Communication is so foundational that it’s almost a bit trite to specifically call it as a business principle. However, we leave a lot of communication unintentional, which is unfortunate because we should be using it to effectively transmit our intended message to our intended recipient and have them understand it the way that we meant. On today’s podcast, Stephen Krausse takes a deep dive into communication and how small business owners can integrate it into their day to day operation plan so that they can make the most out of the communication tools that they’re using. Remember, communication is a key principle in business, and all of the communications channels that we use in business should be labeled and handled with care.
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Practical Communication For Small Business | Up And To The Right | Episode 044
I wanted to talk a little bit about communication. It’s so foundational that it almost might seem a little bit trite to specifically call out communication as a business principle. I think it’s worth doing, because we intentionally use a narrow group of communication channels. A lot of times, what I’ve seen is that we leave a lot of communication unintentional. I wanted to talk a little bit about communication in general and hopefully get your mind on the idea that it’s a pretty complicated topic. It’s something worth spending time on as a small business owner and get communication to the top of your mind a little bit. I’ll help you find ways to integrate it into your day-to-day operation plan so that you can make the most out of the communication tools that you’re using. The communication philosophies or ideas that we know about that can help you communicate more effectively and make sure that what you’re communicating is what you intend. That’s what we’re going to talk about. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
I think you’re going to find this time well-spent. This is episode 44, Practical Communication for Small Business, and let’s get right to it. I want to go back to episode 41, where I talked about what the six fundamental business principles were or the ones that I identified. I want to throw a reminder out, what I defined a business principle as? There are a lot of good things you can do for a business that are not necessarily principles. A business principle is a concept that is both fundamental and universal, which means it’s relevant to all businesses and it’s basic. You have to have it to build a business upon.
What Is Communication?
That sets a pretty high bar for what a principal can be because it has to be something you have to have to build a business and it has to be something that’s universal to all businesses. Probably, of all six of these principles, communication is the one that has the least argument against it being a business principle. What is communication in general? It’s the transmission of an idea from one individual to another. At its core, it doesn’t even have to be people. It can be the communication from any individual to any other individual, whether bees or primates.
In our case, it’s our transmission of an idea between one person and another. More importantly, the successful transmission of that information from one person to another. How we go about that is how we use the tools and the concepts of communication that have been learned over thousands of years. We want to be able to successfully transmit our intended message to our intended recipient and have them understand it the way that we meant. There’s a lot that goes into that process. At the end of the day, it’s the transfer of information from a sender to the recipient in a way that the recipient understands what the sender meant. Why is that a business principle? You have to be able to communicate to run a business.
You have to be able to convey ideas, whether it’s to your customers or to your team or to vendors that you have to be able to communicate. It doesn’t matter what business model you use or if you’re solopreneur or a Fortune 500 company, you’re going to have to communicate. I want to share a story from about 1983. I was working at a supermarket in New Mexico as a fifteen-year-old or something around there. We had changed the radio station to a local rock station. I imagine it was probably playing hair bands at that point. I was stocking a shelf in one of the canned goods aisles, and a woman stopped me. She politely suggested that the music made her want to leave the store faster. The first part of the story is, there’s a couple of things that are already communication issues. First of all, our management team hadn’t made it clear what kind of environment they wanted and how the music that was played over the PA entered into that.
As a 15 or 16-year-old kid, it never entered my mind. That was the first problem. The next communication issue is that created an environment that was basically hostile to some of the clientele for that store. A teenage Stephen Krausse responded politely, but that since we spent eight hours a day in the store and customers only spent 45 minutes or so, we felt it was better to have music that we liked. That’s a whole different level of problems that I have been embarrassed, that I ever said since probably the day after I said it, but certainly all of my adult life.
My communication with women, while polite, was certainly inappropriate in a business context. The whole point is that there’s so much about communication that we don’t concentrate on as business owners and the owners for that supermarket hadn’t communicated those things to us. It matters because of how customers feel. This ties into this whole idea that communication happens, whether you intend it to or not, whether it’s the music in your store. Every time you communicate, there’s an experience that surrounds that communication. There’s an experience that surrounds your intention.
