6 Tips for Effective Communication

Businesses, relationships, and most other things in life that involve more than one person are all dependent on effective communication. Any amount of time spent in a foreign country with a different national language than your own will quickly teach you how much more difficult just about every aspect of life is when basic communication becomes a struggle.

Even in a context where everyone speaks the same language, miscommunication is a serious concern. Many businesspeople have dealt with an email that included an embarrassing typo or a badly worded message that caused confusion and inefficiency. Avoid such failures with these basic tips to ensure effective communication.

1. For written communication: always proofread!

Have you ever gotten an email that just didn’t make sense because words seemed to be missing or were egregiously misspelled? It happens, but it’s so easy to avoid. Proofread everything you write before you send it. In addition to catching basic typos and any sentences that don’t make sense, you’re more likely to catch spots in your writing that lack clarity or could use better wording.

2. Method matters

There are varying benefits to using phone, online chat, and e-mail. A phone call allows for conversations in real time, where multiple people can bounce ideas off each other or make a quick decision in order to meet a deadline. Email correspondence has the benefit of keeping an easily searchable record, enabling attachments and link sharing, and letting the respondent review the email and get back to you on their own time. Chat offers some of the benefits of both: it’s in real time, but also makes it easy to keep a record, for example. To determine which communication method is best for your needs, think about what you need to communicate and the type of response you want.

3. Stay Aware of Your Tone

Try reading emails out loud before sending, sometimes the tone in your head isn’t the one the respondent will hear when they read it. You don’t want to come off as angry or scolding when you don’t mean to be. Be careful that the language you choose isn’t loaded and likely to be misconstrued. Be aware of context, an email to your client should probably have a different tone than one sent to your sister.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

Arrogance and assumptions are the cause of too many errors. Don’t pretend you know what someone’s saying if you don’t, and don’t assume you do if you’re not sure. Few people are offended or bothered by being asked for clarification, and the type of person who does get bothered by it will almost certainly be more upset with you if the failure to ask leads to an inferior result. More clarity is always better.

5. Know Your Audience

Keep in mind the level of likely knowledge the person you’re communicating with will have. Correspondence with someone who has been working in your industry for years will probably seem prohibitively complex and have too much jargon for someone outside of the industry to grasp. Tailor your writing style accordingly, aim to make all your correspondence as informative and easy for the reader to understand as possible.

6. Read

One of the best tricks to get better at writing and speaking is to read often. You gain a better grasp of language and the most effective ways to use it. The more words and ideas you pick up from skilled writers, the more their techniques will slip into the way you communicate.

On Reading and Writing

I’ve always been a big reader. Writing came pretty naturally to me and I realized early on that the quality of my writing had a lot to do with the amount I read. The best way to develop a firm grasp of language and learn to communicate effectively in your writing is to spend a lot of time immersed in how great writers do it.

This always seemed like a fairly obvious truth to me: to be a good writer, you should first be a good reader. It was thus a surprise to encounter this Salon article that posits that there’s a new generation of aspiring writers with no interest in reading.

The evidence of this as a trend is largely anecdotal, so I’m not sure just how seriously to take it. That said, it’s difficult for me to imagine how someone would even come to the idea of wanting to make writing a focus of life without first cultivating the love of language, storytelling and knowledge that to me seem so intertwined with reading.

I often think of the history of literature as one long conversation. Different writers over time can borrow ideas and style techniques from one another to create something new. Shakespeare took stories from history and many of the great writers that came before him. Jorge Luis Borges, my personal favorite, often wrote of his preference for reading over writing and both his fiction and non-fiction essays are littered with ideas and references to other writers. Dante made this idea of writing as a continuing conversation over generations explicit with his use of Virgil in The Divine Comedy. The two even meet with several other poets in their time in Purgatory and discuss various issues related to poetry and religion*.

The written word allows us the great privilege of maintaining our knowledge of the ideas and stories of the brilliant men and women who came before us. If a writer rejects learning from the writers of our past, he or she lose the opportunity to be a part of the great conversation. So much of what’s been new and progressive throughout human history has come about due to our ability to build off of the ideas that came before. A refusal to embrace that means you’re likely to stay a few steps behind those that do.

*I might be the only person to read The Divine Comedy and prefer Purgatory to Inferno, specifically because I love the idea of Dante using it as an artistic outlet for having an imagined chat with his favorite writers.