10 Ways to Develop Effective Business Communication Skills in your company
If you are an HR manager or a business owner reading this article then you are perhaps aware of the problem.
There are people who you recruit with fantastic functional skills but unfortunately they end up not being able to work effectively because they lack some basic communication skills.
These are otherwise “smart” people who just lack the confidence because they are not able to communicate their thoughts using simple, and clear language.
If you are wondering if such people are “trainable” - the answer is YES!
In this blog we will give you 10 ways in which you can create a culture where people understand the importance of good communication and practice it every day.
When we say “poor” communication - it is not just about the ability to convey one’s thoughts using appropriate words.
It includes a variety of different scenarios:
Using inappropriate body language or tone while conversing. This is is especially true when the employee has not been exposed to how non-verbal cues impact communication.
Writing emails using language that is either too rude or too polite. This requires understanding tonality and considering language appropriate for the audience.
Not listening to the other perspective properly, making assumptions and jumping to conclusions. This is easy to identify but hard to fix.
Negotiating using a win-lose mindset and not a win-win mindset. Typically this is stems from not understanding point #3.
Poor Problem Solving skills as language acts as a barrier to explain the problem statement clearly, and evaluate the various scenarios.
Ineffective decision making because the communication does not include everyone to build consensus and reach a conclusion.
Lacking assertiveness that is needed in situations by using firm yet positive language to ensure it is clearly understood by everyone.
There are two broad areas where the above scenarios play out at the workplace:
While dealing with external stakeholders such as customers and vendors
While working within the same team and other cross-functional teams
What is the cost of poor communication at the workplace?
According to SIS International:
“An SMB with 100 employees could be leaking a staggering $524,569 annually as a result of communication barriers and latency.”
This was a study that was conducted across a variety of different industries such as communications, finance, healthcare, insurance, manufacturing, professional business services, real estate, and wholesale / retail trade.
What were the barriers? As per the study, the following were the top 10:
It is important to look at communication from a business perspective. As an HR manager, it is important for you to impress upon stakeholders the importance of communication to meet the ultimate business objectives.
As an HR manager, here are 10 ways in which you can implement basic things at your workplace to improve communication:
Give everyone an opportunity to speak “Rajesh you just work on the PPT. I will present it on your behalf”. In most companies, a person who does not speak well is not given opportunities. Worse still - the opportunities he or she may have to present is also taken away. If confidence is low - such things will really kill whatever is left! It is important to encourage your employees to speak up. A great way to do so is by having lunches in a very informal atmosphere. People are able to exchange their thoughts. Not only will it help them speak out, it will also improve the overall knowledge about the topic of discussion. Also try to encourage them by picking on the positive parts of what they said, than focussing too much on giving feedback on the negative aspects. What can HR do: Speak to the managers and see if you can start a weekly routine by which you can conduct some tech-talks at the workplace. That way you get brownie points for initiative too!
Get them trained on basics of communication “Just google - you will find a lot of resources on improving your communication” There are a lot of free material available online. Agreed! However, employees may need help from their managers in picking specifically the right area for them to improve. Else there is just way too many things and it is very easy for anyone starting out to get overwhelmed. Where do I start? Should I focus on written or spoken English? Should I be reading up on grammar? Without clear directions, it becomes very hard to focus. What can HR do: At English for India, we are happy to get on a call to do a free evaluation of your current workplace competence in English, and suggest ways for them to improve their spoken and written communication. Just contact us to get started!
Have an internal communication protocol “I really need you to improve your email writing, Vishwas” It is easy to give feedback but it is very hard to implement. Think about the times you have wanted to change a behavior in yourself - then you will realize how tough it is for someone who has poor communication skills to merely “work on it”. A lot of times when managers give feedback to employees asking them to Improve their communication skills without giving explicit directions. It is important to have an internal guideline on how to answer customer emails and templates to follow for creating documents. As an employee who wants to improve - this will give critical direction as to how to proceed with both writing and speaking in your corporate environment. Once the employee has a standard to match - it becomes easy for him as he knows what are good examples and what are bad examples. What can HR do? Talk to your management team about creating guidelines for writing at your company. You can also provide some ready references, and collateral (in the form of well-written emails) that can be handy to employees.
