Business Etiquette / Selling Skills


In 2016, @ETIQhour will concentrate on the top 15 Business Etiquette Essentials every future leader will want to know. Each fortnight a new Essential has been released: Essential #16: Communicate well

I’m all about giving, and I’d like to offer you a BONUS Business Etiquette Essential as a thank you for your ongoing @ETIQhour loyalty!

In the movie, The Kings Speech, the difference in King George VI ability to lead came down to his ability to communicate. The ability to communicate powerfully invariably surfaces in one form or another when I work with leaders, and I never hear that a leader communicates too much, or too effectively. “Communication” is the most frequently occurring written comment for improvement in the employee professional development review surveys that I have reviewed, and far and away the top issue in focus groups that I’ve facilitated, my clients have me training business leaders in effective communication. Not just great oratory skills, though that doesn’t hurt one bit, but effective communication with small groups and individuals. And because leadership is a relational skill, how we communicate with others is integral to our success both personally and professionally.

Communication is a leadership skill that can be used in multiple ways, verbally, non-verbally, and in written form, so if you want to get better at this critical skill, here are some strategies to pay attention to.

Story-Telling.  We tend to be persuaded by stories much more than we do facts and figures. So tell stories to illustrate the points that you wish to make. I was working with a leader and reviewing some of the feedback she’d received from members of her team. They rated her communication ability quite high and the written comments from her team revealed that she excelled in telling effective stories that translated her ideas into tangible examples.

Make your communication a two-way street. Ask more intelligent questions that get people thinking and evaluating, while you then ask questions to gain feedback. In every communication there is a sender and a receiver (there can be multiple receivers – who could hear different messages) and too often, poor leaders function only in sending mode, however, receiving communication is just as important. Most of us are able to listen to others when we need to, so asking questions puts you in an active role as a receiver. So make questions a part of your stock as a leader. Ask people how they feel about a given topic, or what they think should be done about a change. Ultimately, your goal should be to strike a comfortable balance between talking, asking, and listening in order to ensure that your communication flows freely both ways. My favourite questions when working with someone new on my team is “If you were your manager, what’s the best way you’d work to get the best out of yourself?”

Be open and honest with your partner. Some people have never been very open to others in their life. Heck, some people might not even know themselves, or know much about their own real needs and desires. But to be in a relationship is to take a step toward opening up your life and opening up yourself.

Little lies turn into big lies. Hiding your emotions behind a cloak of invincibility might work for you, but won’t work for most others. Pretending everything is all right isn’t all right. And giving your partner the silent treatment is about as useful as a fish with a bicycle. In the desert. At night. These things may have “worked” for you in the past, but they are all barriers to good communication.

Being open means talking about things you may have never talked about with another human being before in your life. It means being vulnerable and honest with your partner, completely and unabashedly. It means opening yourself up to possible hurt and disappointment. But it also means opening yourself up to the full potential of all a relationship can be and that your partner can be open and honest with helping you with business related issues. 

Repeat your messages. Don’t expect people to remember each element of a conversation, plan and strategy or every key point that you make just because you told them once. People forget things or sometimes don’t take in every detail because people learn and remember things differently. Be prepared for that reality and review the critical themes of your messages whenever you have the chance and the forum to do so.

You needn’t sound like a broken record, but you can repeat your highest priority messages in an effort to make sure they are absorbed.

Combine your communication skill with other leadership traits. The power of the combination in developing leadership skills and communication ability is nearly always highly correlated with success in other competencies. If you are in a technical environment, consider how to simplify or illustrate concepts with creative language. If you are striving to innovate, spend time considering how to best explain your new ideas, or better yet, the outcomes of those ideas. Developing your strength in communication will strengthen your performance in other areas, because no matter how much knowledge on a given topic you have, if you can’t communicate it well, you won’t be able to bring it to bear for the benefit of your organisation. 

Pay attention to nonverbal signals. Most of our communication with one another in any friendship or relationship isn’t what we say, but how we say it. Nonverbal communication is your body language, the tone of your voice, its inflection, eye contact, and how far away you are when you talk to someone else. Learning to communicate better means that you need to learn how to read these signals as well as hear what the other person is saying. Reading your partner’s nonverbal signals takes time and patience, but the more you do it, the more attuned you will be to what they’re really saying, such as:

  • Folded arms in front of a person may mean they’re feeling defensive or closed off.
  • Lack of eye contact may mean they’re not really interested in what you’re saying, are ashamed of something, or find it difficult to talk about something.
  • Louder, more aggressive tone may mean the person is escalating the discussion and is becoming very emotionally involved. It might also suggest they feel like they’re not being heard or understood.

Someone who’s turned away from you when talking to you may mean disinterest or being closed off.

Communication is everywhere, we speak it, we video it, we post it, we like it, we insta it, we tweet it, we vine it. We take more note when communication is poor or wrong. You rarely see online a post when someone posted the right message. But you know, within you, when you’ve said, received, given or witnessed great communication. Everything just seems to work, like clockwork.