Your success as an entrepreneur is determined in large part by your ability to communicate. You can be the best at what you do, but if you’re not communicating effectively with clients, staff, and the market, then you’re missing opportunities. There are many different ways to look at communication in the small business world — from the individual formats like writing and speaking, to different contexts such as client communication and employee management. But I’d like to take a closer look at a handful of overarching themes that transcend specific situations. Mastery of these different communications skills ensures that you’ll be effective at every level.
1. Listen deeply
Are you a good listener? Studies suggest that our daily communication breakdown is as follows:
· 9 percent writing
· 16 percent reading
· 30 percent speaking
· 45 percent listening
Yet, most of us are terrible listeners. The reasons vary, from being distracted by our own internal monologues to superimposing meaning on what’s being said before we allow others to finish. Instead, try this: focus on the person speaking, and verbally play back a summary of what was said to make sure you understand, before proceeding to build on the conversation with additional points. Solid listening skills help you more effectively serve clients, make sales, and manage employees because you’re picking up on and connecting to people’s most urgent concerns.
2. Interpret non-verbal cues
You’ve heard the refrains on the importance of body language. Sit up straight, think about your facial expressions, and remember to lean forward when listening to show interest. But how good is your ability to interpret others’ non-verbal cues? It turns out that it’s essential. One study from UCLA suggests that as much as 55% of the meaning in face to face interactions is conveyed non-verbally. Don’t just practice awareness of your own body language. Analyze specific cues — such as posture, expressions, and gestures — being made by others when they’re speaking.
3. Manage expectations
“Under-promise and over-deliver” might be the most on-point summary of managing expectations ever devised. As an entrepreneur, you have many people asking for significant accomplishments from you in short time periods with limited resources (or so it often feels!). The easiest way to alleviate pressure as an entrepreneur is to manage expectations. Be clear about deliverables, timeframes, and results. If issues arise, communicate clearly and frequently. It’s always better to commit to less than raise people’s expectations and fail to follow through.
4. Productive pushback
Conflict management is an essential part of being an entrepreneur. The Washington Business Journal reported that managers spend between 25–40% of their days resolving conflicts. A major component of successfully resolving conflicts is your ability to productively push back. Whether you’re dealing with scope creep in a client case or dealing with management challenges, the ability to communicate under pressure is a key entrepreneurial skill. Pushback should always be polite, productive, and non-personal. Focus on clarity and resolution.
5. Be concise
Whether it’s statistics on how little time people spend focused attention on a single issue (according to one source, 8 seconds) or simply the need to get more done in less time, concise communication wins out. Even the technological context supports this. As screens get smaller, we have to say more in fewer words. Develop the ability to get to the point in a sharp and focused manner and communicate that across mediums. Find ways to cut the fat off your verbal and written communications and notice whether it gets you better results.
6. Confidently state your value and differentiation
Branding and selling are all about being able to confidently communicate both your points of value and what makes you different than anyone else on the market. The same skills are essential to helping you motivate yourself on a daily basis, hire the right employees, and ultimately even connect with friends and partners. Spend time getting clear about the value you bring to the table and your unique selling points, and build your ability to confidently share that in different contexts. Practice boiling that proposition down to no more than two to three sentences.
7. Know your why
Most people focus on what to say and how to say it. How can I sound smart? How can I deliver this speech for maximum impact? But it’s more important to know why you’re communicating. What do you want people to take away? What action should they take after you interact? Every communication should have a call to action, even if that call to action is to leave with a positive feeling about your or your brand. Ask yourself why you’re communicating before you write, pick up the phone, or step into your next meeting and make sure your tone, word choice, and delivery are in service to that goal.
Developing the soft skills needed to succeed as an entrepreneur takes time. Focusing on your communication skills — from reading body language to summing up your value in a few sentences — is one of the most powerful things you can do to advance your career and success. Work to find the gaps in your communications arsenal and then mindfully practice until each of your skills is up to par.