You’ve most likely experienced bad business communication at some point.
Most of us have.
Perhaps you were on the receiving end of bad business communication – you received marketing material that didn’t quite land as the business probably intended or you had a deadline miscommunication in your job or you had drama break out because of a misunderstanding.
So intuitively you know the importance of good communication when it comes to business. And the statistics back this up—in one study, nearly half of workers reported productivity issues due to ineffective communication. And 41%–54% of workers said that poor communication reduces trust in their leadership or their team. When it comes to businesses communicating with their customers, Hubspot points out from one study that 99% of customers believe it’s important that a business communicates well with them.
No matter what level of the business ladder you’re on, you engage in business communication on some level, whether you’re in charge of marketing or you’re a customer service rep or you’re the CEO.
Therefore, it’s important to always be growing in our understanding of business communication and how to make sure your interactions accomplish their desired goals and are coming across as intended.
So in this article, we’ll walk you through the concept of business communication, including what it is, how to make it as effective as possible, what channels you can use, and what strategies to employ.
Business communication involves any type of interaction that has to do with providing information in a business context.
While the term generally may refer more specifically to communication among employees within the same workplace, the concept could be applied to business-consumer interactions as well.
With that broader context included, business communication can encompass an almost endless number of interactions.
Here are some examples:
While effective business communication can be highly dependent on the situation and context, there are some general rules of thumb that can help.
Ditch ambiguity and embrace crystal-clear language.
Use simple, direct sentences, avoid jargon and technical terms unless essential, and prioritize structure for easy comprehension. Remember, your message should be understood, not deciphered.
If you’re communicating via a written channel, read over your message carefully before sending and make sure there’s nothing that could potentially be misinterpreted.
Knowing who you’re communicating with can make a difference in how you communicate.
Depending on your “audience,” people may or may not be prone to readily understand your wording, terminology, and communication style.
The way that you communicate to one group of people may be completely different than the way that you communicate to another.
For example, you may interact with your boss differently than, say, your work buddy. Similarly, handling an upset customer in a contact center support interaction may differ from your communication strategy in a marketing initiative.
An ancient proverb from the Bible says that when a fool is silent, he is considered wise.
That concept still holds true today.
Being first and foremost a listener rather than a speaker will make your business communication so much better…
Once you’ve listened to and understood what someone is saying, then you’re able to give a better response to help with communication resolution.
In a similar thread as the last point, if you make it a point to empathize with the people you’re communicating with, this can open up the door to open and effective communication.
Instead of being defensive and focused on your own agenda, try to put yourself in the shoes of the other person. Try to imagine how they feel, what they’re thinking—even if you don’t agree with them.
When you’re speaking or typing up the words you want to say, think about how the person on the other end will interpret them.
Note: think about how the other person will feel and respond; don’t necessarily think about how you would feel and respond. Everyone is different.
For example, some people appreciate bluntness; others find it rude. Some people find sarcasm funny; others find it insulting. Some people respond well to big displays of friendliness; others find it unprofessional.
While you can’t please everyone, do your best to imagine being the individual on the receiving end and adjust your communication style accordingly.
The options for business communication channels are numerous and continue to expand as time goes on.
Each channel has its strengths and weaknesses, and the ideal choice depends on the message you want to convey, the audience you're targeting, and the desired level of interaction.
Here are some of the common channels…
In-person meetings are notorious for being inefficient timesucks. (Especially in this age of increased digital channels and remote work options.)
One survey found that two-thirds of workers report wasting time in meetings.
After all, who really likes to have to drop what they’re doing and go to a meeting or appointment? Most of the time, you’d probably like to sit in the comfort of your own desk or home.
But in-person meetings are still the best way to accomplish certain kinds of business communications.
In-person meetings allow you to engage in small talk for relationship building, bounce ideas off of each other, and read visual cues like body language in a way that other communication channels can’t.
Since some people are more hard-wired for vocal communication, in-person communication is also good for people who have a hard time communicating things over writing.
Video meetings offer many of the benefits of in-person communication—but without the need for people to all be in the same room.
The convenience of video meetings, and the fact that they allow for people to meet from all different places, has resulted in the increase of their use in business environments.
However, there are certain aspects of in-person meetings that virtual meetings simply can’t replicate. Virtual meetings tend to be more to-the-point, thus being more efficient but also less personal. They can also have technical problems that are frustrating for non-tech-savvy folks.