Encourage feedback: both giving and receiving “Amit will not change. I don’t think saying anything will improve his communication.” Improvement cannot happen without a feedback loop so it is important for everyone in the organization - from bosses to employees - to ensure that there is a culture of giving and receiving feedback at the workplace. Unfortunately in many corporate setting, giving feedback is the job reserved for the manager. That too, in an unpleasant “appraisal meeting” where feedback has to be sandwiched between discussions on increment and promotion. However, giving real-time feedback and being genuine about helping the recipient will go a long way in ensuring that he/she takes in positively. It has to be in private, and it has to focus on what can be done to improve and not what went wrong. What can HR do? Start a new “ritual” where giving / receiving feedback is encouraged. You can even have an external facilitator come in to conduct such a session. It is best if it can be tied to your corporate values and culture.
Pick some good communicators to mentor others “I wish I had Sanjay as a boss, his team has a great boss to emulate” People learn best when they are using the language in their work setting. Mindlessly remembering grammar rules and mugging up difficult words to use in conversations is pretty much pointless. Here is where mentorship can play an important role. Within the organization there will be employees and managers who have better communication skills. So what do they do differently? If this can be leveraged to help other employees then it would improve overall workplace communication. What can HR do? You can start a “buddy” program where people who are considered good communicators can be paired up with people who need help/improvement. The program should be structured in such a way that there is continuous feedback and a clear objective defined. Both the mentors and mentees should be personally invested in making the program a success.
Include communication as a KPI in your appraisal What cannot be measured - cannot be improved. It is important to have Communication skills as an organization wide KPI so that employees realize that this is something that is being actively measured. It is important to make this is into an objective KPI and not a subjective one. As mentioned in the above points, it is easy to ask someone to improve but it is hard to expect them to figure out how to do so. Hence, the KPIs should include things like “Present to management” and put a numeric value such as “Two times” against it. By encouraging improvement in their communication, we can have them take an active role in doing so. What can HR do? It is easy to include this in the current KPI that you have set for various roles. It is important to discuss with the business owners to ensure that this KPI is taken seriously and not just discussed as an afterthought.
Provide the employees with good examples to follow The human brain does a great job of imitating what others speak. If you are not conversant with a local language but know “enough to survive” then you would realize that you don’t need to get into the depths of grammar. So, it is important to show the employees examples of good talks (if it is a foreign speaker then with closed captions so they understand clearly), or good articles to read. As people make reading and listening to good English a habit, the improvement will surely follow. The company should encourage positive habits where people take out time from their busy day to read a book or a magazine - and these should not be taken as signs of “goofing off”. What can HR do? Try to see if you can start a local lending library where employees can borrow books or magazines. There can also be a reading club where people can exchange their views on books or magazines. You can also organize a “reading challenge” where everyone who participates needs to read a certain number of books in a month.
Explain the importance of soft skills in career progress Many a times we see employees themselves not interested in improving their soft skills. This is because they believe that their technical skills alone are sufficient for them to do well. However, they fail to realize that with more experience, they are also expected to lead people. And when they lead people, it is important for them to focus on communication. For such people, it is important to get them into the correct mindset before starting them on training. They need to realize the importance of articulating their thought process clearly to the team so the project gets executed. What can HR do? Perhaps they can be made to understand this point by talking to people who are not just great with their technical knowledge but also have excellent communication skills. Start a weekly “fireside chat” series in your company. Such people giving talks about their journey would serve to inspire others.
Train the team on effectively expressing their domain knowledge Sometimes communication need not include all aspects - companies should focus on the core skills that an employee needs to perform his role effectively. For example, if someone in the accounts department does not get on phone calls but has to interact only through emails and reports then the focus should be on written and not spoken communication. Similarly, if an employee in the sales team needs to have the clarity and conviction to speak in English but not write reports - the focus should be on making him confident to speak the language. Therefore, internally we should look at the core skills that every employee needs and map it to the training needed to get him up to speed. What can HR do? HR can facilitate the process by discussing with the business heads, the key areas of improvement required for specific departments. This can then be incorporated into their overall growth plan by ensuring they are trained on those specific skills.
Highlight the importance of “fun” while communicating At the end of the day, language is just a means to communicate. There is no point fussing about it (or the lack of it). What is important is that one has fun learning and using the language. As children we learn new languages just by hearing others and making attempts to speak. No one teases a young child when they make mistakes - on the contrary - that is found to be “cute”. However, as adults we let our egos and self-judgement get in the way of learning a new language. So employees should be encouraged not to make a big deal out of the whole process. What can HR do? Though the focus is on improving communication skills, as an HR, one should also encourage employees to make mistakes, and not judge them too harshly. Be it at the interview stage or at the appraisal level, the focus should be on helping and not judging / labelling the employee’s communication and grasp over the English language.