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Reap Dividends of Effective Business Communication For your Startup

Recently, a business mentor recited to me a beautiful story. A Story richer in meaning than most I have read or heard. It is a story of a girl, her father and a certain lad, the wretched of the earth you can call him. In retrospect, the moral of the story – the dividend of effective business communication – could have been probably be the only saving grace for Toyota. The wisdom that might have saved Toyota, then the world’s largest automobile manufacturer, when it faced its biggest threat yet, late in the first decade of 21st century: a sticky accelerator pedal.

Poster: Business communication for your startup - reap the dividends.

Why Business Communication?

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t takes a lifetime to build a reputation, and a moment to ruin it would have been the short answer. In the aftermath of the Toyota recall crisis of the 2010 -2014, The Guardian wrote:

It seems Toyota had a culture ill-equipped to quickly identify and address flaws. The challenge is created by two elements of culture: firstly, an obsession with quality, which means that anything less than perfection is seen as shameful and embarrassing. As a consequence, problems with quality are literally inconceivable and denial takes over.

The second interlinked element of culture is a hierarchical approach to management and a lack of open communication.

Often, when companies tell their culture — as espoused in the business values, mission and vision — the story is incomplete. Most businesses short-circuit this narrative,  completing their story of value through marketing campaigns laden with context words.

Daniel J. Boorstin said, “An image is not simply a trademark, a design, a slogan or an easily remembered picture. It is a studiously crafted personality profile of an individual, institution, corporation, product or service.”

This essay goes for Boorstin’s heart. It is a guide for entrepreneurs and startup founders that builds on the 7 C’s of communication. Herein is a story with a moral for 21st century entrepreneurs. With this essay, we learn from the thoughts of leaders drawn from across the board. Gifted successful types cared to speak on this diverse critical subject

Company Culture That Reaps Dividends of Stellar Business Communication Begins With Good Listening

There was a girl who, like it is the case with most daughters, held a special place in her father’s life. Naturally so, they spent a lot of time together. The father being a good parent, always took trouble to ensure that every moment spent with his daughter as wholesome as he could.

Conveniently, this translated to the long periods spent together serving as quality time for dad to pass on lessons that had held him in good stead through out his life. Therefore, the girl’s father chose to stress to his daughter, the importance the art of listening.

So it came to be that the little girl was grown. It was a windy Nairobi evening, all grown now, even those who knew her well would have had trouble picking her from the unruly lot in their attire of white t-shirts.

Perilous

Their leader was on the final stretch of a rousing speech. They had been stretched to the limit and had organized a protest agitating for their rights as government workers. Anger begets hurry. Haste in some matters is perilous.

In the din of her colleagues answering to the strike leader’s clarion call, she picked a tiny voice. Two people away from her on the left was a street urchin. He was trying to say something to a pair with no success.

Instinctively, she inched closer. Got close enough to pick the words police and teargas. Looking at the direction his filthy hands were pointing she could make the glistening of domes in the distance. Fifty of them, possibly a hundred. No. Lots and lots of them. Police! Police ! At the top of her voice, she shouted.

With that, a group of nonunionised government workers, and with no permit to hold a protest, were saved from intimate knowledge of teargas, police clubs and clamps by handcuffs. They lived to fight another day. Better prepared, within the confines of the law and most importantly, streetwise from the near experience.

Effective Communication Like Any Other Entrepreneurial Skill is Dependent on Both Formative Learning & Experience

The importance of effective business communication is stressed in lecture rooms where future CEOs, CFOs, MDs and company presidents are nurtured. Communication studies are an integral part of MBA courses. They are also offered as a stand alone undertakings in many business schools, colleges and universities.

In addition, it is an open secret that business coaching — the in vogue phenomenon in small & medium enterprises incubation — is an endeavor rooted in effective communication. Business communication is at the heart of drafting business plans to pitching investors, all the way to making the sale.

More so in the globalized economy of the 21st Century, where effective  communication is of particular importance. This is principally because companies increasingly need to work in cultural environments that different from those in their home countries.

The Role of Experience in Effective Communication

Quite often these cultural differences come in the way of communication. For example, while it is commonplace to think of a smile as a sign of happiness, in most African cultures, a smile may be an  indication of embarrassment. It is said that in earlier times, exposure of the teeth, as one does when smiling, was considered to be indicative of aggressiveness in some cultures.

Eye contact is another example. While eye contact is desirable in American culture, in Japan, insisting on eye contact may be seen by the other party as impolite and deemed an intrusion of personal space. When a similar breakdown in communication occurs in the workplace, the concerned organization faces the danger of failing to meet its objectives.

Role of Effective Business Communication at the Workplace

Effective communication is a medium that facilitates business transactions. It enables market needs to be assessed. It drives product development, distribution and marketing. Crisis management and settling of disputes arising from business transactions are other examples of the role of effective business communication in the workplace.

Nonetheless, in spite of these recognized importance, effective business communication still remains an elusive condition. If ever described, inefficient business communication would be the rate limiting step to starting, growing and succeeding in business.

