Take a moment to browse online job postings, and you will see the same item listed recurrently under “Qualifications”: namely, effective communication skills. As important as this capacity is forprospective employees, it is even more vital for businesses of every size. This obtains both for interactions with external stakeholders, and within an organization. No team, regardless of the talent and expertise of its personnel, can expect to achieve its potential unless information transfers seamlessly and comprehensibly among its members.
Although many of the requirements of functional internal communication are common sense, you may find the following guidelines useful:
• Invoke the KISS principle.
When you initiate communication, take a moment to consider whether the information you intend to convey is presented in the simplest, most concise, most unambiguous form possible. Is there any room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation? “Keep it simple and specific” is a useful guideline here. Concision is also advantageous in most situations.
• Accuracy is indispensable.
Double-check e-mails and other documents before you distribute them. If you have doubts about any aspect of the material, seek confirmation either by doing research on your own, or by consulting a colleague. Accuracy is paramount for effectiveness in communication, for two reasons: first, because inaccuracy can compound into missteps and delays that cost time and money; and second, because repeated errors on your part may erode the trust that others place in you. It is generally worthwhile to take a bit of time to ensure accuracy now, rather than spend a lot of time trying to correct mistakes (and repair any damage to your reputation) later.
• Maintain records of important instructions and agreements. Communicate in both verbal and written form.
Even if you’re confident that you understand what you’ve been told, or believe you’ve made yourself perfectly clear, it is important to make use of documentation rather than simply rely on memory. If, as an employer, you have to convey complex instructions to an employee that involve multiple steps, write them down in clear, succinct language. (Recall the “KISS” principle.) The same advice applies to employees who need to communicate information up the chain of command.
• Keep communications relevant to the recipient.
The human brain has a remarkable capacity to “zone out”, discounting intelligence it deems irrelevant. This is an adaptive evolutionary trait; for our distant ancestors, the ability to identify crucial facts, and save mental energy by omitting unimportant or superfluous ones, was a prerequisite for survival. However, in our modern civilization, this immanent skill can occasionally backfire; by skimming a lengthy document in order to save time, for instance, we risk overlooking information that is relevant to us.
One of the ways for managers to avoid this pitfall is by tailoring communications to each recipient, with specific details or instructions. This practice also sends a tacit signal that employers acknowledge and appreciate the unique contribution of every individual.
• Who reports to whom?
All staff should know exactly to whom they are accountable, and for whom they are responsible. As the scale of a company or organization increases, this factor becomes all the more necessary. It is axiomatic that communication should occur through the proper channels, but what are the proper channels? Aim to ensure that everyone who works in your business can answer that question without a moment’s doubt or hesitation.
• Details matter. But never lose sight of the big picture.