Effective communications are the lifeblood of business.

There are courses in colleges, seminars aplenty, and specialized coaches. And yet… so often we fail to actually connect and understand when it is vital to our success.

If you want to build your business as a solopreneur or company founder, you need to be able to speak and write in ways that others can understand. And master good listening skills too.

Once I had a manager fire an employee – who then came to me excited to learn more about the great opportunity the company was offering him next.

Yes, really! So much for the training and pre-scripted message the manager and I had worked through.

He had been so nervous and so careful about what he said that he never actually told the employee that his position had been eliminated and he was being let go.

For many of us, the failings of social media and electronic communications make it too easy to fail ourselves.

So often I see CEOs and EDs who have a mission statement and a strategic plan and yet are flummoxed because their staff is off course. They tell me that they put out an announcement or emailed everyone with the plan’s goals or the newest mission statement. And little happened.

Nothing happened because no effective communication actually took place. Often we have taken a short cut, rather than really had a good conversation on a topic of importance to our business success.

I can put up a note on Facebook or LinkedIn and think all my contacts will suddenly remember me and refer new business to me. Or I can really talk to individuals who might actually do so. Which do you think is going to get me some new projects or clients?

Sherry Turkle had a great article in the Guardian which might help you think of what you are doing when you think you are communicating.

So what can you do better?

1. Understand your own goals.

And then think about the most effective ways to achieve them. What role will your communications play?

If you need to build your business, you certainly need to network and be visible. But you also need to talk to people who might need your services.

And to do that you need to know who those people are and what challenges they face – information easily found online.

But to get their attention, an introduction or referral from someone they know is far preferable to cold calls and blasting out marketing materials. And you need to think about what exactly you want to communicate, and how once you make a connection to your target.

2. Learn how you can communicate more effectively with your most important audiences.

Study after study demonstrates this is a critical leadership skill.

Do you drop info or assignments on staff in passing? Or by texting or IM or email? Are you clear about priorities when you do so? Do you know what the person you are communicating with actually understood? How?

I remember a terrific EVP I worked with who always clearly labeled his comments and requests with a priority, and who explicitly said he wanted to know, in advance, how much work and time it would take to do what he asked.

Turns out he had once made an off-hand remark that had led to someone working 8 days including over a weekend to respond – because he was an officer of the company.

3. Get back into the habit of listening.

Good listening requires concentration. You must focus your attention. But you can learn a lot that will help you succeed!

And you can make employees feel far more valued and appreciated by actually listening to them.

An effective listener works to reduce both external distractions and personal habits which may be distracting. Other aspects of smart listening habits include:

  • Paying attention visibly: making eye contact frequently, maintaining good body language.
  • Eliciting information effectively: Learn to ask questions in various forms. Common ones you should be using regularly include: open-ended invitations to talk about a topic; fact-seeking questions to gain more detail; and probing for specifics as needed.
  • Techniques for increasing understanding, such as: reflecting the feelings of someone who is discouraged or upset; paraphrasing what you heard to capture both the main ideas and the tone; or summarizing.

Me, I am bad at shutting up and worse at actually selling myself. Although I have worked hard on the first and made good progress over the years, I have done less on the second.

What are your communication challenges? And what are you doing about them?

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