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Three tips for improving your communications style

Written by Lesli Boldt on Sunday, May 20, 2018 at 01:38PM
Filed in: Business Communications Values
Comments: 0

I have a problem. People aren’t getting back to me.

A neighbour hasn’t been getting back to me about a kitchen pipe. My landlord isn’t getting back to me about finishing repairs in my suite. Clients aren’t getting back to me with feedback on my work. My friend isn’t calling me back about some advice I need. Some of my subcontractors aren’t reaching out for advice on their assignment. Vendors aren’t getting back to me with the quotes or background they promised. It’s driving me a bit nuts.

Of course, I don’t think any of these people are *trying* to be rude or vague. But they’re communicating in ways that require me to speculate or anticipate their information needs, because they’re not being expressed to me in an open or direct way. That can be very stressful – both for them, and for me.

As a professional communicator and strategist, I know how important timely, clear communication is, whether you’re dealing with a landlord, a partner, a friend, an employee or a client. It’s also important to have a plan for how to communicate with your audience (whomever that may be) over time, so that they know you’re paying attention to their information needs.

An obvious example of what I’m talking about is public consultation on a new development project. In order for the community to feel like they’re part of the decision-making process, they need to know: what’s happening, when it’s happening, who’s involved, the pros and cons of the project, and how they can provide input. And we all know what happens when we skip even one piece of this information flow: neighbourhoods get angry because they haven’t been consulted.

The same goes for any kind of interpersonal communication. I get a bit cranky when people don't get back to me in a timely manner, or let me know what’s behind delays in a project. With that in mind, I have three tips for getting your point across in a way that will keep your audience happier:

  • Communicate even when you haven’t got an answer yet. This is a big one, that I see in both my professional and personal life – sometimes, people choose not to communicate until they have news to share. My landlord isn’t communicating with me until he’s clear on timelines for repairs. My friend isn’t confirming our lunch date until she hears about three other things going on in her life. My client isn’t calling me back because things are uncertain on their end. However, by doing so, they are leaving their audience – in this case, me – hanging and wondering what the heck is going on. I also see this a lot in media relations these days – communications pros won’t call a reporter back at all unless they have answer to a question ready to go. That’s just wrong: I will always call back, even to say that have no information but that I’m working on it. It might be an awkward conversation, but you’re also preserving an important relationship by simply being honest and direct.
  • Communicate using a tool (e.g. email, phone, text, hand written notes) that works for your audience. My neighbour didn't respond to any of my emails – instead, she resorted to sliding hand-written notes under my door. But I learned from this experience – and responded not with another email, but by sliding my own handwritten note under her door (that the plumber is coming at 10 am on Tuesday!) If you know your pal checks their phone a lot, maybe a text is the way to go to get their attention. You get the idea.
  • Communicate in the timely way, and give people time to respond. Don’t wait until the last minute to ask your audience - your friend, spouse, boss or neighbour - for the information or assistance you need. Don’t be afraid to be assertive in asking for the information you need – more than once, if necessary. And give your audience notice to think about a response, get organized, and make your job easier.

You can try by starting with one of these – for example, try making an effort to get back to your audience in a way that works for them (shoot them a quick email, if you know they read their email often; if not, give them a quick call or text). Making these small efforts will pay off in huge dividends in the relationships you have with people in your professional and personal lives.

This blog was originally published on LinkedIn.

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