FIVE simple communication tips to enhance relationships in business—and life

One of the main reasons that relationships break down relates to one issue: communication. Whether it’s between life partners, coach-player, boss-employee or parent-child, communication often makes or breaks the relationship.

Why does communication often fail in relationships?  There are a host of reasons, but it may be fair to suggest that two broad categories come to mind.  Either a) there is no real communication between two individuals and the relationship just dies over time or b) the communication that does occur is simply poor.

Head in the sand – avoidance

Sometimes people avoid talking about what they are thinking and feeling.  The reasons can be varied.  It may be a form of control and keeping the other person “in line”; it may be fear of being misunderstood; sometimes we just don’t know how to say what it is we want to say.  Regardless of the root cause, when people stop communicating it erodes trust, invites negative projections and eventually creates a major disconnect. In these situations one party has to take the first step and there has to be a mutual willingness to deal with any simmering issues that may be causing misunderstanding or conflict.

Dealing with poor communication

Here are some action steps that might help bridge the gap when it comes to how we interact with one another:

  1. Acknowledgement

In relationships, most of us need affirmation and acknowledgement.  It can be about our ideas, our values, the work we are doing or where we stand in that particular relationship.  When no affirmation (in word or action) is occurring, when the other party does not seem to recognize or acknowledge us or our contributions, a void is created.  We can fill that gap by acknowledging, in words and by action, what the other person means to us—and how they make a difference.

  1. Hearing is a sense; listening is a skill

The above phrase is intended to highlight what should be obvious to us, but we sometimes forget. It’s pretty difficult to make our hearing better, but all of us can choose to become better listeners.  This is a matter of having the willingness to pay attention and look at things from the other person’s perspective. When we truly begin to listen to the other person, and seek clarification when needed, we are taking steps to build a healthier relationship.

  1. Putting ourselves in the shoes of the other person

This point is a cousin of the aforementioned comments regarding “listening”. Most of us are sensitive, but primarily to our own feelings and needs.  When we can make the transition to being able to actually put ourselves in the shoes of other people, it instantly makes us more aware, more sensitive and more responsive. Why?  Because we see and feel things that we likely did not make the effort to understand before.

  1. Tone matters—a lot

In the business world, organizations often fret over when and how (through what vehicles) they should communicate their “message”. But they often neglect the more important “how”—that is, the way they communicate and how they come across. When people write or talk in a manner that is insensitive, condescending or even rude and their tone is off-putting, the impact on those receiving the message is disastrous.

How we say what we say is tremendously important, whether those we are communicating with agree with what we are saying or not.  But before people may even consider agreeing with us, we first have to connect with them.  And that means communicating with them in a way that encourages them to at least be willing to listen to what we have to say.

  1. Apologize without “ifs”

It’s very difficult for some people, especially if they are in a “power” position, to admit they are wrong.  And it’s especially difficult at times to apologize sincerely.

Unfortunately, some apologies are not worth the effort, because they are framed so poorly. 

When someone says, “I’m sorry if I offended you…”, the word “if” often sends the wrong message.  When we’re going to apologize, we should do so without equivocation. 

Qualified apologies often miss the mark.  It’s usually better to skip the "if" and simply acknowledge our misdeed and say, “I’m genuinely sorry about what I said/did and that I hurt you. I was wrong.”  Those words demonstrate that the responsibility is on us, not on the offended party.

There are many other things that could be included that help or hinder healthy communication (body language, misunderstandings caused by e-mails, etc.) when it comes to personal and workplace relationships, but these five simple nuggets may be a helpful start in building—or re-building—relationships.