5 reasons you need to focus on communication in your business

 Conflict resolution, crisis management, delivering negative feedback - much has been made of how to manage problem situations, with everyone from team members and customers, to suppliers and clients.

But what if instead of focusing on managing the fallout, you looked back up the chain and started with tweaking your communication skills from the outset, with the aim to reduce conflict altogether?

These five tips will help you be a better communicator, who spends less time managing issues and more time enjoying success.

1. Focus less on what you say and more on what you hear

Being a great communicator means being an excellent listener. Violet Dhu is an expert who specialises in communication skills and the art of having difficult conversations. She says listening should come before anything else. Dhu recommends focusing on asking, listening and acknowledging what someone is saying to ensure you’ve heard them properly. You should do this across your business at all times – not just when you have problems. Being a great listener will lead to people feeling comfortable talking to you, and open communication is a positive asset in every business.

2. Slow down and appreciate the small things

In today’s fast paced world, we're constantly moving andhighly reactive – replying to emails and calls quickly and making decisions frequently. “You forget that you need to actually stop and be present,” says Dhu. “When communicating, people tend to go into action straight away and instead of doing that, you can and should slow down. Give yourself some time to gather your thoughts.”

She adds that slowing down also means noticing what is happening around you and communicating your pleasure with the positives. “Slow down, notice the small things that people do well, and appreciate them,” says Dhu.

Dhu had a client who asked for help with managing a “challenging” employee. “There was a lot of focus about what the person was doing wrong, but then I asked, “When do you show appreciation for what the person is doing well?” She just looked at me and [finally said], 'I don’t, really.' I asked her to focus on the smallest things and make a note to communicate her appreciation for them.”

She thanked her employee for her efforts, and immediately noticed change. Her team member was asking her for advice and feedback more often – something that came about simply because the lines of communication had been opened using positive feedback.

Small business owners should listen to what employees or clients are saying and take in their feedback

Take time out to really listen to what people are saying when they're talking to you. Ask questions, pay attention to the answers and acknowledge what was said for ultimate clarity and clear communication.

3. Clarify to ensure expectations are shared

“You can reduce a lot of misunderstanding and errors if you just ask questions and clarify,” explains Dhu. She warns that failing to be clear about expectations is a huge trap when it comes to achieving clear communication. By simply confirming what you expect and what you think you’ve said, and having the respondent (whether that’s a client, customer, employee or supplier) agree that they're on the same page, potential dramas can be averted.

This can be as simple as explaining clearly what a customer will receive and when, or outlaying what you assume you’ll be getting from a supplier, rather than expecting you’ve been clear and they interpreted your intentions the same way. Dhu suggests following up with a written summary to be super visible. “It’s all about establishing a shared understanding,” says Dhu. “If you reach that, you'll really reduce errors and the risk of conflict.”

4. Match how you say things to how people feel

Dhu says empathy should always be at the core of what you’re doing when you communicate, which means considering the needs of the person you’re interacting with.

When you’re choosing how to communicate something – from the way you’ll say it (either in person or via email), to the tone you will use, you'll prevent problems if you're empathetic from the outset.

For example, Dhu says, “Hypothetically, you know you have to cut the budget on a project and you know your team member John is passionate about it and he’s worked really hard on it. You could choose to simply email John and tell him that the facts back up the budget cuts, but is that really the best thing to do?” She says that considering how people feel will help guide the way you choose to communicate. “Consider, if I was in John’s shoes, I’d appreciate being talked through the changes, or even taken out for a cup of coffee and acknowledged for my hard work.

5. Focus on what you’re NOT saying

Dhu strongly advises considering your non-verbal communication techniques too. She explains that she will often teach leaders who arrive at a workshop and recline in their chair, legs confidently crossed, arms folded above their heads and then tell her they think they are very approachable. “The reality is, their “non-verbals” are not approachable at all!” Dhu says. Consider your body language and the impact of how you stand and where you look. As a start, don’t fold your arms, stand up straight, don’t put your hands on your hips and make eye contact. And, if it's suitable, smile!