Professionals - If you have been reading this blog for a while, you should be convinced of one fact: communication is to your career what water is to sustenance; it is absolutely crucial for survival.
If you are new to this blog and are unconvinced about the importance of effective communications, then let me ask you a few questions:
How often have you needed to clearly convey your ideas/suggestions/plans in emails, during meetings or when delivering presentations?
How many times have you needed to suggest, convince, refute, elaborate, corroborate?
On how many occasions have you been required to take the lead in a team assignment or in overseeing an initiative?
Chances are that you have needed to do them very often. No, strike that. You do all these things, on a daily basis, in one form or another.
Leaders - count the numerous times you have been required to do the following: give a speech; conduct brainstorming sessions with your executive cadre; convince the Board; and for some unfortunate few - add managing corporate crises to your repertoire.
Surely now you realise that being an effective communicator these days is a non-negotiable skill you must acquire, if, like most of us regular folk, you neither are blessed with the gift of the gab nor have the penchant for penning bestsellers.
This means that for the majority of us seeking to communicate for success, we must learn this skill with the discipline that is required to learn a new language or to play an instrument. It must be a conscious, deliberate act.
So whether you are a 'newbie' in the corporate jungle or a seasoned professional, below are 10 tips which you should master:
1) Identify your audience and adjust your style as required
This is the number one rule for communicating for impact. It also encompasses being aware of cultural nuances when speaking. Remember adopting an informal style does not mean using crude language or slangs. Have a 'professional' mindset always in issues relating to your work.
For the formal style, avoid archaic or redundant terms and use what I would call 'modern-formal' language. For example, use "many lives" instead of "many souls" : "Many lives perished in the ferry disaster".
2) Get to your point quickly and use simple, clear language
Do not waffle on. For speeches/presentations, capture the interest of your audience at 'hello'. Imagine your audience comprises five-year-olds whose attention spans last about a minute.
For the written word, keep it short and eliminate jargon at all costs. Clarity and brevity must be the rule of thumb.
3) Avoid verbal outbursts and never respond when you are angry
Do not engage in a shouting match at work with colleagues no matter how aggrieved you are. Likewise, do not send a text or an email when you are angry, no matter how justified to do so you feel. It is always counter-productive and after the storm has subsided, your reputation for being a rational, professional being would be tarnished with the real possibility of being passed over for leadership roles. Basically if you cannot manage your emotions, you lack the skills required for high-responsibility duties.
4) Do not underestimate non-verbal cues
Learn to curb non-verbal cues that convey negative messages. Shifting eyes, fidgeting, slumping in a chair, an expressionless face - all communicate a lack of confidence, aloofness, as well as a notion that you are untrustworthy. You may not be aware of these faux pas, so do not get defensive when they are pointed out by a well-intentioned colleague or friend.
Cultivate desirable traits such as: active listening and sincere smiling: maintaining eye contact and looking into the camera: being humble and gracious: and having a pleasant demeanour. Being 'likable' is beneficial to your career.
5) In all written communications - emails, memos, letters, reports, statements or press releases - cross-check your grammar multiple times and do not simply rely on spell checks
Ensure that the meanings of the words are given in the right context - semantics: ('Cite' vs. 'Site' vs. 'Sight'); and that the word order/structure is not clumsy : syntax, ('The man to whom the complaints were made'; and not 'The man who the complaints were made to').
Also remember that your message should 'flow' logically from one short paragraph to another. In order words, be coherent.
6) The more important the recipient is, the more formal the language should be
Nonetheless, use the 'modern-formal' style mentioned in number 1.
Verify the correct spelling of the name of the recipient, as well as official designations and pen the document accordingly. For requests, state the purpose of the document in the subject line, as well as in the first sentence. Rephrase the request a last time at the end of the document as a 'call-to-action' feature. Mastering formal writing takes practice but it is attainable.
7) Give feedback whether requested or not
But only give timely and factual feedback . Do not wait until information is favourable or until you have all the facts. This is particularly important in a team project and during a crisis.
Providing feedback during a team project facilitates co-operation and strength of purpose. Difficulties are easily identified and solutions are provided for a successful completion.
In a crisis, timely and factual feedback eliminates speculation and diminishes backlash. For leaders, providing feedback and addressing the crucial issues, demonstrate empathy for those affected by the crisis, as well as credible leadership despite the dire circumstances.
