Get your message heard — and get the outcome you want.
In a fast-moving business like construction, with its countless moving parts and multiple stakeholders, miscommunication can be costly. On the flip side, communicating clearly — and making sure the recipient is on board with your message — can pay off in terms of both time and money.
Good communication is a skill. Anyone can improve it with the help of these tips from experts.
Don’t just talk — listen
Communication is a two-way street. Listening is as important as talking. It helps to listen in a way that is open and non-judging, noted Kathy Taberner, certified executive coach and co-founder of the Institute of Curiosity. You have to be ready to understand the message you’re receiving, not just listening for what you want to hear. People who are ready to listen will find they are already a huge step closer to clearer communication.
Step away from the email
There are times when it helps to have a paper trail. But for important conversations — for instance, around a major materials delay or a rework request that will lead to a significant price increase — pick up the phone, or better yet, meet face to face.
In fact, it’s the toughest conversations that should be had in person. “Too often we take the easy and often cowardly option of using email or text messaging to avoid the emotional discomfort of a real time conversation,” wrote Margie Warrell, a certified master coach and authority on brave leadership, in an article in Forbes.
Avoid email anytime there’s a chance the message could be misunderstood, or when you are apologizing for something. Picking up the phone or meeting in person can help prevent the need for damage control later on.
Ask open-ended questions
When you need to understand a complex situation, Taberner advised moving beyond yes/no questions. Ask open questions — those that begin with “who,” “what,” “where,” “when “or “how.” Doing so can yield answers that surprise you and help you get to the bottom of what’s really happening vs. what you assume is happening.
Reframe and repeat
Often, people think they’re being crystal clear but the message is lost in translation. To confirm that you understand what someone’s saying, try repeating back what you heard. Summarize with an opening like, “It sounds like you are saying…” This gives the speaker the chance to make any corrections or elaborate.
“This helps both parties better understand and be on the same page,” said Taberner.
Set next steps
It’s one thing to talk about doing something; it’s another to agree to specific action items and timing. “Don’t settle on fuzzy next steps that make your message fizzle out,” said Ben Decker, CEO of Decker Communications and co-author of “Communicate to Influence: How to Influence Your Audience to Action.” “Give them as many concrete, specific details as possible.”
“Specific action steps can be checked off a to-do list. This is what actually drives action,” he added. Establish a deadline for each step — by Monday at 5 p.m., by end of week, by our next meeting.
To influence, make your message about the listener
When you need to “sell” an idea or a project, talk about what it means for each stakeholder individually and how it will benefit them, advised Decker.
“By shifting the focus to the needs and wants of your audience, you can create a communication experience where those in your audience are motivated to do something,” Decker said. “Audience-centered content transforms the whole experience. You’ll motivate them to action — and action is what communication is all about.”
Megan Headley has been writing about every aspect of the built environment since 2004. As owner of ClearStory Publications, LLC, Megan demonstrates her passion for helping contractors create more productive and safer jobsites, and more sustainable and successful projects.