Learning how to communicate effectively in a business environment can result in personal gains for you and significant boosts for your company…

Most studies show that a well-connected team can increase its productivity by 25% or more.

That’s a huge increase. It’s largely responsible for the growth of the entire industry which teaches effective communication skills as its raison d’etre.

Yet there are many methods you can use to improve communication between members of your own team without resorting to outside experts.

Here are five common barriers to effective workplace communication and six strategies you can use to start improving yours right away:

How to communicate effectively

Let’s start by taking a look at some things which are the opposite of effective communication:

1) Clichés

Clichés are loosely defined as a “trite phrase or expression which has become overly familiar or commonplace.”

Some common examples which are often used in business communication include:

  • Pull together
  • Give 110%
  • Kick it through the goalposts
  • Get it over the finish line
  • Bang for your buck

Clichés are to be avoided if you want to be clear in what you are saying. Of course, many people you are communicating with may get the gist of what you mean when you use a cliché. Yet, this sort of language is never going to deliver as precise a message as simply saying what you mean.

Overuse of cliches is also a common sign of leaders who can’t rely on simple language to motivate and lead their team effectively.

If you’re an international business or you have a multinational or multilingual workforce, using cliches also makes translating your internal communications more challenging.

You will need a highly skilled translator to localise the expression to the equivalent in your target language. There is also a danger that an equivalent phrase may not exist in some cases or be far less common in terms of use.

2) Slang

Closely related to clichés by some measures, slang is often defined as “invented words and phrases specific to a certain group of people”.

For much the same reasons as clichés, using slang in business communications is rarely a good decision.

Not only does it make your communications sound informal, but it can also reduce the authority you are seen to speak with.

What’s more, slang tends to be understood by even smaller circles of people than most clichés are…

This means you can confuse not only colleagues who grew up in other cultures or who are native speakers of other languages but also those who may have lived in a different city or gone to a different type of school.

Even colleagues who have grown up at a different time in the same country – or even the same region – may struggle to understand you if you use slang.

3) Vagueness

Detail is one of the keys to effective communication in the workplace. Vague statements (and clichés certainly fall into this category), on the other hand, lead to confusion, missed deadlines and other undesirable outcomes.

If someone knows what they are talking about, they should be able to explain their point in simple terms.

You’ll be able to spot dangerously vague communication easily. It will often include:

  • Long, rambling sentences – which use more words than necessary to get a point across or which don’t seem to have any set point.
  • Words of unnecessary length or complexity – why use these when a couple of short words would deliver the same message?
  • Repetition – making the same point in several different, sometimes slightly contradictory ways.
  • Indefinite deadlines – “Resolve this ASAP!” does not have the same definitive edge as “resolve this by 31/5”.

The length and precision of your internal communications are also important to bear in mind if you regularly need to have them translated for your international workforce:

  • Longer communications – will tend to cost more to translate, though a properly trained custom Machine Translation (MT) engine may offer a solution for basic internal communications.
  • Unnecessary complexity – will add to the difficulty of, the time required for and thus the costs of translation.

4) Commonly confused words and homophones

Homophones are words which sound the same but have different meanings. The most common example in English is probably “there”, “their” and “they’re”.

In addition to actual homophones, there are many words in the English language which are regularly confused because they look similar or have similar definitions. These might include:

  • Affect/ effect
  • Especially/ specially
  • Quite/ quiet
  • Through/ thorough/ throw
  • Explicit/ implicit
  • Conscience/ conscious
  • Are/ our

Both homophones and commonly confused words like those above are easily misunderstood by international team members – and they can be a problem for some native speakers too!

They are best used judiciously and read over carefully when used in business communication.

5) Jargon

Jargon is usually defined as “technical words and phrases common to a specific profession or discipline”. These phrases often have other meanings – or make no sense at all – outside of the field or industry in which they are used.

The key to using jargon when it’s appropriate is to always be aware of who your audience is:

If you use jargon in communications between members of your closely-knit specialist team where you are certain everyone knows what you mean, this is acceptable. In fact, it’s often necessary in order to refer to specialist concepts.

However, if you use it when speaking to a broader audience inside your own company – which might include members of perhaps the finance or HR teams who have their own specialist jargon but often no need to understand the technical language of the wider company – you will create confusion and a feeling of exclusion.

Jargon can also be difficult to translate accurately. If you often use jargon in your internal communications and are intending to have them translated for your international team, consider:

  1. Translator expertise – ensure that any translator you use is a professional linguist with experience or qualifications in that specific field.
  2. Agreed technical glossaries – working with your Language Service Provider to agree on the translations of commonly used industry or brand terms and jargon is a smart move.
  3. Machine Translation training – if you use a custom MT engine to speed up and reduce the cost of translating your internal communications, you will want to make sure it has been trained on clean, high-quality, relevant data.

6) Doublespeak and euphemisms

Doublespeak is a word taken from the George Orwell novel 1984. It has been defined as an “ironic tribute to public speakers who have perpetuated language that is grossly deceptive, evasive, euphemistic, confusing, or self-centred.”

