7 Business Communication Blunders to Avoid at All Costs

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw

Humans have shown that we’re pretty good at creating communication tools. The reality is that we’re actually not great communicators. There’s two main reasons for this:

  • not sufficiently exercising the will or ability to understand things from the perspective of the person we’re talking to.
  • making assumptions – assuming we’re being understood, or that we understand the other person.

The social cost of this flaw is evidenced by bickering, feuds, awkward chance meetings, and general bad vibes.

The business cost can be in not delivering what your client requires, not enjoying the process, and a weakening or even severing of the business relationship.

In writing this article I’ve put myself in the position of the client, and identified the points at which communication often falls down, and what can be done to improve things. These are pretty simple points, but it’s amazing how often they’re overlooked.

1 Not following up after meeting

Get back in touch via an email within 24 hrs of our meeting to: Thank me for meeting with you, summarise what we’ve discussed, and indicate what the next step is. This will help me to feel acknowledged, receive an indication that you have understood my requirements, and that I now have a clear understanding of what action will be taken by you.

2 Not replying to emails

A simple one, but easy to fall through the cracks. In a practical sense your reply will help to move the process forward. It will also indicate that you are attentive, and consider me to be important.

3 Using abstract language

e.g. “We hope to have the first draft to you by the end of the week, we will try to, if everything runs smoothly..”.etc.

Rather, give simple, definitive information about the next step:

“I will send you the final draft on Friday morning by 12pm.”

And then any other information that might clarify how the process will work:

“I will send the document to you by email.”

I need a firm commitment so I can plan my actions around it.

4 Using passive language

An example of active language: “I will email the document.”

Passive language: “the document will be emailed to you.”

The problem with passive language is that it often raises more questions than it answers:

So who will email the document to me? Who do I contact if I don’t receive it etc.

5 Making assumptions

When we’re having a discussion, try to make sure you understand what I’m explaining to you, or asking you to do. A useful technique is to repeat back to me what your understanding is. You may preface your reply with something like:

“Let me make sure I understand what you’re describing”,

and then put it in your words. I will then feed back to you whether your understanding is correct, or whether it needs to be further refined. Once you have clarification, put it in writing, whether an email, or a concept document, and run it by me again. This will solidify the common ground we have established.

6 Not providing a map

Make sure that I have a clear understanding of what the next action is in the process. At each communication point, summarise what has been accomplished, and then briefly describe what the next step will be. e.g:

“Once you receive the document, please provide a written list of any changes required.”

7 Not getting consensus

A business relationship is a shared process. Please check in with me if the plan you’ve described is going to work for me. This can be achieved by simply asking “are you happy with the plan that I’ve outlined”.

What are the other common errors in business communication? What else can be done to enhance communication with clients? Would love to read your comments.

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One Response to “7 Business Communication Blunders to Avoid at All Costs”

  1. On 25/07/2010 at 8:58 AM Bazza S responded with... #

    I think that one of the greatest business blunders is to assume that emailling or texting a person is a reasonable alternative to looking them in the eye and telling them what you think.

    Of course this is not always practical, and some communications do not warrant a face to face meeting. The big challenge to a business person is to determine which ones do require a face to face , and which can just be sorted out by email.

    In my experience too many people like to avoid confrontation, by sending an email, when they should be meeting with the business contact/client/supplier etc. In a difficult situation which involves for example a difference in opinion, or a decision not to use a person’s services, or even some form of rejection, many people are too embarrased to confront the issue head-on, and resort to sending an email, or even an SMS. This often leads to poor quality communications, and is often just being disrepectful to the other person.

    While the era of electronic communications has been the saviour of business and has seen a huge reduction in the cost of undertaking business transactions, they will never take the place of a personal visit for example to ask for an order, or to introduce your services, or to tell a supplier why you are unhappy with the quality of their services. Sadly this new era presents an encouragement for a person to just sit behind their computer at their desk, instead of getting off their bums and getting out and about and doing business in person.

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