A solution to this problem lies in learning communication theory. Whether formally or self-taught, entrepreneurs who embrace learning communication skills subsequently acquire a deeper understanding.

This deeper understanding, equips learners with more flexible communication and interpersonal skills. However, it is of note that most of these training opportunities are offered at a premium. This makes them largely inaccessible to most entrepreneurs and business owners.

Trusted Business Communication Courses Available Online

As a matter of necessity, entrepreneurs can utilize simple, easily understood and accessible tools to improve their business communication skills. An area where improvements can be made in order to ensure profitability in business is communication etiquette.

What is communication etiquette?

The key in understanding etiquette lies in understanding the holistic nature of effective business communication. Viewing it in this light, any behavior or act that stands in the way of communication is then considered to be uncouth. To enable us put this in perspective, we need to consider the words of a man who is acclaimed for his prowess in  the trade of communication. George Bernard Shaw recipient of the 1925 Nobel Prize for Literature.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

George Bernard Shaw’s articulations leads us to crystallize etiquette in business communication into four guiding, self explanatory principles:

  • What is being communicated i.e the Message.
  • When to say it i.e the Time.
  • How to say i.e the form of communication medium.
  • Whom to say it to i.e characterization of the recipient.

The what, when, how and whom – are guiding beacons that should be sought by any business owner groping in the darkness of ineffective communication. Practicing these four principles entails being a good listener.

Why good listening equals etiquette in business communication

According to a theory fronted by Hayakawa, a founding scholar in the field of communications, the quality of communication is directly influenced by the quality of listening. Listening involves more than simply hearing the sounds of words and maintaining polite silence while at it. Or punctuating it with acknowledging gesticulations of approval.

It involves actively pursuing the meanings intended by the conveyor of the message, with the sole aim of attempting to interpret the message from the perspective of the conveyor. An apt allegory is the common saying ” to wear someone else shoes “. Only that this time, a good listener takes a walk in them. Hayakawa describes the art of  listening as:

Listening means trying to see the problem the way the speaker sees it – which means not sympathy, which is feeling for him, but empathy, which is experiencing with him. Listening requires entering actively and imaginatively into the other fellow’s situation and trying to understand a frame of reference (life experiences)different from your own.

This approach to listening is rooted in the premise that a word may hold different means to different people in lieu of their life different life experiences. A common example cited to illustrate the power this knowledge holds in conducting business is the hilarious fiasco that the was the entry of a leading European confectionery company into American markets.

Sweet Zit

The company had chosen the unfortunate name “Zit” which in  American urban language refers to a pimple, the kind that troubles teenagers. Here, the company failed to listen and thus failed its first hurdle. This is because business communication begins at the point when the business is christened.

By failing to listen by considering the different life experiences of this new market, the company did not consider the what, when, how and whom principles mentioned above. The result was catastrophic to say the least. A confectionery company ended up sending out the wrong message to the market that of a quirky dermatological condition. Instead of the joy that confectionery are associated with.

How then can an entrepreneur learn to listen to improve communication between their business and the market?

Effective business communication tip One: Be sensitive to cultural differences. How?

  • Recognize that the conveyor of the message holds different perspectives and belief systems from your own.
  • Avoid making rush conclusions based on your own spontaneous perceptions and prejudices.

Tip Two: To achieve success in your business by employing effective communication, empathize. How?

  • Make a point of seeking the meaning as it is to the conveyor.
  • Ignore your own belief systems and step into the shoes of the speaker and wear their lenses.
  • Tactfully ask clarifying questions and avoid being obnoxious while at it.
  • Sputter the conversation with periods where you, in subtle ways, repeat what your counterpart is saying, to clarify.

This should always be inter mixed with seeking clarification from the second party on whether they agree with your interpretation of the matter.

Tip Three: Have courage. How?

The words of one of the world’s most famous leaders Britain’s wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, come to mind.

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

In learning to communicate well, and also to provide a platform for tips 1 & 2, this definition of courage on the part of the entrepreneur or business owner is important. Critics point that listener in Hayakawa’s model is in danger of being influenced by the belief systems of the conveyor of the message. This influence becomes negative when it erodes gains that the listener had as they may lose their own principles, which they intended to communicate in the first place.

Tip Four: Understanding body language can help in effectively communicating. How?

Consider the SOFTEN approach. That is, the use of non-verbal communication to SOFTEN the hard-line position of others.

S = Smile,
O = Open Posture
F = Forward Lean
T = Touch
E = Eye Contact
N = Nod

As a norm borne out of routine, most entrepreneurs are like the general populace, are one tracked. This means that they recognize, interpret and utilize only one form of communication: verbal communication. Most people are inept at interpreting the language of body language, a form of non – verbal communication.

Non-Verbal Communication: Body Language 101

Personal space, pacing, position, posture, para-language, facial expression, gesture, touch, locomotion, eye contact, adornment, context and physiological responses like sweating and flushing of the cheeks, are some of the different categories of non verbal communication.