It’s essentially a dark extension of the euphemism, which is characterised as “a gentler, but sometimes inaccurate, way of saying something.”

For example, in business, rather than “firing people”, a corporate headquarters may talk of “downsizing.”

The language of doublespeak is immensely harmful whenever it used. Not only is it disingenuous and usually morally reprehensible, it often results in negative PR consequences for companies when the actual truth comes to light.

It is also the enemy of the overarching goal of all effective business communication techniques:


How to communicate effectively in a business environment

If you avoid using all of the above, you will be off to a flying start when it comes to improving your own communication practices or those of your company.

But how about some positive goals to strive towards too?

Here are some elements which most effective business communication techniques have in common:

1) Decide on your level of formality

Most businesses have brand guidelines and codes of conduct which govern the level of formality employees should adhere to in internal as well as external communications.

If yours doesn’t, it might be worth considering writing some.

The “correct” level of formality might vary depending on the situation. Between two close friends or members of the same team, shorthand and abbreviations might be okay.

For the vast majority of business communications though, a certain level of formality is almost always to be expected. This doesn’t mean you have to speak in long, droning, perfect sentences.

It does mean you need to be direct, polite and avoid too much informality in most situations.

For international teams, language like this almost always easier to translate too.

2) Express emotion in respectful ways

Expressing emotion is sometimes necessary in a business environment. Expressing yourself with emotion – especially anger – is generally not helpful to anyone.

Always avoid:

  • Using lots of exclamation marks – for the same reason!!!

Consider beginning by clarifying the situation. Perhaps explain that a person’s failure to complete a project on task has made the entire team fail to complete their assignment.

If in doubt, remember the basic rule:

Including an observation relating to the emotions of the situation is usually acceptable. Making emotion the communication’s entire content usually isn’t.

3) Know your audience

Although slang, clichés and jargon were the enemies in part one above, there are times when using them can be appropriate.

For example, in marketing, slang and clichés can play a powerful and effective role. If you have already run international marketing campaigns though, you will be aware that they can be very challenging to localise effectively:

The localisation of your international marketing will always require a highly skilled professional translator.

If clichés are in play, this becomes even more important. A native speaker of any language will be intimately familiar with its idioms. This makes it very obvious when they are being used clumsily or incorrectly.

In internal communications, knowing your audience will again help you decide when the use of jargon, slang or clichés are helpful or appropriate – or confusing and pointless.

4) Always ask questions

Learning how to ask questions is an important part of communication in business. Making assumptions about how things are going to proceed will often result in a poor outcome

Always clarify the situation first:

  • What does each party expect?
  • What does this specific detail mean?
  • What does a person think about this project or this performance? (ask for feedback)

Questions demonstrate that you are listening. They also make sure everyone is proceeding from the same start point.

5) Don’t assume knowledge

Most internal communication systems businesses set up are imperfect. Communications occur through multiple channels – in-person chats, meetings, emails, Skype calls – and aren’t always recorded in a central location for easy reference.

This means that assuming knowledge of a decision or situation on the part of the person you are communicating with is usually a bad idea.

That’s why disseminating information from a central point – and translating it for non-native speakers of your company’s primary language – should have such a prominent role in your communication strategy.

But if someone does ask you a question, don’t get angry. They may not have all of the knowledge that you do. This is why it’s so vital to…

6) Always answer the question

One of the most frustrating things in business communication is to ask a question and not receive an answer.

This could mean – especially in companies with a large or distributed workforce where communication often happens online or through a network – situations such as this:

  • Team member: “How do we proceed with this situation – A or B?”
  • Line manager: “Yes.”

Even worse, it could mean a question receives no acknowledgement at all.
Not only does this damage staff morale by making your team feel they are not being listened to, but it can also seriously harm productivity and lead to situations where team members have to use their own initiative as to the best way to proceed.

This can then be detrimental if another team member is faced with the same situation at another time and decides on a contradictory approach.

Even if you or another member of your team does not know the answer, your internal communication standards should mandate that they acknowledge a question has been asked:

  1. Acknowledge the question (“Good question, Janice.”)
  2. Tell them why you can’t give an answer right now (“I will need to investigate.”)
  3. Give a timeframe for your later response (“I will get back to you by 26/9.”)

7) Be straightforward

The need to maintain a certain level of formality – or a desire to avoid making a decision or being seen to criticise those above you in the company’s hierarchy – often leads to a lot of talking around a subject but no real content.

The goal of all good business communication should be to be as straightforward as possible. After all, this is the definition of communication:

“To impart or exchange information.”

If someone often resorts to euphemisms or uses a lot of words but doesn’t really say anything, they aren’t communicating. They’re just talking.

Effective business communication takes time

The importance of effective business communication cannot be overstated. Support and encourage good practice wherever you find it.

Don’t expect change to happen overnight though. Finding the right communication methods for your business is hard work.

But, armed with the basic lessons in this article, you should know where to start improving your current strategies.Do you need to know more about how to communicate effectively in a business environment?

Asian Absolute helps international businesses around the world succeed with their multilingual communications.

Leave a comment below with any questions you have – or get a free, no-obligation quote on overcoming your next challenge at any time.