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Talking business: how to communicate for better results

Getting your communication and feedback right will help your staff feel motivated and engaged. It also saves time and helps to keep staff focused and motivated. Follow these tips to communicate better.

This article was written in association with New Zealand Business Performance Panel expert, Dr. Julia Richardson.

Give a clear brief

To build a healthy business, it helps to delegate. To delegate well, you need to know how to give clear direction. Be sure to give people all the information they need to do the job well. Tell workers what outcomes you expect from a project or task, then leave them to decide how they’ll go about it.

Writing down what you want can confirm what you’re looking for in your own mind. It helps you make sure you haven’t missed any important background details, including:

  • who people may need to talk to
  • tools they should use
  • any constraints, eg pointing out information that is confidential.

A clear brief also gives you and your workers something to refer back to, should any misunderstandings arise.

Use our worksheet to help you prepare for briefing staff.

When possible, give people a verbal and a written brief.

When possible, give people a verbal and a written brief.

Be an active listener

Listening can be difficult and most of us could benefit from doing more of it. According to communications expert Julien Treasure, we should listen 60 per cent of the time we’re in conversation.

Often we spend most of our listening time preparing our response, instead of really hearing what the other person is saying.

When you don’t listen for meaning, you risk missing important signs, eg a worker finds your instructions confusing. Or you may misunderstand what someone has said.

Experts say the key to listening is to:

  • Receive — Pay attention to the person. This means no multitasking while they’re talking.
  • Appreciate — Use supportive phrases like “I see” or nod to signal that you’re engaged.
  • Summarise — “So what you’re saying is…” is a useful phase to check you’ve understood.
  • Ask — Questions clarify meaning. They’ll also help you get to the bottom of non-verbal cues like body language or silence.

Know your audience

For better results get to know your team and pitch what you’re saying in a way they’ll appreciate. Consider what motivates them and, if you’re asking them to do something, point out what’s in it for them.

Avoid using jargon with people who may not know what you mean.

Ask staff to take this personality test to help work out how best to communicate with them.

Myers Briggs personality test (external link) —16 personalities

Invite workers to give you feedback, too.

Invite workers to give you feedback, too.

It helps build trust, and can signal if you’re getting in people’s way.

Make feedback count

Like any skill, the more you practice giving feedback, the easier it becomes. Feedback isn’t just about making someone feel good, or pulling them up for their behaviour. For it to be effective, you need to leave people knowing how their behaviour impacted you, others or your business — good or bad — and what you would or wouldn’t like them to do next time.

Using a framework, such as the Situation, Behaviour, Impact model, can be helpful for delivering feedback:

  1. Identify the situation, eg in last week’s team meeting.
  2. Describe the behaviour, eg I noticed you interrupted Francis a few times.
  3. Explain its impact, eg she seemed offended and I’m worried she’ll think you don’t value her opinions if you keep doing it. Even worse, she might stop contributing.

Be respectful. Make sure that when giving negative feedback, you do so in private.

Use our worksheet to prepare to give motivating feedback.

You should always think about ways to sharpen your communication and feedback skills. Use this assessment to reflect on what your strengths are, and pinpoint how you can improve.

At the end of this assessment you’ll get:

  • a better idea of your strengths and weaknesses
  • practical tips and tools
  • links to expert advice.

5-10 minutes

Find out where to focus

Clear expectations

Tool people at desk

Did you know...

A Yale University study found if a manager describes the long-term outcome they want, rather than dictating specific actions, the employee is more likely to get the task done right.

People have to redo work because they have misunderstood what I’ve asked.

Inviting feedback

Tool workers talking

Did you know...

Worldwide studies have shown when employees can voice their concerns freely, organisations see increased retention and stronger performance.

I invite staff to give me feedback on my own performance.

Managing performance

Tool woman talking to student

Did you know...

For negative feedback to be useful, it’s essential to create conditions where staff can take in feedback, reflect on it and learn from it, says executive coach and management professor. — Dr Monique Valcour

When I give someone critical feedback, I focus on facts and how they impacted a particular situation.

Different communication styles

Tool painter

Did you know...

Understanding an employee’s personality helps a leader get the best from them. — Julia Richardson, New Zealand Business Performance Panel

I adapt the feedback I give based on someone’s personality.

Being open and aware

Tool business woman

Did you know...

A study of 8,000 employees found those whose managers meet with them regularly are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees who don’t meet with managers regularly.

I make time for my staff to speak to me:

Managing performance

Tool people at desk

Did you know...

Many businesses are switching from rigid annual reviews to regular check-ins that help people steadily improve.

I have conversations with my employees about how they are performing in their role:

Clear expectations

Tool group

Did you know...

Hiring someone who doesn't fit into the workplace culture can cost a business between 50-60% of that person’s annual salary, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

New staff learn about company culture:

Being open and aware

Tool workers talking

Did you know...

Strong people skills and self-awareness drive better strategic and financial results, according to a Green Peak Partners study.

In my recent professional life, I have been told my communication is:

Different communication styles

Tool digger

Did you know...

Research on more than 3,000 executives showed the best performing businesses are led by people who change their leadership style in different situations.

I make a point of finding out how different people handle difficult situations.

Inviting feedback

Tool man with paper

Did you know...

In a survey of 1,400 professionals, 90% of respondents said decision-makers should seek other opinions before making a final decision. However, about 40% felt they failed to do so.

I ask for input on important workplace policies and processes.

Tell us about your business

Just one last step before your self-assessment results. So we can shape future tools and services around your needs, please tell us about your business size, location, age and industry.

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