In fact, every time you interact with a customer or a vendor, or even a team member, someone who’s part of your team, there’s still a communication that happens around you that might not be part of your intended message. It’s the tone that you use when you speak, the clothing that you wear. I’m not saying necessarily that you always have to dress up, but you have to understand it and acknowledge that what you’re wearing speaks to the person that you’re talking to. The environment around you, if you’re meeting in a coffee shop that has a specific feel, and it will communicate a certain feeling and tone to a meeting, where a conference room is going to have a different tone and a different environment. The words that you choose, in a lot of cases, we are very loose with our language and in our culture. English is bad enough to begin with because words have so many meanings.It doesn't matter what business model you use or if you’re a solopreneur or a Fortune 500 company; you're going to have to communicate. Click To Tweet
There are so many different words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings. There’s a whole issue of grammar that we need to be careful of because you may believe that you’re saying one thing using the words that you think are right. The recipient may have a different understanding of what you’re saying, so you can have a different conversation. The channel that you use can have its own implications in terms of how important is the message or how serious is the message. We don’t want doctors posting what happened in our test results on Twitter. That’s an extreme example. The reason I’m using that is because there’s obviously a place and a time for specific communication method. If a doctor’s going to give you bad news, they should be doing that in person and certainly not doing it publicly, which they don’t of course.
Types Of Communication
Understanding what communication is and the fact that it happens no matter what we do, what are some of the types of communication that we use in business? For me, I categorize three different types. There’s internal communication, which is among our team, where you might share the vision, the mission, work instructions, work processes and internal orders. If somebody needs to make three widgets that are purple, that’s part of what we would communicate internally. There’s external public communication. That’s advertising, marketing, sales, public relations, things like that. There are external private communications and that’s your accounting, your legal, assuming of course you have an external accountant, or compliance, or communication with vendors.
Eight Components Of Communication
Things where you’re communicating to someone who’s not inside your business, but it’s about your business and it’s not for public consumption. Those are the three basic communication ideas that I think we have in business that we need to consider. The next thing I wanted to talk about is the components of communication. There are eight components of communication that I found when I was doing my research on this. I could not for the life of me find a source document who came up with these.
The eight components. They are source, that’s you, the message, what you intend to communicate, the channel, how are you doing it? Are you calling them on the phone? Are you having a one on one meeting? Are you Tweeting it? What’s the channel? The receiver, obviously, the person who’s receiving the message. Feedback, that can be the back and forth we might have if we’re having a conversation and environment. That goes back to what I was saying, if you’re having a meeting in a coffee shop that has a different impact on the message than having a meeting in a conference room. The context and finally, the interference.
You can think of context as all of the things that surround the topic that we didn’t already talk about. There could be a history of purchase order issues that you’re discussing and you’re discussing one specific thing, but all of those issues are part of the context of your discussion. You might not even intend to bring those things into the conversation, and yet for the recipient, that’s their context for your discussion. It’s important to be aware of what context might be impacting a conversation that you don’t even intend. Interference is the things that come between you and your recipient.
A very easy example for that is a language barrier. If I’m a native English speaker, you are not a native English speaker, and I’m trying to convey a message to you, there is an interference in that language barrier, because I don’t natively speak your language. You don’t natively speak mine and things can get lost in translation. Three of those things are very specific discussion. I don’t want to go too long, but I do want to talk about three of them. That’s channel, message and interference. The reason I want to talk about the channel is we have so many communication channels in our time.
The communication channel that I’m using, email, phone calls, one-on-one meetings, Zoom meetings, where you have video involved. There are a lot of one-way advertising channels, billboards, television ads, ads on the internet. There are communication channels which are shorthand in two way. You can have a Twitter conversation with someone or text messaging. There’s this explosion of channels in our culture that we have to take into consideration. Each of them has their own benefits and their own pros and cons. There are definitely some problems when you’re trying to communicate specific ideas with some of these tools.
When we talk about communication channels, we also tend to narrow that down in our head to written and verbal, whether that’s written on a computer or verbal on a phone call or in person. It’s also important to remember that that part of our experience with a conversation or part of the communication that impacts us as recipients is every sense that is impacted by that experience. If you walk into a bakery and it smells like fresh baked bread, that impacts how you experienced that. That is part of the communication that is happening. For some of us who are movie buffs, popcorn and movie theaters go together. You can imagine food samples in grocery stores. That tastes sensation is part of the communication for that brand.
We go back to the music that’s playing in the background. All of those things help you either achieve an experience for somebody, or are part of your experience as the recipient. In most conversations, it is two-way. Each of you is having a communication experience, and that means that all of those things play into that experience for both of you. It’s important to understand that there are a lot of channels for written and visual communication and audio communication, but every one of our senses can be impacted by an experience. We don’t expect to smell popcorn when we get an email from the movie theater. Although I suppose that there’s probably somebody out there trying to work on that, but it does have an impact if it occurs. That’s the important thing with channels is understanding that there are a lot of them, and that if you don’t consider the senses that you’re impacting, that you didn’t intend to, you can change the experience for your recipient. I think it’s important to remember that your message can be layered and this is not by intent.
