Effective communication is critical to any organization—and of paramount importance for HR leaders. When assignments aren’t communicated efficiently and clearly, productivity suffers. Although developing good business communication skills takes some effort, being adept at getting a point across well can pay huge dividends. Here are eight steps HR leaders can take to improve their communication skills in the workplace.
SET THE STAGE
Anyone who works in HR already knows the importance of planning. Making intentions very clear before starting a conversation lets people know what they are getting into and mitigates any frustration that may arise. Remember, too, that people (especially those in executive roles) are generally very busy and often don’t have time for trivial conversations. Communication expert John Lund lists three critical questions that people want answered before beginning a work-related conversation:
1. Is what you want to talk about going to be painful?
2. How long is it going to take?
3. When you are done talking, what do you want from me?*
REMEMBER: COMMUNICATION IS MORE THAN WORDS
Effective business communication goes well beyond the words that come out of someone’s mouth. In fact, some communication experts argue that words may actually be the least important part of a message. People often rely more on facial expression and tone of voice, for example, when interpreting what’s being communicated to them. Therefore it’s important for HR leaders to take the time to perfect all forms of their communication.
CUT TO THE CHASE
It doesn’t matter whether someone sounds smart when using a lot of technical jargon if he or she can’t get a simple point across. Clear and concise communication avoids the need for multiple explanations. When less time is spent revisiting previous communication, more time can be spent producing work—and a company is only as effective as the work it produces.
FOCUS ON THE 7 Cs OF COMMUNICATION
Effective business communication has the following characteristics (as described by the team at Mind Tools):**
- Clear. (Every word is understood.)
- Concise. (It gets to the point quickly.)
- Concrete. (“Your message is solid.”)
- Correct. (It contains no errors.)
- Coherent. (It stays on topic.)
- Complete. (It provides all the necessary information.)
- Courteous. (It is “friendly, open, and honest.”)
USE E-MAIL EFFECTIVELY
E-mail is one of the greatest business communication tools out there, but it’s only as effective as the clarity and accuracy of the messages it conveys. E-mail should be detailed enough to present the necessary information but use as few words as necessary so the reader doesn’t get confused, bored, or frustrated.
DON’T UNDERVALUE FACE-TO-FACE COMMUNICATION
E-mail has become so convenient and prevalent that in many cases it has replaced face-to-face communication. HR leaders specialize in connecting with humans, though, and should never underestimate the effectiveness of a short, clear, in-person conversation. Such faceto-face interactions not only reduce the time spent typing, staring at screens, and waiting for responses, but also build camaraderie among colleagues.
LISTEN BEFORE SPEAKING
Listening isn’t just a polite gesture that makes the other party feel good: it actually helps build credibility and trust. The more trust people have, the more willing they are to listen to, accept, and implement suggestions. Listening also makes it possible to understand and address employees’ needs, and then tailor messaging to meet those needs.
Regardless of the situation, it never hurts to be positive—and it rarely helps to be negative. The most successful HR leaders think positively and look for solutions. Although tearing others down and criticizing their work might help someone vent his or her frustration, it never improves productivity. Constructive criticism is necessary, but it doesn’t need to be negative and full of anger. People respond best to positivity, so always aim to inspire confidence and offer kind correction and direction when necessary.
Even with the best effort and intentions, it’s impossible to make business communication 100% effective. How HR deals with communication plays a large role in shaping a company’s success, so HR leaders should be prepared to handle the communication problems that inevitably arise. The list of suggestions presented here is by no means comprehensive but can serve as a launching point for finding new ways to enhance communication in the workplace. As communication within a company becomes more effective and efficient, the quality and accuracy of the organization’s work will increase, and both employees and the company will enjoy more success.
O.C. Tanner (www.octanner.com) helps companies appreciate people who do great work. Because celebrating great work inspires people to invent, to create, to discover. And when people are inspired, companies grow.
This article was originally published on O.C. Tanner’s blog, ‘a’ Magazine (blog.octanner.com).
* Amy Rees Anderson. 2013. “Successful Business Communication: It Starts at the Beginning.” Forbes website, May 28, www.forbes.com/sites/amyanderson/2013/05/28/ successful-business-communication-it-starts-at-the-beginning/#5cb7cc613280.
** Mind Tools Editorial Team. 2014. “The 7 Cs of Communication: A Checklist for Clear Communication.” Mind Tools website, www.mindtools.com/pages/article/ newCS_85.htm.