Business Communication Skills for Managers

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What separates standout managers from mediocre ones? Great business communication skills. 

A manager with first-rate communication skills is going to find their job more enjoyable and productive than one with poor or even average communication skills. 

When your communication skills are excellent, you’ll find that: 

  • Your staff feel understood, and are therefore happier and more productive in their work 
  • Problems are identified while they’re small and easy to solve 
  • Misunderstandings are prevented 
  • Employees have self-governance, which creates less demands on your time and better outcomes 

Add these factors together, and you have a recipe to build a high performing team that’s a joy to run. 

How to Assess your Business Communication Skills

So, communication skills are important. How can you assess yours? 

The problem with self assessment is that most people’s opinion of their own skills is incorrect. 

Some years ago, there was a nationwide survey of car drivers. One of the questions they were asked was a self assessment of their driving skills. 

The interesting thing? The vast majority of drivers rated their skills as ‘above average.’ 

Now, anyone who’s passed basic math knows that the majority of people can’t be ‘above average.’ 

This is the Dunning Kruger Effect in action. Average or even poor drivers thought they were great because they lacked the skills to assess themselves. They drove around all day without crashing, and therefore assumed they were pretty good at it. 

The same thing happens with communication. Managing people means you’re communicating all day long, and this can lead to a false sense of security.

A more accurate idea of your skill level comes from answering the following questions:

  • When was the last time I took a communication course?
  • Last time I briefed someone, how did I confirm their understanding of the brief?
  • My basis for measuring the success of my communication is…

If any of these questions don’t have a clear answer, it’s likely your communication skills could do with a tune up. 

What Good Communication Feels Like

When your communication skills are high, there’s several things you’ll notice. Firstly, you’ll cut down time spent fixing misunderstandings. 

There’s an invisible ‘drag’ that comes when employees don’t feel heard. Understanding the other person’s point of view, and having them understand yours, gets rid of that resistance. 

When understanding is the norm, the people you manage know you’re willing to listen to them. They also have a clear idea of what you want, and what’s expected of them. This clarity leads to confident decision making and engaged work. 

I once coached a business owner who managed a team of around fifteen staff. His default position was to blame his staff for any mistakes. This led to an environment where staff would avoid giving him any negative news, and never tell him when they were unclear on a task. 

After working with us, this owner completely changed his communication style. He learned to give his staff negative feedback in a way that disarmed defensiveness. In return, they were comfortable coming to him with problems early, rather than trying to fix things on their own and hoping the issue never came up. 

This resulted in a much more productive team, and he 10x his revenues over the next four years. 

Common Issues that get in the way of communication

Assumptions are the #1 cause of miscommunication. It’s impossible to agree about something when you’re talking about different things! The story of the naval captain and the lighthouse keeper is a classic illustration of how clearing up assumptions is the first step to good business communication. 

Emotions are another powerful barrier to clear transmission of information. They can cause people to be defensive, aggressive, avoidant, and any number of other behaviours that make it difficult to get a message across. 

One way to diffuse emotional situations at the outset is to make sure the person you’re dealing with knows you are there to support them. 

It could be as simple as telling them: “Look, this project didn’t go well, so let’s figure out how to fix it.” You’ve made it clear the goal of the interaction isn’t to make the other person feel bad, it’s to help them do better in the future.  

Non-verbal Communication
Tone, voice and body language are a huge part of conversing. Studies have shown that between 70-93% of communication is non-verbal. 

Practicing how to keep your voice tone neutral is a valuable skill, especially in tense situations. I’ve coached managers who didn’t understand why conflicts would escalate so quickly for them. As soon as we studied their tone of voice, it became clear. The person you’re speaking to will get most of their emotional cues from how you speak, not what you say.  

Lack of skill in this area is closely related to making assumptions. Good managers ask a lot of questions, starting with the really basic stuff. 

When you do this, you’ll quickly find out where your staff’s blind spots and areas of ignorance are. This kind of information is valuable, especially when you uncover it early in a project. 

Avoiding Conflict
In her book ‘Radical Candor,’ Kim Scott talks about managing a team where one employee was not performing. Everyone liked this guy, and he always tried his best, but his skills were simply not up to scratch. Staff would cover for his mistakes, and over time, this led to discord in the team. 

Eventually, Kim made the difficult conversation to fire him. When she broke the news to him in a private meeting, this employee was stunned. 

He asked her: “How come you never told me any of this before? I thought you cared?”

In that moment, Kim’s entire approach to management changed. She saw clearly that covering up and not telling an employee about their shortcomings was the opposite of being a caring and responsible manager. Avoiding conflict had hurt the whole team, and this employee most of all. 

The key here is to approach potential conflict with clear and open communication. All the previous points on neutral tone, avoiding assumptions, and defusing emotions are relevant here. 

Good employees will want to know where they’re falling short. Being able to communicate this in a constructive way is how you’ll build a solid and highly productive team. 

In Summary…

Many of the problems with staff that you *think* are one thing, are in fact communication issues. It’s amazing how morale and productivity improve when you have good common ground and understanding with your team. 

The skill of good business communication, more than any other, will transform your career as  manager. If you’re ready to raise your skills in this area, we can help. Book a free discovery session to find out how we can help you evaluate and improve your communication and leadership or management skills

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