Certainly, comedians layer messages all the time, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the layer, one being what you intended to communicate and layer two is everything else that was communicated that you didn’t intend. Not that it was bad, but it was unintentional and you didn’t control it. You can’t control everything. I understand that, but there are things that you can take into consideration when you’re creating an environment. There are that I want to talk about. One is video conferencing. I did an episode a while back about getting the most out of the video equipment that you already have.
Part of that discussion was about the environment that you put yourself in for video conferencing. In the case of this livestream, I look at the frame and everything in the frame is intended to be there. I’ve got a background that I specifically made. It’s layered with 2 backlights, 2 front lights, I’ve got 2 cameras and it’s like, “This is camera 1. This is camera 2.” There’s nothing in the frame that is accidental. If you’re doing video conferencing from your kitchen, because you’re having social distancing, that can send a completely different message because there may be a lot of unintended noise in the frame.
I’m not going to go into how to correct this in every instance, but what’s important for this particular discussion is that you understand that everything in the frame of a video conference call is part of your message, whether you want it to be or not. If it’s something that you can control, then you can adjust what’s in the frame of your camera to compensate for that so that everything in the frame is part of the message that you’re trying to convey. The next thing is body language. I’m sure that you’ve heard that most communication in is nonverbal.
This matters to communication in general, because as soon as you take video or in person communication away, you’ve lost most of how we as humans communicate, which is nonverbal. The explosion of the use of video conferencing during the social distancing in pandemic, is great for businesses. We’re going to get comfortable using a medium that allows us to have that context of body language, or at least more of it. Most of us aren’t standing in front of a camera 6 or 8 feet away so our full body is in the shot. That’s something where you can at least get facial expression, hand gestures, for those of you who speak with your hands, like I do. That is also part of that layer two of the message. I think it’s important to keep those things in mind.
The other thing I want to talk about is interference, and what gets in the way of your message. The first two are how you encode it and the biases that you have when you encode your message. There’s the bias that the recipient has as they decode the message. One of the important things that comes up a lot is the curse of knowledge. I think it’s called where, once you a thing it’s impossible to understand what it means to not know that thing. If you know something and you’re trying to share it with someone else, how you share that message can be driven by how much you assume that person knows.
It’s easy to fall into a trap of that person knows as much as I do, or has this knowledge that, “I don’t even think about as a background to the message.” As the encoder or sender, you need to think about what context you’re assuming, or what background knowledge you’re assuming someone has when they get it so that they can decode it properly. Properly meaning in the way that you want them. Other things with interference, it’s everything between you and your recipient. If that’s a language barrier, encoding and decoding bias, or maybe it’s a difference of opinion or a different understanding of the facts. If we assume that one-on-one in person communication is the most effective, then every step we take away from that makes it more difficult to communicate effectively because there are more opportunities for interference to get in the way.
Those eight components are important elements of communication that need to be addressed. Before I go any further, it’s important at this point to say communication is important. We all intuitively understand that, but we also don’t always use intention and focus on the message when we communicate. That’s where things fall apart. As small business owners, we don’t have time to fix communication problems. It’s easy to say, “I’ve got to do this email fast because I’ve got 100,000 other things to do.”Whatever concept you're trying to get across could be misconstrued or misinterpreted. Put enough context around it to avoid that. Click To Tweet
If we back up and say, “What can be misconstrued in this email or phone call or whatever that will cause me a problem in the future that I’m going to have to fix?” “I need you guys to make those red.” They come back fire engine red, but you meant flat rust colored brick red, those kinds of things. We need to go back and say, “What can go wrong with this communication and is there something I need to add?” There are times when communication can be very quick and very simple. “Do you want brick red or fire engine red.” That can be a three-word email. The important thing is when you’re communicating, make sure that whatever the concept that you’re trying to get across, understand how it could be misconstrued or misinterpreted and put enough context around it to avoid that in most cases. You’re never going to get 100%. You have to use the 80/20 rule, “Do 20% more work so that you can get 80% of the situation covered.” At some point, you can’t write a book for every single small business transaction. I understand that.
Communication Channel Guidelines
I did want to talk a little bit about some communication channel guidelines. These are personal things that I think are important. You may feel differently, but these are things I wanted to mention. I’ve got five short topics here. With video, there’s a few things I like to keep in mind. One is, “What’s in the frame?” We talked about that already. It’s more important to get your audio and video right and then remember that you’re on camera. Especially, if you’re doing these video conference calls. Have your contact information in your email. Don’t make your contacts dig for your phone number and your email address. Even your company name, it’s easy to assume that everybody remembers who you are for whatever reason, but I promise you when I’m digging through 1,000 emails, I don’t remember necessarily who every single person is all the time.
