Nobody decides to be a poor communicator. They become ineffective through neglect. Instead of mindful, intentional communication, they adopt clichés and platitudes to get them by on far too many occasions:
- ‘’We’ve decided to go in a different direction.”
- “Your check is in the mail.”
- “I hope you’re well.”
- “We’ll be back in touch soon.”
Throwaway lines like these are harmless enough (as long as they’re true!). But to stand out as a great communicator, selecting the best words, approaches and processes to get your message across can make a significant difference in how others judge your competence.
To succeed in 2021 and beyond, stick to these 21 timeless principles of excellent communication:
1. Be real. Let authenticity form the core of every conversation, coaching session, correspondence, or encounter. Connect on a human level. Be approachable, empathetic, and transparent.
2. Listen attentively to what others say to you. Not just the facts but the feelings and intentions behind the facts.
3. Verify assumptions. Including yours and those of others. Ask people questions about what you’ve said to verify that they actually walk away with the conclusion you intend.
4. Guide discussions with strategic, open-ended questions. Rather than declarative statements that imply you have all the answers.
5. Answer questions directly. Don’t play dodge ball with vague generalities that confuse and do not amuse.
6. Mediate conflict before it cripples your team. Unresolved conflict can divert focus, drain emotional energy, and decrease productivity for everyone.
7. Respond promptly to questions or requests. Even if your response is simply to tell the asker that you don’t have an answer yet or can’t take the action immediately. Let them know when to expect your complete response.
8. Become known as a coach, not a critic. Offer insight, mentoring, feedback, resources, encouragement, and accountability.
9. Present your ideas concisely. If you can’t write your bottom-line message in a sentence, you likely can’t say it with brevity.
10. Prepare thoroughly for presentations. So you can deliver information or recommendations with confidence and credibility rather than in a monotone accompanied by nervous fidgeting.
11. Make your bottom-line message your top-line message in emails and reports. Think before you write — not as you write. Consider the reader’s interest: what they want, what they already know, and how they will react. Then include and organize the appropriate details accordingly.
12. Be a productive meeting participant. Assume responsibility for outcomes. Never value group harmony above truthful feedback and bold ideas.
13. Take charge when you lead meetings. Make your meetings matter. Plug power into your agenda by using laser-focused questions that lead to solid analysis, clear decisions and specific follow-up actions.
14. Never mistake consensus for efficiency or effectiveness.
15. Praise publicly, and reprimand privately.
16. Disagree when you must, but never be disagreeable in your tone, attitude or actions.
17. Take a stand on issues you care about. Be persuasive, not just informative.
18. Assume responsibility for your mistakes or poor decisions. Set the standard for accountability. You’ll gain respect as a result.
19. Communicate trust to earn trust — from a boss, co-workers, or clients. Providing explanations and your reasoning behind a decision — even the bad news — lets others know that you trust their ability to accept change or deal with truth.
20. Understand how your personal presence affects how others react to your communication. Personal presence encompasses how you look, talk, think and act. Your appearance (posture, gestures, walk, movement, dress, facial expressions, energy) communicates your self-image. Your personal presence opens or closes the door on many opportunities.
21. Communicate with humility. Accept the premise that you could be wrong, that your “facts” are only opinions, and that others also have valuable input to the discussion or situation.
As others before me have said, “Communication is the basic business act.” Nothing happens until someone communicates. Make your personal communication the model for trust, competence and influence, and you’ll reap rewards of respect and authority for years to come.