Email has a lot going for it.
It allows you to shoot off a quick or long message someone can read at their convenience.
It allows you time to think about specific word choice and exactly how you want to communicate something.
It gives you a searchable record of conversations that you can easily refer back to at any time.
Its main drawback is that people’s inboxes have become so flooded with emails that your communication can get lost in a sea of messages and it can sometimes take days to receive a response—if you get a response at all.
And particularly if you’re someone higher up in a business chain, you’ll need to develop a system of organizing and responding to emails so that you don’t miss anything important.
Business texting has most of the benefits of email.
It gives you time to think about your specific wording. It gives you a written and searchable record of conversations. It allows you to send an SMS link that people can easily click to pull something up on their phone.
Plus, people are much more likely to read and quickly respond to their text messages than they are to their emails.
What’s the downside? Texting is designed primarily for brief communications, so it isn’t the best avenue for longer pieces of information. And it could also be considered intrusive if you do it too much.
In some ways, phone calls are one of the least effective business communication channels.
They don’t offer the convenience of email or text messages, because you need to reach and speak to someone in real time. They also don’t always leave a written record, so referring back to a conversation can be a problem.
Phone calls don’t offer as much personal communication as in-person meetings or video meetings because they only involve vocal communication while still requiring you to take up live time.
As such, phone calls, once the primary go-to for business communication, are diminishing in popularity.
But there are still some types of communication that are best handled over the phone—particularly if the subject matter is somewhat complicated (therefore not appropriate for email or text message) but an in-person or virtual meeting is impractical or unnecessary.
Business chat apps such as Slack are rising in popularity for communication within teams.
These chat apps allow you to quickly communicate with colleagues, typically by typing up messages but also via virtual calls and meetings. Conversations can be organized into different “channels” which can help keep communications streamlined.
These types of apps help you communicate with your colleagues without having to send constant emails or make unnecessary phone calls.
(These types of apps are particularly helpful for business with remote employees.)
While these apps are convenient, one major downfall is that the constant notifications can be very distracting and can actually reduce efficiency. As with email, it can be difficult to prioritize which communications are important—but unlike email, chat apps tend to send many more distracting notifications directly to your computer and/or phone.
The right channel to use for your business communication will depend greatly upon the type of communication you’d like to engage in and who you’re trying to communicate with.
Sending a marketing campaign to customers? Chat apps usually aren’t the right way. But emails and text messages can be good.
Have a quick question for a colleague about an ongoing project? Setting up an in-person or virtual meeting is probably overkill. Email might be the way to go.
Here are some general strategies you can consider implementing to have the most effective business communication possible…
It’s almost universally known that companies in general have too many meetings.
And each meeting that’s held prevents employees from being productive in other ways. So you want to make sure that meetings are actually worth everyone’s time.
Consider whether a meeting is necessary, or whether the agenda could be accomplished via email or Slack. Or consider whether a meeting may be necessary for everyone involved, or if some people could simply be updated after the fact.
Eliminating unnecessary meetings could save hours of employee time which could be devoted to more productive activities.
The go-to avenues for customer communication have historically tended to be phone calls and emails.
However, the phone call experience is often not the best—customers have to go through a series of automated menus and then have to wait on hold for a representative who may or may not be able to help them.
With emails, it can take several days to receive a response, and the response may or may not be what the customer was looking for.
Chat and SMS, if done right, can provide a much better customer experience, giving customers quick and convenient access to live representatives who can answer their questions and help them with their problems.
Pings are productivity killers.
Pinging a colleague may interrupt their train of thought and force them to look at your message when they may be doing more urgent things.
And if they’re receiving a lot of pings from different colleagues, you can imagine the reduction in productivity.
It’s best to only ping colleagues for time-sensitive matters. If you have a question or a message that isn’t time-sensitive, you can send it in an email for them to look at when they have time.
The great thing about some communication methods—such as email, texts, and chat apps—is that they leave a “paper trial” that they allow for easy recall of the information discussed.
If you need to remember something from a conversation, you just do a search to locate the information.
Whenever you have in-person meetings, virtual meetings, or phone calls, you risk misremembering information that was discussed.
The remedy for this is to take good notes when engaging in these types of communication channels. That way, you have something to refer back to.
Here are some examples of both good and bad business communication…
Interested in ways to improve your business communication?
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