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Communication is frequently cited as one of the most important soft skills that business professionals need. It ranked fifth on the list of Udemy’s fastest-growing soft skills for 2020, with 40% of companies planning to invest in training employees on better communication and storytelling. As an entrepreneur, this skill is critical. It’s up to you to communicate the values, mission and needs of the company while also role modeling great communication skills to your employees. When done right, great communication skills lead to a variety of benefits, including:
- Stronger relationships among your team and with clients, investors and stakeholders.
- Deeper trust among team members who feel you openly communicate with them.
- Great productivity.
As you consider how to improve your communication as an entrepreneur, focus on these five key communication skills:
Each of the following can benefit you and your business when mastered and implemented.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the value of virtual communication. Even as vaccine rates increase, some companies are considering keeping virtual discussions as the main form of communication across teams. However, don’t mistake your need for great virtual communication as a need for excessive communication.
As Leila Ansart, leadership adviser, explains in her article about virtual leadership strategies, “When leading a remote workforce, communicating even more with your employees is essential. However, this doesn’t mean you should just increase the number of required virtual meetings in order to update them on priorities.”
Mastering your virtual communication skills is all about knowing when to communicate in the first place. Because Zoom fatigue is real, the goal is to avoid over-communicating and, instead, focus on what needs to be said — and when. For example, you may not need to have an all-hands meeting to discuss a new client. Instead, you can communicate only with the people directly impacted.
From here, you can focus on mastering other keys for great virtual communication skills, including:
- Staying focused and present. Help employees stay engaged by engaging yourself.
- Maintaining eye contact to show you’re listening and hearing the speaker.
- Being inclusive and inviting everyone to speak and share.
How do employees know they’re doing something poorly if no one tells them? Giving feedback is a critical aspect of your role. Part of your job is to evaluate the actions of someone else to help them improve, which in turn benefits the business overall. However, giving feedback isn’t easy, whether it’s positive or negative.
According to a survey of 7,600 people, 44% of respondents believe giving feedback is stressful or difficult. Yet, another 37% also said they don’t give positive feedback at all.
Practice giving feedback to the people around you, focusing both on positive and negative feedback. You can do this one-on-one in individual employee meetings or in a group setting, calling co-workers and employees out for a job well done.
As with anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets. In the end, the business is better off with employees who are clear on what they’re doing right and how they can improve.
People often think of intense boardroom debates when they talk about negotiation, but the reality is much simpler. You create negotiations when you set employee schedules or choose a meeting time with a contractor.
As Dr. Mara Olekalns says, “Small negotiations are woven through the fabric of our everyday working lives. We use negotiations to help ourselves, our team members, and manage our work as we move towards our goals.”
Knowing this can help you see the many ways you can master your negotiation skills in small ways — before you get to the boardroom where you’re making bigger decisions. Negotiation involves listening to the needs of others while advocating for your own goals. Practice your negotiation techniques in small ways throughout each day to make it a strength.
For example, you might negotiate:
- A solution to a conflict between employees.
- A decision about whether to work with a specific client.
- A new remote work schedule that ensures productivity.
Persuasion is all about being a great salesperson, and every entrepreneur needs to know how to sell. Ultimately, however, mastering this skill is about understanding what persuasion really is: clearly stating the benefits of taking a certain path and aligning those benefits to the needs of whomever you’re speaking with.
The funny thing is, we often think of being persuasive as winning a major argument when, in fact, you do this with the people around you in a range of situations every day. For example, getting someone to choose a meeting time that works for your schedule is all about the power of persuasion.
If you’re struggling to get what you need done or bringing your team on board with a new idea, come back to the basics of persuasive communication: aligning what you want or need with the needs of the person you’re convincing. For example, if an employee is asking for an extended deadline, you might negotiate with him or her to find a way to provide extra support. This way, he or she needs less of an extension, allowing you to give him or her what they need while keeping the client happy.
Being a good communicator doesn’t mean you’re a good listener. Even worse, it may be easy to point out when someone around you isn’t listening, but it’s harder to notice when you’re doing it yourself. Just because you’re nodding and making eye contact doesn’t necessarily mean you’re digesting the information.
When practicing this skill, consider the LAW formula. Professor Judi Brownell at Cornell University’s Hotel School explains that this is where listening = ability + willingness. To master your listening skills, you need to improve your ability and willingness.
Here are some ways to do exactly that:
- Practice stepping aside when someone wants to talk so you can focus all your attention on him or her.
- Look for body language and unspoken words that add meaning to the message, and mirror it back.
- Communicate and summarize back to the person you are speaking with to confirm you are on the same page.
Key takeaways: Master communication skills, improve your business
Communication is key in building a successful business. However, it’s a complex soft skill because everyone has different strengths and weaknesses within it. Just because someone is a confident public speaker doesn’t mean he or she is good at listening. In addition, someone who cares deeply about their business can struggle to persuade others to see the value in what they offer.
Use these strategies to improve the key communication skills that matter for entrepreneurs so you can connect with employees, persuade investors and give feedback that improves the business as a whole.