7 Ways to Step up Communication in Your Small Business
Communication is the foundation of every single relationship you have in your personal life; it's no different in business. Without effective communication, there can be misunderstandings, problems and conflicts among your staff, your clients and everyone else you come into contact. Poor communication can make effective delegation, increased productivity and an enjoyable work environment virtually impossible.
The tips below will help you fine-tune your communication skills so you can save time, reduce stress and become more productive by communicating effectively in every interaction you have in your small business.
Limit Distractions and Listen
Listening is the key to effective communication, but it's not always easy. One way to become a better listener is to try limiting distractions during your conversations that make it difficult to hear and absorb what others are saying. That may mean closing your email client, turning off your telephone ringer, or closing the door to your office. By doing these small things, you ensure that the person you're speaking with has your full attention.
It's also important to limit internal distractions, that is, everything going on in your mind. When you have several topics to tackle during a meeting or conversation rushing through them to get all of your ideas out may be tempting, but this causes confusion and can make the other person feel like his or her input is not important. Slow down and remember that communication is a two-way street. Establish a give-and-take that allows both parties to have their say.
One of the worst things you can do when a conflict arises, or someone has a complaint about your business, products, services, etc. is ignore it. In most cases, some kind of response should be issued immediately, even if it's just a brief statement that you'll look into the issue.
If you wait until you have all of the information necessary before reaching out to the unhappy party, they may end up not only unhappy but now also angry. Keep the lines of communication open in all situations by being as responsive as possible and making sure the people reaching out to you feel like their issue is important to you.
Ask the Right Questions
So much of communication relies on getting the information you need, and many times this means you need to ask the right kinds of questions. There are clues about which questions you should be asking in every part of the conversation you're having. You need to be able to listen and zero in on those clues to figure out which questions will unravel the information you need.
Consider the case of an employee who has not been meeting goals and is generally unhappy at work. If you don't ask the right questions, you may never get to the root of the issue, which can be anything from personal issues to being under-challenged.
Make the Most of Meetings
Meetings are notorious for being time wasters if they are not well-planned and thoroughly organized. If you are the organizer, the first thing you should do to respect everyone's time and make your meeting as efficient as possible is to schedule it in advance. Then, take time to prepare an agenda that outlines focus points and sets a structure for the meeting.
Here are some other smart meeting tips that will help you make sure your meetings are productive:
- Confirm the meeting times in the appropriate time zones one to two days before the meeting.
- Assign a meeting moderator who manages the meeting and makes sure participates stick to the agenda.
- Encourage input and questions from everyone in the meeting.
- Take notes, or assign someone else to take notes, to capture the important details of the meeting.
Combine Communication Methods
Face-to-face or voice-to-voice communication is great for eliminating the time challenges that often come with email. But it can also create more questions and confusion if all of the parties involved are not on the same page.
Even if most of your communication takes place over the phone or at networking events, you can create summary emails that outline what was discussed, what the next steps are and who is responsible for what. It can be a great way to combine different communication methods for more effective (and less confusing) forward-moving communication.
Focus on Customer Service
Good customer service depends on two-way communication. Often when conflicts arise with customers, the key to resolution is communicating to uncover the problem, then continuing to communicate until a solution is identified.
One way to maintain long-term relationships with your clients is by keeping open lines of communication. It means asking for input on how things are going and how they feel about the products and service you're providing. It can be accomplished at the end of a project, during day-to-day conversations, with a focus group, or through formal surveys.
Use the Feedback You Receive
If you are already communicating with your clients, you will probably receive feedback regularly, even if you don't solicit it through formal methods. It can be a goldmine of useful information about how your business, products, and services are perceived by clients and potential clients. To be effective, though, you have to use this data to change and improve your processes. Create a process for collecting the feedback you receive in one place, then set aside time every month or two to analyze the data and create a plan for implementing and tracking improvements.
Ultimately, effective communication can be one of the most important skills you use in your business. If your communication skills can use some fine-tuning, take time to analyze how you communicate, and the results of your communication. Then focus on ways you can improve it over time. You may be surprised how much that changes your relationships with staff, clients and colleagues for the better.