Teachers all over the world are crying, even as this is being written. Why? They’re beyond sad at the thought that the students they send out into the working world cannot communicate their thoughts in an intelligent, sophisticated, and grammatically correct fashion. And you thought the oceans’ water levels were rising because of climate change — well, perhaps, those are actually tears. Regardless, the point is that although times have changed, in large part due to technology and social media, not everything has improved, and in a business environment this can be costly on many fronts. Without laying blame at anyone’s feet, the reality is that people in the workforce today have a very real problem with good communication. Generally speaking, there are far fewer people, even with a university degree, who are actually articulate. So why does it matter and what can be done about it?
We can probably all agree that the business world in no way resembles the world of school, especially high school. And why is that, do you think? It does not resemble school because business is a place for getting business done, for supplying a product or service to others and charging them money for it. And the minute money comes into play, it changes everything. The business world does not have a sense of humour about this, nor should they. But why, you ask.
Imagine that you are the customer in search of a service. Where to begin? There are so many choices that it’s hard to know where to go. So, you might ask for recommendations from others or do some research online. Either way, what will sway you more in one direction than another? Professionalism. Yup. A company doesn’t have to necessarily have the fanciest offices or the fanciest Land Rovers parked outside but it does have to give you confidence that they know what they’re doing and need to be able to demonstrate this to you. Some of the most important ways are in how you are greeted, how you are treated, and how clearly things are explained to you — the customer wants no confusion. As humans, we are a pretty judgmental lot and if you don’t know much about a company, then your first impressions count for a lot. If the company does really good work but cannot communicate that to you and seems not to care about the impression it leaves on you, then they will lose business in the long run.
It doesn’t take much to communicate well with others. Just remember that you should speak in complete sentences, avoid using slang and very casual expressions. Try to think before you speak so that your thoughts are organized, thereby being clear and efficient with your information. Sloppy expression indicates sloppy thought. If you do not know the answer to a question, the professional thing to do is to admit it and go find the answer which is all the customer cares about. Customers like honesty so part of good communication is making sure they get what they need and not just what they want - make sure you understand exactly what they require, do not guess. And, truthfully, if English is not your first language, don’t sweat it. It just means you need to think a bit more carefully about what you need to say. Do not be afraid of saying you didn’t understand something and make sure they understand you.
Ultimately, it feels good to be able to communicate well and, in fact, be able to use language in multiple ways; the trick is being able to switch back and forth with ease. No one expects you to speak like an English teacher at a party (you should see how much trouble they run into there!) but, then again, business isn’t a party (well, it could be… well, actually, no!) so bring your ‘A’ game. Having said all this, make sure you retain your sparkling personality, wit, and charm. There is no reason you can’t be an interesting person at work - just make sure you can tell the difference between the customer and your colleague (if you can’t, stop going to so many parties!). You will find that your boss will appreciate the results and so will the customers. You can still tell a joke or two but they’d better actually be funny and easy to understand!