If there is one thing I’ve learned throughout my life, it’s that communication is vital, and how we communicate makes all the difference, but communication isn’t just by verbal words.
In my high school English class, I learned that grammar, punctuation, proper spelling, sentence structure, and the flow of a story all add up. In Latin class I learned that what I say with my body language, eyes, and expression makes a difference, too.
You see – I’m a communicator, but the way I communicate is different depending on the situation or scenario, intake, or thought process.
And THAT is what we’re here to talk about today.
Ms. Coleman was my teacher for both of the above referenced high school classes and she was a taskmaster, but she taught us well. I learned through consistent messaging and repetition that how we punctuate, spell, and compose sentences and paragraphs all make a difference in how we are received and perceived, and how we show up to the world.
However, I learned the most impactful lesson after being invited to the same parent-teacher meeting my mom was called-in for. The reality was – I had given Ms. Coleman “a look” during class, which she perceived as insubordination.
In reflecting, I remember the day perfectly. I was deep in thought while she was teaching, trying to put together her words, understand the lesson, remember the sequence, and figure out the formula she was presenting. I can even remember the gaze from my eyes that obviously affected her, but which I wasn’t at all aware of in my early teens. It was the look of concentration combined with my squinting eyes that apparently was received as defiance.
Through that incident, I realized that how I look at people matters and it’s been something I’ve paid great attention to ever since. Not only that, but I have learned that how I stand, hold my body, and respond to others is important. I was only fifteen. I suppose I learned early.
As a small business though, I’ve found that many entrepreneurs forget how to communicate effectively, or they don’t take the time they really should to give attention to how they are coming across.
Here are 13 points to keep in mind when communicating as a business owner:
- Client Communication - How you choose to communicate with clients is important, and it should always be consistent in its method and timeliness which ultimately established trust. Be professional. Be kind. Go the extra mile to listen, respond appropriately, and offer your support when needed.
2. Follow Through - Saying you will do something is only as good as the follow through, so be careful not to overextend your commitments. Instead, under-promise and over-deliver and you will be the winner every time.
3. Vacation Responders - Email vacation responders will save your sanity and provide space for you to take time off, travel, or grant you more time to respond if your workload is piling up and you know it’ll take longer to get back. Setting an expectation of when someone will hear back from you relieves whatever expectation they have and simultaneously takes a weight off your shoulders until the announced response time arrives. Magic.
4. Physical Expressions - Body language speaks volumes in the same way facial expressions. Crossing your arms makes you come across closed off or defiant, while standing tall with shoulders back and chin up expresses confidence and ability.
5. Difficult Conversations - Handling difficult conversations can be tricky, but we must be brave. Many will tell you to pad bad news with positive or relationship reinforcing intros and salutations. Sometimes though, less words is better and being factual and kind is the best policy.
6. Email Communication - Communicating via email can be challenging because there isn’t opportunity for voice inflection to help understand the intent behind each word. If we’re not careful we can read between the lines and inject our own perception. So, once you’ve written an email, read it out loud before sending to hear it through their ears.
7. Thank You - Spelling out “Thank you” doesn’t take much time, but we’ve seen “thanks”, “TY”, or “Thx” take over in recent years, so I make it a point to type out each word fully, which I believe shows more respect and appreciation because of the ‘extra time’ spent. I know that seems silly, but next time you get a “thx” maybe you’ll see what I mean. Don't forget how impactful a good, old fashioned, hand-written thank you card can be. Taking the time to express your appreciation speaks VOLUMES! You can take my word for it!
8. Phone Calls – For me, unscheduled phone calls are usually a quick or urgent need, but it can also give way to longer discussions if expectation isn’t set from the start. I suggest prefacing the call with an expectation of how much time you have to talk. Letting the other person know you have 10 minutes will help them get to the point and be respectful of the time you have to give while also respecting their time.
9. Text Messaging - With the rise of text messaging, it can feel like we are available 24/7 and too often, people expect with the immediacy of its delivery to hear back within minutes. Combine that expectation with my responsibility strength and it can be a recipe for a miscommunication, or disastrous lack of communication. If necessary, just be sure the question won’t open Pandora’s Box. A good rule of thumb: If it isn’t an easy need or question, and it can wait 3-12 hours for response, send an email.
10. Social Medias - Communicating on social media should always be consistent, and professional, and it should represent your brand in its best light. What you say on Facebook should differ from what you say on Linkedin. If you consider the purpose of each platform before posting, you’ll do better by providing your followers, friends, and connections something they can use in the way they are looking to receive it on that specific platform.
11. Online Directories - The internet has also become a place where customers and those who’ve experienced your product, service, or company feel like it’s their duty to provide feedback. It’s important to stay on top of reviews and testimonials that are left on public directories and profiles. Being attentive to public feedback and responding in a timely way can make a big difference in how you and your business is perceived. Always be kind and gracious, even when negative reviews are left.
12. Marketing Materials - Whether it be a business card, rack card, brochure, or your website, the words you use should be consistent and a strong and accurate reflection of your brand. Knowing what words you should use, and what voice you should write from is an important piece of the puzzle. Start by understanding who your target clientele is and what words resonate with them so you establish credibility and invite them to work with you or buy from you.
13. Your Team, Clients, Partners - The approach you take with your crew is instrumental in how effective you will be at leading a team, or building strong relationships with clients, partners, and network associates. In my opinion and experience, professionalism, taking the extra step, and doing the right thing is paramount, even if you’re a creative business. How you show up will establish an unwavering level of trust with those you’re communicating with.
Gratitude and kindness seem to be rare in todays world, as is taking the high road. When you adopt those values and operate from them while also holding a high standard for yourself and others, your words and your expressions will follow suit.
No matter what, be consistent and authentic, and consider the other party’s perspective and needs. In all things, it's crucial to practice kindness and strive for clarity and accuracy in not only your approach, but your grammar, spelling, punctuation, and delivery. You won’t always do it well, but that’s where a meaningful “I apologize” can do wonders.
Think before you communicate, and keep on keeping it up! - Jamie
Related Articles & Resources:
- Get Propel's Communication Checklist & Policy Guide and the final (9) more resources throughout 2019. Sign-up for our enewsletter by 3/26/19 to start your subscription to our giveaways and inspiration.
- Keeping It Real: Responding Like A Human
- The Content Code (book review)
- Online Communication Done the Right Way
- The Power of Gratitude
- 6 Steps to Success in Online Communication