Kelly Hebert: Avoid the Chaos, Communicate Clearly
Kelly Hebert is director of sales operations with LERETA, Pomona, Calif. She is responsible for managing collaboration among sales, operations and account management teams.
Before you write this article off and say it does not apply to you, let’s start with a quiz.
1.) Have you ever been on a conference call and thought, “That was a huge waste of my time?”
2.) Have you ever gone back and forth on an email chain for weeks or longer, only to still not accomplish the goal?
3.) Have you been part of a group project that lacked momentum?
4.) Have you ever sent an email that did not get the response or action that you needed?
5.) Have you ever received an email that was so long that you just could not get yourself to read it?
I suspect that you answered yes to all of these, but even if it were only one or two, you and your teams would benefit from training on the power of communication. If you answered no to all of these, then you are a superhero and should be the CEO of your company!
I am what the world likes to call a millennial, and so many people assume that our generation is full of poor communicators because we grew up in front of a computer and had Facebook since it became a thing. This stigma has always bothered me. I have seen communication struggles in every angle of a business – big and small, corporate or private and yet there is so little time spent training or developing leadership and employees on how to communicate more effectively. Communication is enormously powerful, and the success of a project, the closing of a deal or the loss of a customer can easily hang on the hinges of a team’s ability to communicate.
Communication is the backbone of our business and personal lives. And if we can understand the power of positive communication a little better, and work to harness the power that communication can provide, we can all be a little more productive, more informed and more successful in achieving our goals.
Learning how to communicate better should not be reserved for psychology students or leaders who must coach poor performance. There are innumerable reasons why communication is important to a business, and more prevalent today than yesterday is the ability for teams to communicate while they are working remotely. As our world will continue to introduce more virtual working arrangements it is vital to ensure that your team is set up for success. A quick google search will show that experts agree that most communication (somewhere between 70% and 93%) is nonverbal. This means that the words and opinions you are hearing are not nearly as important as what is not being said; the tone behind the words, the facial expressions and body language of the speaker and those listening. Here are some top communication tips for putting everything on the table, finding clarity in the messages, holding your team accountable and being respectful of everyone’s time.
Preparation is Pivotal
Someone “winging it” can be a giant waste everyone’s time; not preparing for a meeting can put you on a high-speed path to an unproductive hour. Block off 15 minutes on your calendar prior to a call to get yourself in a headspace that is ready to discuss the topic at hand. Review notes or emails from prior discussions, jot down important points or questions. If the matter is more complex, take the time to circulate an agenda or questions the day before allowing everyone the opportunity to prepare.
Designate a Scribe
Before you begin the discussion, it is critical to assign someone to take notes. It does not need to be formal meeting minutes, and preferably you all take turns so that everyone learns the importance and value of thorough notes. Not taking notes during a call or meeting can quickly turn into a he said she said exercise afterwards. It will also mean that the next call or meeting about the topic will spend too much time trying to remember what was covered previously. Having notes with clear action items helps hold everyone accountable and foster a follow-through culture. You do not need to have a project manager on every call to organize tasks; through practice, we can all learn to do this better.
Love to Listen
To be a great communicator, you must become a better listener. If you really love to talk, make sure you pause between your thoughts and allow other people to contribute and participate in the dialogue. Additionally, we all can suffer from a confirmation bias where we fail to listen objectively and instead unconsciously hear only information that supports our cause. When collaborating as a team on projects, it is very important to be aware of this. A way to overcome confirmation bias is to restate or summarize what you have heard for the whole group. We all listen through our own perspectives, and it is important to make sure that everyone is working from the same facts and assumptions. After providing a summary, pause, and allow the team to provide confirmation or additional points.
Clarify Goals and Intents
Information comes at us a hundred miles an hour. Conference calls, texting, instant messages, emails, people being added to threads, people dropping from threads…you get the idea. It is really challenging to keep track of to-do items, goals, intentions and action items when the goals and intent of communication are not clear. When sending a group email, it is helpful to highlight, bold or underline action items to ensure the person responsible for follow up is aware. Bullet points work well for this, succinct and generally easy to read, they allow for a recap that tracks accountability of open items. There are two critical bullet points that can be placed in the body of every meeting/call invite: 1) topics to discuss and 2) call/meeting goals. If you want to walk away from the meeting with answered questions, a strategy or a roadmap with next steps, include those points in the invite. Without clarifying topics and goals, conference calls can quickly go off track requiring you to schedule a follow up meeting because you were unable to accomplish the call goal. Keep calls focused, productive, hold your calendar in the highest of regards and be respectful of everyone’s time.
Retire the ‘FYI’ Emails
We have all received email chains forwarded to us with no context or my personal favorite, an FYI in the body of the email with a long thread below it. This is ripe ground for missed opportunities to communicate intent and importance, and a risky practice of misinterpretation of information. I recommend a respectful two sentence reply to these emails, “Why is this important to share? Is there something specific you need me to know or something specific you’re looking for my support on?” Returning this response forces the sender to get granular with intent and clarify his goals into communicating this information.
Communication is critical, and no one is perfect. What makes it vital and complicated is that everyone does not communicate or digest information the same. Find ways to help you communicate with each person on your team, and there are professional development courses to sharpen communication skills as well. You owe it to yourself and your team to focus on the power of communication.
(Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect policy of the Mortgage Bankers Association, nor do they connote an MBA endorsement of a specific company, product or service. MBA NewsLink welcomes your submissions. Inquiries can be sent to Mike Sorohan, editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org; or Michael Tucker, editorial manager, at email@example.com.)