Communications 101

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm

The art of effective communication is becoming an increasingly important skill set in today’s fast-paced business world.

Every day, business owners and managers are making decisions about whether to communicate their messages in person, by e-mail, by telephone, by fax, by Web cast, by blog, by podcast and by any number of other formats.

Small Business Times asked several local business leaders to share their insights about effective communication skills. The following are their responses:

Don Becker, president of DBA Marketing Communications in Delafield

“Be clear and be concise. Whether it’s the start of a client meeting or when we’re giving input to the creative team on a new project, we always set the purpose of the discussion at the beginning and establish who’s responsible for the next steps at the end. That way, everybody’s clear on what we’re doing. It also drives meeting time down and productivity up.”

Grant Johnson “ambassador of fun” at Johnson Direct LLC in Brookfield

“The funny thing about all of these ways to communicate today is that communication is in a very sad state. Because of technology, we often lose focus and make others feel less important. When was the last time someone interrupted you to take a cell phone call or check e-mail on their Blackberry? Probably today. We send an e-mail, we assume the person received it. We leave a voice mail, we assume the person received it.

“Never assume that your message is heard, or heard accurately. If you put it in writing, follow up with a phone call. If you do it verbally, follow up in writing — e-mail or good old-fashioned postal mail. I actually get thank you calls from sending thank you notes, because it’s so uncommon today.

“If sending via e-mail, use tracking devices to ensure it has been read. If responding to someone, make sure you understood their message. Say something like, ‘If I understood you correctly, you are requesting.’ Keep it simple. Sit down face-to-face whenever possible, respect people’s time and give them a real reason to really listen to you.”

P. Michael Stoehr president and owner of MEC Companies in Glendale

“If technology has made us more efficient, why do we say we’re busier? Both statements are true. We are more efficient. And we are busier, because we now handle more things, in shorter times and with greater depth. In previous times, a formal letter would need someone to research historical data, time to write, time to type, time to sign, time in the outbox for mailing, time for travel by the USPS, time to wait in the receiver’s mail room and in box.

“Today, research is done online via live files, an e-mail is composed and sent, and often received on a handheld device at all hours of the day. Thus, we are capable of doing more things, having more responsibilities and operating with leaner staffs. Everywhere in our world information is at hand, available to all, and relatively easy to access. With this broad summarization, people don’t want to be uninformed, feel out of the loop, or least of all, feel like information is being kept from them. Therefore, keeping people informed of what they need to know, and perhaps even might want to know, is important to make them feel important, part of the team, and open to contributing their ideas and comments.

“So the simple act of sharing information with people, by anticipating what they might want to know, often is rewarded by their idea contribution, performance and attitude toward their environment. All of these things make a business healthier, and best of all, increase the value of everyone in the organization.”

Jessica Ollenburg president and CEO, Human Resource Services Inc. in Milwaukee

“Technology has increased the complexity of communication by providing more choices and not providing a roadmap to decisions. When selecting a communication media, i.e. in person, telephone, e-mail or videoconferencing, consider: 1) the importance of tone; 2) audience preference and comfort; 3) opportunity for negotiation and need for assurances/immediate feedback; and 4) message complexity.

“Today’s business person is over-committed and busier than ever before. Many clients and stakeholders prefer the convenience of e-mail, allowing the ability to prepare, rehearse and revise before response — and to handle the matter at a convenient time. Failure to respect an audience’s preferred means of communication can damage the relationship and the message. For instance, a phone call can be very annoying, disruptive and invasive if not invited, especially if e-mail has been specifically requested by that party.

“When communicating with employees, e-mail has taken on a controversial and misunderstood role. Both employees and employers need to fully embrace how to use this practice for its sensitivity and convenience. Intranet policy handbooks and training resources ease accessibility for employees and ease distribution for employers. Updates, receipts, corrective actions can be e-mailed with read receipt requests. Employees can maintain all of their ‘how to’s’ and instructions in one e-mail convenient folder or desktop links.

“Sometimes there is a conflict between an audience’s preference for communication media and the strategy for effective message delivery. Where audience prefers e-mail and the subject matter dictates otherwise, e-mail should be used to advance the agenda and persuade the party into a scheduled in-person or telephone conversation.”

Karen Vernal founder and president of Vernal Management Consultants LLC in Milwaukee

“Based on 25 years of research at Harvard University, success is rooted in the competencies of emotional intelligence, which includes communication as a key competency. Regardless of a leader’s communication style, we have learned that others will judge his/her communication based on authenticity. Communication typically translates to ‘telling’ for leaders and managers.

“How can we be more effective in communicating our vision, values, expectations, etc.? While this is certainly an important question, we offer a simple, yet profound mantra: ‘Talk less; listen more.’

“We encourage direct communication vs. e-mail, text, etc., for issues that matter. We have heard far too many stories about leaders who sit in offices in the same suite, engaging in conflict via e-mail. It may feel ‘safer,’ but it is crazy-making.

“We coach that the conflict needs to be fully addressed behind closed doors for as long as it takes. It may take longer on the front end, however, it saves an inordinate amount of ‘clean-up’ on the back end. Once a decision is made, each member of the team needs to be a champion. Our role is to educate leadership teams about the power of ‘one voice.’

“Communication is the key to relationships throughout an organization. There is nothing like the power of one-on-one conversations between leaders and employees! More often than not, ‘Message sent is not message received.’ Communication is the primary link in relationships with employees, customers, stakeholders and the community. Communication is the heart of all relationships.”

Evan Zeppos founder and president of Zeppos & Associates Inc. in Milwaukee

“The best wisdom I can share about effective personal communication is that an owner/leader has to remember that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Communication is a two-way process, and too, too often, the CEO forgets that, in both large and small companies.

“Listening is especially true for internal communications, and if you want to be a true leader and build real team spirit with a commitment to being the best, not the biggest, listening — not just hearing — is absolutely essential. 

“Additionally, it seems that many people forget that it’s not always about them — it’s about others, too. That ties into listening, and the best way to do that is to ask questions — not irrelevant questions — but questions that fit the setting and engage the other person in real conversation, which is two-way communication. Simple and effective, but often overlooked.”

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