Effective Business Communication

It was a cold Christmas Eve, and I was on a conference call at 2am. I cringed as the project manager belittled her team members and complained about having to take time away from her family. She never once acknowledged that everyone else on the call was also missing family time, nor that the problems that led to a 2am conference call stemmed from her lack of direction and leadership.

Eighteen years as a consultant have let me observe the worst of the worst and the best of the best in business communication. The lesson I’ve come away with is this: Effective business communication means making people glad they interacted with you. Whether you helped them find a solution, clarified a misunderstanding or gave them the information they needed, you made their jobs easier. That is effective business communication.

Here are some recommendations for becoming a more effective business communicator.

  • Honor people’s time. No matter how important your message is to you, you are interrupting someone to deliver it. Get straight to your purpose or request, and find out when and if they are able to address it. Likewise, in meetings, contribute, but don’t dominate and hold up proceedings.
  • Add something extra to interactions. Provide what is expected or needed, and then go a step beyond. For example, “When I was researching, I found this fact sheet that I thought might be helpful to you.”
  • Deliver what you promise, on time. We all know people who agree to everything but fail to follow through. Take on what you know you can do, do it well and deliver it on time – or early.
  • Claim responsibility for your part in communication failures. This doesn’t mean apologize when it wasn’t your fault. It means acknowledge your mistakes – and fix them.
  • Assume the best of people. If an email seems snarky or someone doesn’t get back to you right away, stay positive. Clarify possible misunderstandings, reiterate needs and expectations and do it all with a smile.
  • Be available for questions and follow-up. Even the simplest communication is open to interpretation. Let people know how to reach you and that your goal is mutual understanding.
  • Respect everyone, no matter who they are. I’ve worked with executives who treated all employees equally and with those who spoke only to other executives. Can you guess which leaders had happier, more productive workers?
  • Remain professional. Don’t let setbacks trigger emotional outbursts you’ll regret later. And when someone shares gossip, change the subject and never pass it on.
  • Thank people, genuinely, for their time and their contributions.

I was lucky that I wasn’t a target for the aforementioned project manager. But it won’t surprise you to know that her team complained to her boss about her, and she was assigned elsewhere. It also won’t surprise you to know that she didn’t demonstrate ANY of the positive behaviors listed above.

Whether it’s professionally, personally or both, communicate in such a way that others are grateful to have you around.