I have an accounting degree and I am a CPA, but my real job title should be Business Communications Director. If I had to sum up my average workday in a pie chart it would look something like this:
Effective communication is not a soft skill, it is a necessity if you are dealing with human beings during your workday. Poor communication leads to unnecessary confusion, drama, and sometimes very poor decisions. If you think you are a good communicator, you probably aren’t. If you think you are not a good communicator…again, you probably aren’t. Communication is difficult and I am certainly not an expert. But to keep me a mile-away from a communication disaster I keep in mind the following 10 things:
- Know Your Audience: Always start with thinking about the person on the other end. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself questions such as: How much time do they have to read my email? What do they care about? How do they communicate with other people? Do they text me, call me or email me? Are they brief or long-winded when they communicate? Did their football team win or lose this weekend? The answer to those questions should frame your communication strategy (and I’m not kidding about the football reference).
- To Copy or Not to Copy? One of the best ways to know if someone is good at communicating is to see who they include on the email. If you only include one person or if you leave important people out of it, those people will most likely get offended or frustrated. If you don’t include the right level of people in the message then important communication could be lost. And if you forget to include the most important person on an email – well, I made that mistake this year so I’m not sure what that says about my communication. Sorry Parm that I forgot to include you on my “Congratulations Parm” email that I sent to executives. Micki fail.
- Teach Your Brain to Think About the Chain: When sending an important email always anticipate what the other person could do with it. Don’t think about blackmailing or mass forwarding, think about who that person could forward it to that is UP the chain. Think about who the people on the receiving-end talk to and always anticipate the “chain of misinterpretation”. There is a high likelihood that someone higher-up will receive your message if it’s important. Usually by the time it makes its way up the chain that person will receive false and/or ridiculous facts. Close the gap by teaching your brain to think about the chain.
- Faces First: Your communication strategy should change based on whether you have met the person. Usually I try to limit e-mail communication with people as much as possible until I have a chance to meet them. When I meet someone for the first time I always ask them about their career path and next steps. I focus on that because I can usually figure out what motivates them which is the basis for how I communicate in business. Especially when I need to be persuasive. And of course I ask people about their hobbies, kids, etc. But that information doesn’t do much for a business relationship. Figure out what motivates them and you will be much more influential when they read your email.
- Double the Perfection: Double check everything. The recipients. The attachments. The phrasing. The length. The facts. Everything. If you are communicating with people that are above you then double that double-checking.
- Attach With Caution. Your attachments should be in the order of the narrative you are writing. Not only should the attachments be in order, you should only include attachments and pages/tabs that are relevant. The key word in that sentence being “tabs”. Hide tabs. Hide columns. Hide anything that could possibly distract anyone. This is especially important if you are on a conference call. The email attachments are the platform for your meeting on a conference call. Meetings over the phone make it harder to communicate, so don’t make it worse by sending distracting or inaccurate attachments.
- If it’s Dense, Condense: If I am about to send a long email I always proofread it to look for ways to reduce the length of the message. Especially if I am sending an email to an executive. I cut out the rambling sentences and I delete words that add no value to the message. I also look for words to abbreviate. If you can’t find anything to delete in your email – then read it again.
- Annoyingly Communicate. Lately I have seen lack of communication occurs more frequently than poor communication. I can’t remember the last time someone said they were copied on too many emails. Receive too many junk emails? Yes. Receive too many important emails? Never. And just because you sent an email doesn’t mean they have read it. Follow up to make sure.
- Put on Your Format Hat: In Kansas City I worked for someone who was very particular about formatting. I thought I knew all about formatting from my time at KPMG, but this guy took it to a whole new (and very important) level. John taught me that the littlest border error, the font size consistency, and the order of the content needs to be 100% perfect. Bad formatting equals messiness. Messiness equals lack of faith in someone’s message or product. Tip; look for highlights that don’t belong in an attachment. A highlighted cell or sentence throws off people 100% of the time.
- Eat a Slice of Humble Pie: Everyone miscommunicates. When you realize you could have done better, own up to it. Call the person and apologize. Don’t send another email – call them. Then do better next time.