< News

Webinar report: Constantly communicating effectively

In the second of this year’s webinars examining the The Four Vital Skills Needed for in-House, Joanna Gaudoin tackled the extensive subject of communication skills.

As methods of interaction proliferate, so too do the potential pitfalls and consequences of poor communication.

Little surprise then that a great number of people joined the session to update their skills in this critical discipline.

Joanna’s background in marketing and consultancy with large corporates has given her a deep understanding of the importance of communication skills in business. Having founded Inside Out Image in 2011, Joanna now helps organisations and individuals build great workplace relationships through skills rarely taught in formal settings. Her clients include HSBC, RPC, Mastercard, Irwin Mitchell, Ashurst and Willis Towers Watson.

Common causes of poor communication

Communication can be undermined in a range of ways. The most common of these in professional settings are:

  • Pretending to listen – if we’re distracted as someone is speaking to us or think we know what they are going to say, we may be tempted to switch off and merely appear to be listening. This could lead to us responding in the wrong way and creating dysfunction in the exchange, as well as the person not feeling heard;
  • Listening selectively – like confirmation bias, this involves the (often unconscious) tendency to hear only what we want to hear. We then run the risk of only addressing elements of a conversation that we find most agreeable- and leaving gaps in our communication;
  • Insufficient consideration for the message – in business, time is precious, so thinking about the purpose of the communication is vital. To minimise the time we demand of people and get their attention, it pays to decide exactly what we want the other person/people to take away from the conversation/act on before it happens;
  • Inadequate consideration of the audience’s position - what will be top of mind for your audience? Factors such as their seniority, priorities, perspective, internal relationships, job function- and even how they perceive you – should all impact how you should prepare for interactions with colleagues and internal clients, and
  • Avoidance of difficult conversations – a subject Joanna covered with us in a previous webinar. When we avoid difficult conversations, resentment builds up over time. So if a contentious behaviour or issue is likely to be repeated or cause ongoing problems, have that difficult conversation sooner rather than later.

People typically have a preferred approach to conflict but we need to be able to apply the right one for the situation. For example, when dealing with a crisis, a high level of assertiveness is an advantage. However, when you’re seeking a consensus on an issue – or when you’re not in possession of all the necessary facts, traits such as collaboration and a willingness to accommodate other people’s positions achieve better outcomes.

Making communication work for you

How we communicate affects the quality of our relationships as well as the effectiveness of our messages. If we know someone is not a morning person, hitting them with momentous news or seeking a complex decision from them at 8.00am is not an optimum communication tactic.

Similarly, it’s good practice to recognise generational and cultural differences and adjust our language accordingly. Some people appreciate direct speech that gets straight to the point, while others respond to a more conversational, empathetic approach.

Think too about how you want to come across and how other people will perceive you. Do you, for example, want to leave an impression of strength and self-confidence – or one of warmth and supportiveness? Different conversations will call for different tactics, so again, that ability to flex between a range of techniques – while remaining authentically you – is an invaluable communication skill.

And always remember the power of non-verbal signals. The messages your appearance and body language project should always reinforce what your words and your tone of voice are conveying.

If you choose to communicate via email or a text messaging app, always consider if this is appropriate for the type of conversation you’ll be having. You can’t rely on empathy-enhancing body language or facial expressions over these platforms, so they may not lend themselves to conversations of a sensitive nature. They may also convey a sense of casual dismissiveness to subjects that others consider highly important.

Be self-aware

Finally, be aware that changing someone else’s behaviours may need to start with you changing yours. Ask yourself what you can do differently and how this may lead to changes in the people around you.

This process starts with your beliefs – and any negative cycles you may be in. How, for example, would you behave – or communicate – with a given person if any negative views or assumptions you have of them were removed? Consider this continuum:

My beliefs/assumptions – shape – my behaviour – which influences – other people’s behaviour – which reinforces – my beliefs/assumptions

Your next steps

As you consciously seek to develop your communication skills, decide what you feel you need to work on. For many people, it’s listening more and assuming less. For others, it’s thinking about how they come across when raising difficult topics or sharpening their message.

Whatever your priority, take small steps and conquer each one before moving onto the next. This is far more effective than setting yourself multiple concurrent objectives. Communication is an art and our mastery of it requires continual honing at an achievable pace.

Further reading

You’ll find more relationship-building tips and insights from Joanna in her book, Getting On: Making work work.

See you next time!

Next up in The Four Vital Skills Needed for in-House, Joanna confronts ‘meeting bloat’ with strategies for effective meetings. It’s at 10.00am on 8 October 2024. Register here. 

Print Email Post LinkedIn