All these forms of non verbal communication are vital tools to the discerning business owner. How? You might ask. Hopefully thoughtful consideration the following examples of everyday business scenarios might help.

Scenario 1: When making that deal, How elusive is the eye contact of the other party?

Scenario 2: When hiring that much-needed labor,how much of eye contact occurs?

While you ponder on the possible subtle messages that can be picked by analyzing the body language of the second parties in the scenarios above, it should be with the understanding that body language is a constellation of symbols.

These symbols only communicate when collectively viewed rather than when they are analyzed in isolation. The bottom-line is that any particular body gesture should be interpreted in the context of the whole. This is because any one particular gesture may have many meanings and can thus be easily wrongly interpreted when analyzed singularly.

Cant Get Body Language? Why You Should Join the Neuro Linguistic programing (NLP), Bandwagon

You have probably heard of Derren Brown. A famous television host, illusionist and entertainer. Brown is among the range of celebrities that front, utilize and nature this pragmatic form of thinking. It has even been claimed in some circles that the allure of one of Tv favourite babes- Marylin Monroe, comes down to NLP.

What is Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) ?

Neuro linguistic programming explains the interaction of human language perception organs (the Neurological system – brain, nerves, eyes, ears), language and belief systems ( social rules which represent the programming aspect). NLP explains how these factors collude to construct reality for any given individual. To illustrate this further, it is worth considering the description of the tenets of NLP by one of the pioneers of this field Richard Bandler:

You want to become competent at whatever you do. That does not mean to get phobics, who shake in their boots while their blood pressure blows through the roof, to believe,”This is not fear.” The object is to get them to stay calm and alert, and to stay in their own lane, and to drive across the bridge, which remains standing. Ask yourself; “Can we build better?” To build those things we have to be able to suspend whatever belief system we already have. Keep it out of the way… Those things get very, very personal. We’re talking about basic beliefs regarding human capability. Here’s the only truth about that. Nobody knows.

This statement by Richard Bandler encompasses the original constructs of NLP.  It urges individuals to be aware of the interactions between their neurological system, language and societal programming in order to fully understand their own perceptions of things i.e their reality.

In NLP it is believed that by understanding these interactions, individuals can be able to alter the course of how they behave when they encounter a given stimulus. It therefore gives individuals the ability to control their natural spontaneous response to challenging situations and chose to behave in a manner that is more appropriate and beneficial.

NLP The Communication Technology

For instance, public speaking posses an insurmountable challenge to many. Palpitations, drenching perspiration and unexplained tacyponea are all common in most individuals when asked to address a public platform.

The triggering event for the unwanted chain of events (sweating, palpitations etc) is easily identifiable as failing in public speaking! From the NLP viewpoint, it is possible to avert this reconstructing our reality. One way would be to view public speaking not as a noxious situation but as an opportunity.

That may sound a little confusing, but the scope of NLP is beyond this scope of this article. Nonetheless,  numerous sources of information on the subject can be readily available on the Internet such as the Derren Brown videos on You Tube. It is worth checking them out as NLP was developed as an attempt at finding ways in which individuals can become more successful.

Developed in 1970’s America, NLP has been in use since then and continues to claim mileage as an accurate body of knowledge. Recently, NLP has been found to be of much relevance in the communication studies.
Scholars like Sven Hartrumpf have identified the importance of the prepositions that NLP in communicating.

Using Effective Business Communication In Advertising

One of the pillars of effective advertising is the pristine application of the concept of anchoring. Anchoring is a concept grounded in NLP, it involves persuasion of individuals into performing an action of your own interest , by exploiting a person’s prior experience of an event/ symbol (such as the use of images and other audio- visual media recognizable to a particular market to trigger the market into the action that the seller desires).

For instance, colors hold symbolic meanings; green usually denotes the earth, nature, life, environmental conservation and more recently green energy. A product aiming to appeal to environmentally conscious individuals may opt to have green as the color of its packaging. This may also explain why green is the color a commonly used  for the recycling logos found on the packages of many household items.

Another common use of anchoring in advertising is using catchy phrases that bear certain meaning to people of a given cultural identity to sell a product . An example that easily comes to mind is the phrase “catch a big Mac” used in advertising burgers of a leading fast food franchise.

How is effective business communication helpful to a small business owner?

Product recalls have been used here as a marker for the range of draw backs that a company can suffer during operations. Entrepreneurs can pick this example and extrapolate its lessons whenever their company has to resolve a dispute with a customer, supplier and even regulatory body. Online Business is the business of effectiveness in communication

In the words of the Bill Gates:

I think it’s fair to say that personal computers have become the most empowering tool we’ve ever created. They’re tools of communication, they’re tools of creativity, and they can be shaped by their user”………”I’m a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other, and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they’re interested in.

Conclusion

These words attributed to Mao Tse-tung best sum these lessons on effective business communication

We should never pretend to know what we don’t know, we should not feel ashamed to ask and learn from people below, and we should listen carefully to the views of the cadres at the lowest levels. Be a pupil before you become a teacher; learn from the cadres at the lower levels before you issue orders.

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