If You Want to Be Heard, Tell a Story

How to Communicate Better

“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.”
― Fyodor Dostoevsky

There is no better example of that quote than in the workplace. There are so many issues at work caused by simple miscommunications.

  • Someone has forgotten to tell someone that the project deadline has moved;
  • Someone over-communicated something and now everyone’s confused;
  • Worse, there is a misunderstanding and now we’re having more conversations because the previous ones didn’t make sense.

Communication is core to a successful business. Understanding what messages to communicate to customers has a whole dedicated department called Marketing. Understand what to communicate to employees, again can have a dedicated department called Internal Communications.

The long and short of it is, communication is absolutely vital to success in the workplace. Communication isn’t simply just relaying a message. Communication is much more complicated than just words.

Communication is about:

  • Medium — how you send the message
  • Tonne — the emotion you want to portray
  • Audience — what do you want the receiver to take away from this message?

Content Creation is the Future In the Corporate World Too

Communication is complicated. Getting it right in the workplace is key if you want to succeed. In fact, it’s probably the difference between a promotion and no promotion. If you are good at communicating you will go quite far. The world we live in today is constant communication.

Content creation is the job of the future and that’s no different in work. Content i.e. making things and saying things is your bread and butter at work. The way you present ideas, the way you communicate over the phone, your non-verbal communication. Everything about you and what you want to tell the world is done through communicating.

Communicating and doing it well is massively important.

The Math — Why Communication is Important

Every day, 205.6 billion emails are sent across the globe. Baring mind at our current rate there about 7.5 billion people in the world. Twenty-seven times the total global population is sent every day in emails.

It’s no surprise that only 1/3 of emails are ever opened. And it does answer one question — yes there is such a thing as over-communication.

When you get it wrong a whole host of bad things can happen. The math works out pretty shocking too. The cost of misunderstanding in the workplace equates to $37 billion.

That’s the cost of going back and forth re-explaining the same thing, an employee not understanding what the expectation of their boss is, or someone understanding policies or processes. The cost is high.

Flipping that on its head though, companies that have leaders who were great communicators have 47% higher total returns to shareholders. On top of that, employees reported higher satisfaction when working for good communicators. So all in all, it’s not only better to have a good communication for employee’s happiness but it’s economically beneficial too.

How to Communicate Well

What I’ve learnt quite quickly is that they’re a number of different ways to communicate an idea. Added to that, they’re a number of mediums that work when paired together. Added to that, the message needs to be clear and concise.

Most importantly though, the message needs to encompass why you want to do this thing. Communicating the why behind anything makes it something come to life. It doesn’t seem pointless when you explain why doing what you are doing.

Considerations to Communication:

  1. Message — start with ‘why’ make sure you are clear and concise about why you want to do this and set the expectation of what you want.
  2. Medium — is it better over email or face-to-face? One of the best things I think you can do is talk something face-to-face and follow up with a recapping over email.

Bring People With You to Get Them Engaged

The best way to get ideas to work is to bring people on the journey with you. Make people feel like they are part of a team and together your goal is to solve the problem. By far and away the best method I’ve ever used is getting people bought in from the very start. If you over-communicate at the start of any project that’s a good thing.

It’s about making people feel like their opinion has been taken into consideration. Even if you don’t end up going with what they proposed, it’s about making people feel like they have a voice. The trouble with keeping people out of the loop at the start of anything is that later down the line, it’s a lot of information to consume if it’s new to them. They will have reasonable questions like:

  • Where did this come from?
  • Who signed off on this?
  • Have you thought about that?

And you’ll feel yourself going over old ground. It will feel frustrating because these questions have already been answered but because you hadn’t bought this person into the conversation, it’s all new information to them. Added to that, what is also likely to happen is they may well mention something you hadn’t thought of and that can cost you heavily in time and effort. If you need to go back to the drawing board at a later stage in your project, it’s going to mean delays.

To find out who needs to be part of the conversation from day 1. Ask around who are the best people to get involved and make sure they are on your list of people to chat to. I would choose phone calls over email, give them a ring to explain what you’re doing and ask them how involved they want to be.

There will be some people that absolutely need to be involved and others that don’t necessarily need to be but it’s good to have their input. If there are several people organise a meeting, explain what you are doing and what you need from them. Listen carefully to what they are saying and pay close attention to any names they mention or any pieces of work that might relate to what you’re trying to do — it might be helpful in the long run.

To Engage People Tell Them a Story

When communicating what you are trying to do, make sure you are clear about the story. Think about where this idea has come from and how you got involved. Giving people context really helps when they come back to remembering the piece of work.

Start with:

“So I got involved in this piece of work about two weeks ago. My boss asked me to look into ‘x’ because it was causing us a bit of an issue. I’ve done some digging around over the last few weeks and I know you guys have been involved in some projects that might be able to help me”

That is much nicer and easier to understand than:

“I’ve got to deliver this change by this date, I need you guys to help”

The next thing you need to do is communicate the ‘why’. Why are you trying to embed a new process or why do you want a new app. What is the problem you are trying to solve? By communicating the ‘why’ people can understand the agenda and what the problem is.

That allows them to think deeper and more effectively, rather than wondering what the problem is and coming up with solutions that are totally off the mark.

Then you need to communicate what you want from them. I always find this with presentations, it’s about understanding what you are saying and what you want from your audience. Presentations have loads of different purposes.

  • To inform
  • To get sign off
  • To solve a problem and discuss
  • To unblock a problem
  • To get buy-in

You need to understand what the purpose of what you are doing is. Do you simply want to update someone or do you want them to engage with your content and give you feedback? You need to tell your audience what you want from them. That can be easily done by saying something like:

“So what I want to do today is give you an update but also get your thoughts on what’s next.”

It helps people understand their role and what you want from them.

Communication is the main is hard. Good communication is about being clear, concise and using the why.

Some other bits I’ve learnt about communication are:

  • Keep it simple — don’t use words you that overcomplicate things. Simple always wins. Say your point and move on — don’t say it in five different ways, don’t use a million different words. Say it in the least amount of words possible and the job is a good’ un.
  • Keep it structured — what are you trying to communicate and why. Have a start, middle and end and don’t deviate.
  • Keep it clear — what are you wanting from the communication? Are you asking for something? Are you wanting agreement on something? Are you asking for permission to do something? Are you just wanting to inform people of something? Whatever the reason for the communication you need to be clear to be effective.

Wherever you are in your career, communication is always going to be a huge part of it. When you are new to work a good technique is to try different ways of articulating things. Test out different styles. See which ones suit your personality and which yield you the best results.

Written by

BSc Biomedical Science, studying MSc Behavioural Science. Essays exploring a happy self. www.millennialcareerhealth.com

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