Assuming our common objective is a positive and engaged work place with clear direction, eliminating vague or otherwise confusing communication should be a priority for business leaders.
There is one key to improving your business communication; say what you mean.
Obvious advice? Everyone knows to speak clearly? I already say what I mean?
I regularly coach clients on delivering messages to employees, customers or suppliers and it seems more people struggle with a direct and clear message than you might think.
How do you feel when you can’t tell exactly what someone is trying to tell you?
You may understand their words if written as a transcript but so often you’re not exactly sure of their point. Which of the five, six or ten points is it that they are really worried about or want you to act upon? You may ask for some clarification which sometimes just moves you further into a fog than you thought you were in the first pass.
Awkward, confused, a little tension starts to build…. Do I ask more questions, or just nod and let the conversation die a slow, painful death?
Verbal exchanges like this occur far more often than they should in the work place; this should never be the case from a manager to someone they manage or lead.
Challenges to clear communication arise for a variety of reasons; not wanting to offend the receiving party, emotions leading to a wandering subject matter or sometimes just struggling to find the words that express what the speaker means so the message ends up off target.
The consequences of poor communication skills are as numerous as the causes. For the sake of brevity, I’ll simply point out that a lack of clear and direct communication will promote the opposite of a positive and engaged workplace with clear direction. Vague and ineffective communication will result in a lack of direction for your team members and tension in work relationships which also work against strong business results.
Three Tips To Help You Say What You Mean
- Always identify the single most important point you need to make.
There may be many points you would like to make or ideas you would like to convey; but, most of the time your audience will not stay with you for the whole show if you include too many subject changes in a conversation.
- Write your most important point down exactly as you intend to make it in conversation.
Seeing what you want to say in writing helps you iron out your thoughts into a coherent message that is on point. The act of writing it forces you to organize concepts and supports recall for the conversation.
- Include your secondary priority topics, points not selected as the “single most important”, only as they support your single most important point.
You can effectively include secondary topics that you believe are important when they reinforce or clarify the most important topic; however, if secondary topics are unrelated or too far off the main point, they only detract from what is most important so leave them out of the conversation.
Let me illustrate an example where you are addressing a team member who is chronically late on making deadlines. You are frustrated by how many projects have been late. You may feel offended that the team member doesn’t respect you enough help you by getting things in on schedule as it affects your personal performance. You’re suspicious the other party is prioritizing another department’s projects ahead of yours because he/she seems to find that work more engaging or fun. To make matters even worse, the subject employee seems distracted by their child’s soccer league and is always rushing out at 5:00 pm sharp for the soccer field.
What’s the most important point? Missing project deadlines.
All of the other items are basically noise. The other issues may be important, may be causes, may not be causes, may be problems or not; but the clear message is the team member must make project deadlines. That’s it. The other items are secondary so should sit in a support posture where you may discuss obstacles to the main point or solutions toward the main point.
So often we let the secondary issues come erupting out in a shotgun blast of points that completely dilute the one main most important point that project deadlines must be met.
How To Address Multiple Points
The first question that arises when I discuss the concept of saying what you mean with client is, “what if I have more than one important topic to discuss?”
No problem; apply the three tips for saying what you mean to each important topic but keep the topics very distinct in the conversation. You should keep each important topic as a stand-alone point with clear boundaries within the dialogue. No sharp turns on the road of conversation without a bright yellow road sign saying “right turn.”
With a little thought and practice, you can keep important points distinct in a conversation so that you keep your listener with you along the road of conversation and avoid sending them into the weeds of a twisting, turning list of subjects.
Follow the three tips to saying what you mean from above for each important point and separate the important points in the conversation by slowing down the dialogue as you turn from point to point. Make clear that you are starting a new important point and leaving the prior point.
As I said early in this post, saying what you mean sounds obvious at first, but it is a fundamental that often gets lost when navigating the long road of business leadership.