Especially, if it’s a new contact, but if I see their title, company and phone number, then I have context that I can use to place them. If I’m trying to find a specific contact to talk about something with, I can either remember the person’s name or the company and do a search in my email and something will come up. That’s really helpful. There’s no reason to make a contact dig for that. Just put it in your signature. Contact info in every email. It’s easy to go back and forth on a Reply To and say, “That’s what I meant,” or whatever. The first email of the day, I always put a greeting, even if it’s a conversation that we’re continuing from yesterday. I think that’s nice.
Only reply to all for distribution and notification, if you expect someone to do something reply to them. Reply to All should never have been invented. Assume that the person you would least like to read an email will get a copy eventually and write it that way. That’s super important because you can never assume that once an email goes out of your inbox, that it is not going to get into the inbox of the person who made you upset and you were venting to your friend. Always compose an email with the assumption the person you’d least like to have read it is going to get it.
Along with that, don’t use email as the first point of contact for negative information if for bad news. Always use a phone call or an in-person meeting, if you can. It’s more respectful. I absolutely follow up with an email to document everything. Don’t write angry. If you need to vent, make sure you delete all of the addresses in the email before you start writing. If you have to save the draft and look at it the next day, make sure you get rid of those email addresses in the to, copy, BCC and everything to make sure that you don’t send an email you regret.
Try to keep them clean, clear, concise and short. Remember that there’s no emotional context in email that you didn’t put there. You need to be aware of that so that as you composing your email, you’re conveying information in a way that the recipient will receive it. Hopefully, positively. For phone, just a couple of quick things. Never say goodbye before your customer does. Let them say goodbye and be the one who terminates the conversation. Stand if you can, and smile when you’re talking on the phone. Texting in business, I’m pretty lukewarm about myself. We go back to the emotional context issue that can be a problem, maybe don’t use it unless you need to.
I use it very sparingly and only with either colleagues that I know well, even then for very short items or for people who are so distant from the company, “We moved into this new building. We still get mail for these guys. Sometimes, I text them so they can come and get the mail.” There’s no business impact if something goes wrong with the text necessarily. I think there’s a lot of risk with text. Social media is a whole monster unto itself. It’s still the Wild West of communication. There are new tools all the time, Instagram Stories and things like TikTok, which I personally don’t know what it is and I don’t have the time to look into that. The idea is to make sure you’re using the social media tool to support your intended message. You’re not sending a message that you don’t intend with the tool. I think that’s the most important thing to remember is, “Are using a communication channel to support your business in a way that it’s supporting your business?”
After all of that, what can we practically take away from this discussion of communication and business? First of all, it is a big topic. People get masters and doctorates in tiny slivers of communication. As small business owners, we obviously can’t do that. It’s a huge topic, but we need to become students of communication. That is important, regardless of what you see as your role in your business, communication is going to be an important part of it. To become a student of communication, understand the channels that you use and determine if they’re being well utilized to communicate your message and your vision.
What channels are you using and are they being well used? Are you communicating messages that you don’t intend? When you do a video conference call, is your office a mess or are you at your kitchen table and there’s a stack of dirty dishes on the counter? In this current timeframe that could happen. Those are just examples, but if you look at the environment of your message, what is being sent that you don’t intend, or that doesn’t support the message that you’re trying to send? What are some communication tools that you use in your business or some ideas that have helped you in your business? Drop a comment, we’ll connect and share ideas.
Communication is a key principle in business. We use it for internal use, for external private use, external public use, and all of the communications channels that we use in business should be labeled and handle with care enough that it causes us to be intentional about our use. Next episode, we’re going to have episode 45, which is going to be talking about the principle of value. How do we add value to our customers? What does that mean for small business? Our vision at Beyond 50 Percent is that successful business ownership should be the standard, not the exception.
We develop actionable solutions to help business owners cultivate practical business knowledge, so they can act with informed purpose to improve business operations, management and benefit from business ownership. Visit our website at Beyond50Percent.com for more information, or contact us to schedule a complimentary one-on-one meeting with a kindred spirit and see how we can help you benefit more from your entrepreneurial journey. If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe and share it with your small business owner colleagues. Thank you for reading. or me, it’s time to get back to work.
- Episode 41 – previous episode
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