As leaders we all know communication is the most vital skill to have in any workplace. However, if not used effectively our communication skills, or lack of, can play a pivotal role in under-performing. Whether it’s losing our staff, our clients, or our motivation, what we say and how we say it will often determine our success.
We’re all familiar with networking events; where we put on our ‘best’ face to make a good impression and connect with those we most want to associate our businesses with. Hopefully we’re relaxed and friendly enough to make others also want to connect with us. Here, first impressions are vital to ensuring we establish a strong network and often the best way to make a lasting impression is dependent on our communication skills. So how do you avoid the discomfort of standing with a canapé in hand, making small talk with someone who clearly isn’t going to set your business alive? What if you really struggle to feel anything other than awkward, as you have a difficult conversation with someone and the outcome isn’t what you set out to achieve?
Here are 5 essential steps to making your communication skills your competitive advantage:
- Say what you mean, if anything you say is unclear then you can’t expect the best results. Think about every email you send, every speech you give and every conversation you have in the workplace. What outcome would you like and which words are you using to best achieve it? The most efficient way to receive the best results is to avoid miscommunication and that means thinking and planning the words you’re going to use, to say exactly what you mean.
- Once you’ve chosen your words, what will they sound like to the audience? Will you come across as aggressive or abrasive? Are there simpler ways of making a point that will avoid any confusion or misinterpretation? In private, rehearse your thoughts out loud to hear them back, or talk them through with a trusted colleague or peer.
- Communicate in a way your audience will understand. With the rise of technology, the best way to communicate with your employees and peers is to use what’s around you to your advantage. Why use complex graphs in a presentation if you can explain what you mean with a picture or video? The best communicators are able to master different platforms, whether it’s on social media or standing in front of hundreds of people giving a speech. Learn which medium suits you best and be confident to use them to your advantage.
- Be the face of the business. As a leader, it can often be isolating at the top of an organisation, mixing mainly with directors and board members, rather that employees working at the coal face. Instead of squeezing another meeting in over lunch, what about spending an hour a week getting immediate feedback from workers? Starting a conversation with those you don’t often mix and talk to them genuinely about something outside of work, their family, sport etc to make them feel valued and part of the business. They’ll become comfortable talking to you and seeing you’re being genuinely interested in them and you can use these conversations as potential sounding-boards for new ideas and strategies.
- Practice makes perfect and builds confidence. The best way to improve our communication skills is by refining them. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone when it comes to improving your communication style, but always be yourself so that you appear genuine. If trying to deliver a speech or presentation without notes goes horribly wrong, do it differently next time. Ask those who’s opinion you trust for feedback after a talk or meeting. Did you come across as you expected and if not why not?