Critical Communication Skills for Business

John Sanchez's Profile

 

Good communication is many faceted, but it is pretty simple to communicate effectively when you master a few basic skills. Two of the most important skills involved in great communication are the ability to understand your audience and listening effectively. It’s important to know your audience so you can communicate in a way that works well for them and learning about them requires good listening skills.

Understand your audience

Steven Covey summarized the first point in his fifth habit, seek first to understand, then to be understood. People communicate, learn and interact in a wide variety of ways and the way they process information affects how well they engage with and retain what they see, hear and experience. Advertisers are keenly aware of this and they go to great lengths to understand their audience. They study research data and create their own primary research, in the form of focus groups. They spend a lot of money to bring people in to a controlled environment and experiment with a variety of approaches and gauge the audience’s interest using their feedback to modify their approach.

Communication Style

You don’t have to spend a ton of money to replicate what advertisers do, but you should do some homework and gather information about the people you communicate with. There is a lot of information you can gather informally that will help you tailor your communication. Quite a lot can be learned simply by exercising some awareness and observing people. Pay attention to the words they use. People who are visual tend to say things like “I see what you’re saying.”, while people who are more kinesthetic might use language like “I feel good about this plan.” This has to do with how they naturally process information about the world around them.

Experience/Topic Knowledge

It’s easy to gain an understanding of a person’s level of experience in their job. Job titles often give us this information, at least at a high level. If a person is a staff accountant or a CFO, their job titles give us an indication of the person’s experience relative to other people in the same profession. Be careful to not assume that a very experienced person is knowledgeable about everything, though. A CFO may have lots of experience with accounting and finance matters, but if you’re presenting a proposal for a large capital project that involves some new technology that few people are familiar with, you’ll likely still need to educate them about the technology.

Listening Skills

It’s hard to over emphasize the importance of developing and using good listening skills. Most people have never had any training to help them understand what good listening is. To make matters worse, when people learn about active listening skills, many people find it very challenging to become an active listener. It feels like work to most people when they first try it, mostly because they’ve not done it much before. They’re using new listening ‘muscles’ they’ve barely exercised before. But, if you want to be a great communicator, it’s all but impossible without being a great listener. The good news is, much like becoming physically fit, there are proven steps you can take to reliably get better at active listening. There is a process you can learn, practice and master, if you choose to put in the effort.

The first step in the active listening process is to focus on being an active listener. Next, you must pay attention to the person you’re communicating with and stay focused on what they’re saying, not what you are going to say next. As you listen, you need to separate the ideas being expressed from the person sharing the ideas. Don’t make things personal. Just listen for the content of their message. Then, feed back what they just said, in your own words. There is a lot of psychology behind why you need to rephrase things in your own words, but suffice it to say you don’t want to just repeat what they said verbatim. Then, listen to their feedback on your feedback. Did they correct you? Did they add information? Did they clarify something they said? This process may take a few iterations, but if you do it right, you’ll both know you have shared good communication.

 

To learn more, check out this course, Finance Professionals' Guide to Communication Skills: How to Use Your Communication to Improve Performance.

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John Sanchez, Trainer, Speaker, FP&A Consultant
John is Managing Director of financial planning and training consultancy FPA Group, LLC. He has substantial experience in capital and strategic planning with proven skills in large-scale budgeting and forecasting.