Each month, we feature insights and advice from industry experts on the all-important issues that could give small businesses the help they need to progress to the next level.
This time around, we’re chatting with Tim Holt, owner of Plastic Card Services, one of the UK’s leading manufacturers and suppliers of plastic cards. With many years of experience to his name, we sat down to discuss the ins and outs of improving business communication, touching on the value of assertiveness, non-verbal language and much more along the way.
Firstly, what methods and approaches can be used to strengthen rapport with both employees and clients?
Communication is such an easy thing to do, but so many of us rarely get it completely right. Both employees and clients often feel they don’t have all the information. As a manager, it’s a case of sharing the available information as and when it’s deemed the appropriate time, while it is also essential for both clients and employees alike to share their information to you.
One should consider how they’d like to be kept abreast of matters. Secondly, the need to communicate both good news and bad should be approached in the same way. In fact, the bad news factor is often the cause of miscommunication, quite simply because people do not like to give bad news.
This characteristic causes bigger problems, the bury-the-head-in-the-sand approach is never the correct one to take. Information, good or bad, is best relayed as soon as possible so everyone else has a chance to consider the issues.
Business communication often involves writing documents, emails and pitches. How can we improve in these areas to ensure we get the most from our written communication?
Communication of this kind is the perfect opportunity to showcase your company, so do it justice and take the chance to present a solid professional offering, delivered by people who care about what they are sending out.
The use of videos, links to websites and presentations via a multitude of platforms is growing too, allowing for businesses to communicate with a larger audience. It is essential we utilise all the tools available to us when communicating and that way we can reach as many people as possible.
How important are things such as empathy and tact when faced with difficult situations or topics in the office?
Empathy in difficult situations will always be a huge help in any resolution. The ability to identify with the person and understand and sympathise with any difficult issue can only be good for the outcome. Delivering it when there are warring factions is never easy, understanding and listening to the issues can be fractious.
Ultimately though, these situations need resolving to ensure harmony in the workplace. With clear leadership from management and decisions made for the long-term benefit of the business, this is not unattainable. If you try to appease everyone all the time, then you will invariably get the opposite result.
Empathise, look, listen and sympathise but make a clear decision and explain the reasons why. Generally, the silk glove approach is always preferable to the hammer. However, if required do not shy away from addressing the issue head-on when all else fails. Have a procedure for internal issues and ensure they are dealt with quickly as they can cause bigger issues.
Is there value in being assertive in your business communications? How does it differ from an overly domineering communication style?
Yes. The message being relayed needs to get through to the person receiving it with a clear understanding of what is required. If you rely on assumptions you will be invariably disappointed, therefore the communication should be clear, concise, and actionable.
If you need to be assertive do not shy away from it, there is a valid reason for such communications. Overly domineering communication, on the other hand, is all one way, we must remember communication is an exchange not a single view so there is a fundamental difference between the two.
How much attention should be paid to nonverbal communication such as body language, facial expressions and tone of voice in your communications?
Unless you are a body language expert, then it is likely you would interpret body language as anyone else would. However, paying attention to this body language can greatly assist in interpreting the words that are being said, for example emotions such as agitation, anger and happiness are generally easy to interpret, and facial expressions and tone of voice are all part of understanding what is trying to be communicated.
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By making assumptions, we might miss out on real opportunities in the business world. How can we challenge these assumptions in the correct way to get the information we want?
If you do not assume, you will not miss out, will you? Well yes, you still can, but you are giving yourselves a better opportunity not too. Identify what it is you are looking for in terms of information and ask for it, people are happy to help if you approach it in the correct way. Question what is being offered - those who do create better business opportunities for themselves and their business. If you are challenging any assumption be prepared with a relevant question, not an irrelevant one. Don’t be scared to ask if you do not understand the answer.
A massive thank you to Tim for his insightful responses. If you found his advice helpful, and you’re looking for further industry tips, be sure to check out some more of our related Business Basics guides and Q&As below:
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