I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant” ~Alan Greenspan
Research indicates that communication is one of the most important aspects of a satisfying marriage. One could argue that it is even more vital in a small business. When you enter a marriage, it is typical to have a high degree of trust, some mutual values and common objectives, as well as a shared history. In the years spent interacting with each other, spouses can often communicate with a special nod or a certain look in the eye. In business, we don’t always have the benefit of these deep relationships with employees, clients or partners to provide communication short cuts. It is critical to make the effort to ensure information is crystal clear for all parties involved.
There are a few tips you can follow to ensure you’re crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s.
Clear as mud
Establish and document your objective. The more difficult the conversation, the more likely we are to try to infer our meaning rather than clearly articulating our message. Ironically, it’s often those difficult conversations that require the most clarity. Idioms, metaphors and vague references are speech patterns that can be crutches when we’re uncomfortable saying exactly what we mean. Before any important conversation, write down the core objective of your communication. Outline your points and provide examples. After the discussion use this outline to provide a recap. Putting things in writing ensures you’re both on the same page and can protect you in case you need documentation in the future.
Start with a blank slate
Your position might be obvious to you, but don’t assume your staff, co-workers, or vendors are aware of your position or agree with you. Good communication requires at least 50% listening. Ask questions before jumping to conclusions, or even worse, reacting in a way that could offend someone. And when listening, it’s important to assume innocence. This is especially important in emails and texts. We tend to infer a “tone” when reading written communication. This can cause us to make inaccurate judgements or take offense. At the same time, when you’re sending an email, know that the reader will always infer the worst. This is why emojis became so popular as written communication tools. 🙂 Objectively scrutinize your prose before sending to ensure nothing can sound unintentionally accusatory or critical. Another popular technique is to leverage the “delay send” function in your email. This can help save you from email regret.
The stress and tumults of startup life can create deep bonds. Small businesses may feel like families, but when family communication dynamics creep into business you may find that it comes with spats, sibling rivalry and long-held grudges. Regardless of how close you become with your employees, clients and partners, always share your feelings in a professional way. One of the hardest things to control in a passionate conversation is our emotions. It’s important to recognize, assess, understand and manage your emotions.
Ego goes before a fall
Regardless of how good of a communicator you are, misunderstandings and disagreements will happen. In fact, the more stress we’re under, the more likely it is that we will struggle with communication and relationships. Any time you have a disagreement, take a moment to step back and think about what is best for your company. Sometimes it may hurt our ego to apologize, but in the light of long-term business and relationship goals it is often the best strategy.
People don’t fit on a spreadsheet
As a small business owner, you might also be the HR department. While often underestimated, this is one of the most complex parts of running a business. People are your most valuable asset and it’s important to protect and manage them well. There are three things every small business owner should have to fulfil their HR role: employee files, an employee handbook, and the required posters displayed.
Business communication really starts with your emotional IQ. Are you aware of yourself and tuned into those around you while simultaneously focusing on your objectives and managing your business? It might sound like patting your head while rubbing your stomach, but I promise, if you can walk and chew gum at the same time, you can master the art of business communication.
Keep It Handy
Writing an employee handbook might rank right under cleaning out your dryer vents on your priority list, but employee handbooks are surprisingly important when you need them (as are your dryer vents). As a legal document, your employee handbook needs to include your employment policies, company rules and other key information for your staff. If the thought of spending your weekend writing your employee handbook sounds about as appealing as reorganizing your screw and nail collection, give us a call. We will provide an employee handbook that covers all the legal bases and reflects your company culture so you can focus on the priorities that will drive your business forward—like finding the source of the peculiar smell coming from the back seat of your car.