Communication – how to talk with employees, clients and suppliers

Few skills are as necessary and influential as communication. Communicate well and your business can operate smoothly, with everyone clear on their roles and what they need to achieve. Do it badly and you’ll hit problem after problem, costing you time, money and a good deal of stress. Whether you’re talking to an employee, a client, supplier or anyone else, we’ve put together a short guide to help you get your message across.

“Communication is the most important skill any leader can possess” – Richard Branson

Getting someone to understand your point of view is not easy. We expect others to understand what we’re saying from the start. It’s clear for us, so it should be clear for them, right? Unfortunately things aren’t that simple and assuming you’ll be understood will cause issues. If you’re not on the same page there could be misunderstandings, confusion, anger and ultimately a missed opportunity to get the outcome you wanted.

Have a clear goal that you want to achieve

To communicate well, first you need to have a clear goal you want to achieve. You might be negotiating a new contract, giving an employee feedback or dealing with a complaint. Before you start, write down what you want to have achieved by the end of the conversation. Once you have a clear goal, you can then start putting together your key messages to help you achieve it.

Use key messages to stick in their heads

In the modern world people have become used to filtering out the noise. To get people to listen and understand your message, you need to break through with the right signals. To do this you need key messages.

Key messages are the main points you want your audience to hear and remember. They create meaning and shape the issues you want to discuss. They allow you to control communications and enhance relationships.

For example, your goal may be that you want more money from a contract. To achieve that, your key messages could be:

  • The work is underpriced compared to the market
  • You are a reliable partner
  • You can provide additional value

Think how your key messages will resonate with your audience. Getting them right will be crucial to achieving your goal.

Shape your content around key messages

As another example, say you’re giving an employee an end of year review. Think what are the 2-3 key messages that you want them to take away, then use them to structure the conversation. You will have 12 months of activity that you can refer back to, both good and bad. Find the bits that support your key messages. You can then flesh out each in detail, but at the end they only have the key messages to remember.

How to create your messages

When putting together your key messages, ask yourself the following:

  • What am I trying to say?
  • Is it simple?
  • Is it positive?
  • Does it sound like me?
  • Will people remember it?
  • Can I write it in under 15 words?

Once you’re happy it fulfils all the above, go back and make sure they will help you achieve your goal.

Remember the 4 principle of good communication

Whether you’re talking to a contractor or debating in the House of Commons, good communication should be:

    • Authentic – fits with your character, comes across as genuine or comes from the heart
    • Simple and clear – uses language and structure that’s easily understood
    • Direct – gets to the point, doesn’t beat around the bush
    • Memorable – sticks in your mind, leaves a lasting impression

Think of every politician that doesn’t seem genuine, or the seminar or trade meeting that was instantly forgettable. By using these principles, you can see where people went wrong in their communication and reflect on how well you did yourself. Use them as a guide both as you create your key messages and deliver them.

Don’t forget to listen!

Communication is a two way street. Robotically repeating the same phrases will not get your point across. People want to know you’re listening, so give authentic answers that address their questions. If you don’t listen to others concerns, you’ll struggle to form key messages that resonate. The better you understand your audience, the better you can create the right signals to break through the noise.

Points to remember

  • Communication is vital – invest time in getting it right
  • Have a clear goal
  • Use key messages and shape the detail around them
  • Remember the 4 principle of good communication
  • Don’t forget to listen