Contrary to their portrayal in pop culture, entrepreneurs aren’t purely “idea people,” dreaming up revolutionary new concepts and introspectively coming to profound conclusions about their industry — though they are that, at times. Instead, most entrepreneurs spend most of their days in the trenches, working hard with others to make those ideas a reality. How entrepreneurs communicate tends to dictate whether or not they are ultimately successful; even great ideas can flounder if a leader isn’t communicating effectively.
That being said, there’s more to communication than just “communication” — there are actually several distinct skills within the subject that you’ll have to master, sometimes independently:
1. Conversing. Conversation is one of the most basic forms of communication, but don’t underestimate it. A simple, friendly conversation with your employees can build trust and expose issues before they become serious. An innocuous bit of small talk with a stranger could turn into a sales opportunity. Learn to speak in an approachable, friendly way that you can apply to any situation.
2. Body Language. Much of communication is nonverbal, so mastering your body language presentation is a must. In any situation, posture matters — sit or stand up straight with your shoulders back and your head high and straight. Look people in the eye. Don’t fidget. Keep your hands out of your pockets. And these are just the basics! Mastering body language can allow you to command a room.
3. Writing. You don’t have to be a perfect writer, but you do need to learn to be direct and concise in written forms. You’ll be emailing and texting people within and outside your organization regularly, and it’s important that you communicate your ideas clearly in this medium with minimal opportunities for misinterpretation.
4. Presenting. You’ll be presenting in a few different formats as an entrepreneur, but they can be collectively grouped into one skill. You might present company financials to your top employees or investors. You might present your business’s services to an interested buyer. You might even give a speech about entrepreneurship at a speaking event — in all these cases, clarity, conciseness, confidence, and poise are all key.
5. Negotiating. You have to negotiate for almost everything in a business, so the better you are at negotiating, the more successful your business will be. You’ll be able to secure better terms for your office’s lease, more reasonable salaries for your most talented employees, and even more lucrative options for your top clients. Negotiating effectively is more than just using the right words — it’s about timing, knowing the right facts, and staying confident throughout the process.
6. Mediating. Though your role as a mediator should be rarer than your role as a converser, for example, there will be times when you have to step up and resolve a conflict. It might be between two employees with differing opinions about whose responsibility something is, or between two competing vendors who suffered a lapse in communication. In any case, you’ll have to acknowledge both sides and help them work out their own problems.
7. Debating. Debating here doesn’t necessitate arguing. It can be a healthy discussion of two or more alternative options in a productive, respectful setting. Your job in a debate isn’t to win against the enemy — it’s to present your case and opinions clearly. Doing so, whether it’s with your investors, your partners, or your employees, can help you elucidate your ideas with greater strength and clarity.
8. Leading. Your responsibilities as a leader are multifaceted, but from a communication perspective, your biggest responsibilities are instilling confidence, trust, and passion in your team. You’ll be inspiring people through everyday messages, public and private, and retaining your poise as a leader throughout those situations is key to achieving and maintaining a powerful image.
9. Cross-Platforming. Today’s field of communication is much wider than those of generations past. Phone calls, texts, emails, video chats, instant messages, and other mediums are all commonplace, and you’ll need to know which ones are appropriate for which applications. Choosing the right medium and implementing it properly are key.
10. Listening. Listening might be the most important communication skill of all, since it ties into so many applications and situations. Active listening can help you converse, debate, lead, negotiate, and mediate, and it makes you seem more thoughtful, more empathetic, and more invested in the people around you.
If you have a reasonable mastery of these 10 critical communication skills, you’ll be in a good position to succeed in your position as entrepreneur. Like any other skill, it’s impossible to perfect these abilities without practicing them — you’ll have to practice them actively, honing and fine-tuning your approach along the way. Don’t expect perfection right away; just do the best you can, be aware of how you present yourself, and the rest will come in time.