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Why communication is key to success

As leader, you set the tone for your company

4-minute read

Good communication can make the difference between confident, motived employees and an unproductive team with low morale.

It builds thriving relationships and gives people the information they need to contribute to the success of the business.

Employees will look to you for clear communication

“The best-managed companies are almost always the ones with the best communication flow,” says BDC Senior Business Advisor Jivi Cheema. “That starts with making sure everyone—from the management team to the custodial staff—knows and understands the company vision and how their work contributes to it.”

As the leader, you set the tone for the company. Cheema says entrepreneurs can foster good, constructive communication by modelling these five communication skills:

1. Listen instead of formulating your reply

Anytime you’re in a conversation and are focused on what you’re going to say next instead of on what the person you’re talking to is saying, you’re not really listening. You might misunderstand or miss important elements of their message, which can lead to poor decisions. The first key to good communication is giving people your full attention.

2. Ask questions

If you’re not clear about what someone is trying to tell you, ask questions to get more information. Try phrases like, “Could you tell me a little more about that?” or “Could you explain what you meant by that?”

3. Repeat or rephrase what you hear.

Repeating or paraphrasing the other person helps confirm you’ve understood them. If you haven’t, ask more questions until you’re sure you’ve got it right.

4. Agree on next steps

Finish conversations with agreement between all parties on what should happen next. Everyone should leave with the same understanding of the situation and clear direction on what they need to do.

5. Manage your emotions

You may have strong feelings about certain subjects and, when those come up, your instinct may be to react emotionally. Remember that outbursts almost always lead to communication breakdowns, so it’s important to know what your triggers are and respond calmly when they arise.

Communication is the glue that binds us all together, but you have to use the right kind of glue for each situation or it might not stick.

Have the right conversations the right way

It’s all too easy these days to send an instant message (IM) or fire off an email when something needs to be “said,” Cheema acknowledges. Sometimes a quick digital message is exactly the right way to keep things moving. But sometimes it’s not.

“Communication is the glue that binds us all together,” Cheema says. “But you have to use the right kind of glue for each situation or it might not stick.”

Some communications should always be held in person. Performance reviews, corrective feedback and conflict resolution are often highly sensitive conversations, and the potential for misunderstanding is too high to risk holding these conversations remotely.

Email can be great, but when miscommunication happens, it can take multiple exchanges to sort out, and the risk of upset feelings and confusion are much greater. In those situations, Cheema suggests making a phone call.

“People often forget that the phone is still an option,” she says. “You can waste a lot of time going back and forth over email, or you can just pick up the phone and solve it in minutes.”

While IM offers a way to get quick answers with less disruption to colleagues, important business decisions should never be made exclusively on such a platform because they don’t provide a clear or easily traceable record. Anything that may need to be referenced later should be recorded and stored in a more appropriate, searchable and secure medium.

Cheema advises establishing etiquette conventions for email, video conferencing and other forms of digital communication. These could include keywords for subject lines to help people see quickly what a message is about, guidelines on who to send to and who to cc, specific formats and more. For video conferencing, etiquette could include asking participants to mute when someone else is speaking, use the chat function for questions or use a specific sign to indicate that they have something to say.

By following these practices, you can help your business and employees communicate more effectively.