The business world is constantly evolving, and so are the skills required to be a successful entrepreneur or leader. Leading is about more than just managing the day-to-day operations of your company. It’s about being able to give and get what you need from employees, partners, investors, customers, and other stakeholders. If you want to build brand awareness, increase your impact, or grow revenue, you have to communicate effectively.
In our executive coaching program, we teach many business communication skills, and three of the most important are: 1) Be an active listener 2) Ask powerful questions, and 3) Speak straight words.
Be an Active Listener
Let’s be honest. Most people, business leaders included, are not very good at active listening. I have learned over the years that active listening requires you to be present and in the moment. The key is to eliminate distractions so that people have your full and undivided attention.
Active listening is far more than maintaining eye contact and nodding. It means working to actually understand the other person. An easy way to do this is to paraphrase back to the person what you heard them say — which helps ensure you got it right and builds connection.
As a business owner or leader, you must always be prepared to address whatever comes up in a conversation. This is of course a challenge because it’s impossible to be fully prepared for everything a person might say. This is where skill #2 – asking powerful questions – comes into play.
Ask Powerful Questions
As a business leader, you must have the awareness that you don’t know what you don’t know. When communicating with various stakeholders, asking powerful questions goes a long way in fostering understanding for both parties.
Meaningful questions (starting with Who, What, Where, When, Why, & How) position you understand before being understood. But don’t stop there. Continue asking questions to dive deeper. Communicating from a position of understanding is essential for building trust and establishing and maintaining genuine relationships.
This brings us to our third skill.
Speak Straight Words
Once leaders master active listening and asking powerful questions, the final communication skill that leads to success is what I call “speaking straight words” — speaking directly, clearly, and with plain language.
For example, rather than say, “Would it be OK with you if we were to meet once a week, so we can get on the same page?” you could say, “Moving forward, we are going to meet weekly to review progress and issues.”
When being this direct and concrete, it’s important to do so with a respectful, firm, and non-assuming tone. When you respectfully speak straight words, even if you’re saying something the person doesn’t want to hear, they’re more likely to leave the conversation feeling heard, clear on next steps, and hopefully looking forward to the next engagement with you.
We All Communicate Differently, And That’s OK
In building your communications skills, keep in mind that your style of communicating should leave people feeling respected, heard, and acknowledged. A person’s individual communication style is not as important as the impact or outcomes of their interactions.
The secret to my success when communicating is that I always set my intention upfront, whether speaking one-on-one or in groups. This helps me know what type of experience I want my employees, partners, or clients to have while speaking with me.
Start Improving Right Now
The world of business leadership is tough, but the people who are able to communicate effectively will have a much easier time.
Take some time today to reflect on your communication skills, as you lead yourself or others. Identify the areas that need improvement and start practicing them. Before you know it, you too will be an expert communicator.