As the owner of any small business knows, excellent communication is crucial to your success. There are no corporate handbooks to rely on (unless you create them) and no one to pass the buck to. As your small business grows, the need for good communication increases. In fact, the small business owner’s lack of communication skills may even arrest his company’s growth.
The owner of a company I once worked for had an interesting way of communicating. Well respected in the industry for inventing an important piece of equipment, this older gentleman had grown his 20-year-old company to over 200 employees; the company had gone public, and its tools were the industry standard in its niche. The company was profitable and very successful.
But I constantly marveled at this man’s personal communication style. My office was close to his, and his voice carried; I would hear things like “You aren’t listening to a word I’m saying.” and “You don’t understand anything.”
No coincidence then that many of us employees did not have a clear job description. Looking back, it occurs to me that many of us were self-starters and adaptable to ongoing new conditions and shifting projects; in fact, you didn’t last long unless you had those qualities. And I’m sure it helped to be agreeable with the owner, especially in the company’s formative stages!
But during the years I was with the company there existed a palpable frustration among the executives and the board that the company was not growing and competing as well as it could have. You didn’t need to sit on the board to know this; the feeling permeated the mood of daily business from the top down.
Every small business has a unique culture, which begins with communication from the founder. Do you ever consider how effective your communication style is and how it molds your business?
When you find that you have miscommunicated some information to your customer or your team, the result is usually a scramble to make things right again. I would guess that it takes more time and effort to patch up the fallout of miscommunication than it would have taken to prepare effective communication in the first place.
- “I don’t remember you telling me that.”
- “Where is that written down?”
- “I did not know that was important to you.”
If you’ve heard these words from others, then your message wasn’t clear. Unfortunately small business owners must accept that fact and take responsibility for the communication breakdown. The good news is that once we figure out where people get stuck, communication breakdown is easy to fix.
You may relate to these common reasons for lines getting crossed in small business communication:
• We simply don’t know what we don’t know. The problem at hand is new and we lack the process or tools to deal with it.
• We are not precise when relaying information. The basic guidelines are there, but the details are missing.
• We are not clear in our intentions or motives. The “how, when, and what” are important, but sometimes to be clear you must communicate the “why.” The reasons behind directions or descriptions are often the meat of the matter. “The Reason Why” fills in the spaces between the cold hard facts and illustrates the the foundation of the problem. It also shows that you have a sound basis for your recommendations because you’ve been there before.
• We omit important chunks of information because we assume our customer or team already knows what we know.
• We simply forget, or…
• We’re in too big a hurry to explain everything or document it.
• Sometimes we even withhold information, possibly stemming from some trepidation about ruffling someone’s feathers. We bite our tongues, thinking that a one-time occurrence will not be repeated. We may even downplay new information because we are covering for a previous failure to communicate something essential! Swallowing pertinent information to avoid confrontation is a downward spiral that will only come back to haunt you.
Even subtle messages can be misconstrued. Almost all business relationships have a built-in personal element; the connections we make with people make work enjoyable. But if you are the small business owner, pay attention to the messages you are sending. Miscommunication caused by “too-casual” business connections may also be the culprit that throws a wrench into your company’s operations and standards.
Company culture is the root of your company’s brand; it’s the company’s “inside” brand and it has everything to do with how communication flows between your company team members; and with customers, vendors and wholesalers. There are opportunities everywhere to improve!