conversations each day to ask yourself what did I learn? Or do this once a day and write it down — it creates space for you to gain powerful insights you will use as you make progress toward your goals.
It will also help you establish and grow connections with people you care about who are key to the growth of your business. Listening isn’t just for customer service or sales reps, although according to Susan Cain, author of Quiet, listening with a desire to connect yields amazing results.
Ms. Cain writes that salespeople who ask more and better questions, and listen to the answers bring in 68% more revenue than those who don’t.
“Instead of coming on strong, they find out about the hopes and fears of their prospective buyers. They’re motivated not only by making the sale but by satisfying their prospects’ needs. Buyers feel the difference.” And so will your listeners.”
You can apply these ideas to email, too. Ask good questions, aim to connect in your reply. For your most important customers and colleagues don’t rely totally on email or text. Be sure to include some other form of personal contact, too – either by a phone call, Skype, or Hangout as it will improve the relationship and you cannot observe everything you need to just through written communications.
- Have a clear objective in every communication
Sounds so simple but it is easier said than done. It’s the lack of clarity and objectives that derails or prolongs so many projects, meetings, and conversations!
To understand your objectives, you need to spend enough time to gain clarity and ask yourself if your objective is to inform, empower, persuade, for example. Do you need to address a group or an individual? Who is your audience and why do they care?
You will save so much time and money when you are clear.
As leadership expert Mike Myatt shares:
Specificity is better than Ambiguity 11 times out of 10: Learn to communicate with clarity. Simple and concise is always better than complicated and confusing. Time has never been a more precious commodity than it is today. It is critical leaders learn how to cut to the chase and hit the high points – it’s also important to expect the same from others.
Once you know your objective, begin your conversations (in person, over phone, Skype, Hangouts, or in email) with your key point.
- Invest in improving your communications
Every year or so, I attend a conference, read a book, or take an online course with the specific objective of improving my communications skills. That’s because every time I do, I learn something valuable. There is an option for every person’s schedule and budget.
Finally, if you want a boost of encouragement and inspiration, watch an inspiring speaker. I love TEDTalks. Each time I watch one, I gain courage, inspiration, and energy through these role models who are mere mortals like us who have continued to hone their communications skills. A few are among the most viewed of all time TED Talks, and the content and delivery of these talks have inspired me to improve my communications and leadership.
Many of the challenges we face can be improved when we invest in improving our communications. We may think we are too busy to take the time to improve.
If you are intentional and make it a priority, you can be a great communicator – put into practice one or all of these ideas this week and you will see results. Can you afford not to?
I’m a serial entrepreneur, Founder & CEO of Pocket Mentor, a mobile app and blog that helps leaders, their teams, and their businesses grow.
I was cofounder and EVP of enterprise software company webMethods, which grew from a basement start-up to a global Nasdaq company with $200million in annual revenue and 1,100 employees worldwide. I serve on several private equity and financial services boards that help small businesses grow, and am an author and speaker. Connect with me on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.