Case in point: General Motors' new CEO, Mary Barra's unreserved apology and pledge to the safety process following 12 deaths that were linked to faulty ignition switches, leading to the massive recall of 1.6 million cars in the US and Canada.
Then in May 2014, another batch of 24 million cars was recalled in the U.S as the company continued to tackle safety concerns. The embattled CEO was also required to give a statement in a congressional hearing, which although daunting, was handled with notable professionalism. Her communication was brief but succinct, confident but reassuring. She perfected the art of communicating feedback.
To be considered a trustworthy, proactive leader, you must cultivate the habit of giving feedback.
8) Have a good communications strategy
This tip is for you CEOs.
Even if your organisation has an effective communications team, it is a good idea that you have your own communications strategy to communicate your vision to the company. This is because you are the most important driver of perceptions. Having a clear idea of basic components of a communications strategy would make it easier for you to drive organisation-wide acceptance, as well as direct your communications team.
The six components of the Communications Strategy recommended by this blog - 'The What; 'The Why'; 'The Who'; 'The How'; 'The When/How Long'; and 'The Crisis-Mode Plan' - tackle key issues of any proposed initiative and should be adopted on a regular basis.
9) Embrace social media
Social media is here to stay so you cannot ignore it any longer.
LinkedIn is not just for job seekers, (check out President Obama's Linkedin profile); neither is Facebook only for ''young people'; (check out the post by Jeff Bullas analysing the worth of a Facebook "Like" for a business).
In the same vein, Twitter is not simply for celebrities. It would interest you to note that the well-known Twitter hashtag campaign, #BringBackOurGirls triggered international outcry in May 2014 against the shocking abduction of 200+ Nigeria schoolgirls by the terrorist group Boko Haram the previous month. The social media campaign, whose far-reaching influence beyond the digital world caught the attention of celebrities, politicians and governments, resulted in the provision of intelligence, support and resources from the U.S, UK, China and France to assist the Nigerian authorities to locate the captive girls.
The good news in social media is that you will be spoilt for choice given the numerous platforms available. Therefore identify those that are most relevant to your business and key stakeholders and use wisely.
The bad news is, well ignore the social media revolution and you and your company could be losing out in a big way on influence and 'social proof'.
Whether it is getting 'likes' on Facebook, 'retweets' on Twitter, 'mentions' on Google+, 'repins' on Pinterest or 'followers' on others, getting validation on social media boosts reputations, promotes brands and as some have sworn - social media drives sales. Therefore, in order to communicate for results, interact and engage with your stakeholders in an authentic way, in real time...on social media.
10) Practise, practise, practise!
Practice is essential for boosting your confidence, so make deliberate attempts to improve your communication skills.
You should read regularly and even outside your field, if you are serious about becoming a great communicator. Reading materials could include short stories, blog posts, articles, white papers, journals, newspapers, books and e-books. Take your pick. What is essential for favourable results is consistency.
If your career is steeped in journalism, editing, PR, communications etc. then you should also read extensively. You must have heard the saying that if you want to become a better writer, then you need to read a great deal. In this way, you expose yourself to good vocabulary, different styles and nuances you will subconsciously draw upon for your work. It would also help you discover your 'voice' and ‘tone’ that make you unique, even when your content is not original. Do not forget to brush up on your grammar as well. Did you notice the subtle difference between using 'practise' as the title of this tip, and 'practice' in the first line?
The same advice holds true for your verbal and non-verbal communication: practise. When a flaw is pointed out, correct it and then practise the new 'habit'. With time, practice would make 'incredible'. It may not be perfect; (we should always strive to improve our skills); but perfection is overrated anyway.
Good communication skills, I believe, are global pre-requisites for successful careers.
Whether you are an entrepreneur or trudging along in 'Corporateville' or holding public office; whether you are a millennial or a corporate leader - you need to be able to communicate for success. With these tips in your arsenal, you are well on your way.
What other communications tips do you know? Kindly post your comments below, anonymously if you prefer.
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N.B- First image courtesy of Arztsamui; via freedigitalphotos.net. Second image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici; via freedigitalphotos.net. Third image courtesy of Jesadaphorn; via freedigitalphotos.net. Fourth image courtesy of Master Isolated Images; via freedigitalphotos.net. Fifth image courtesy of Stuart Miles; via freedigitalphotos.net. Sixth image courtesy of Iosphere; via freedigitalphotos.net. Last image courtesy of Phanlop88; via freedigitalphotos.net