Effective business communications

The speakers and attendees at the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario convention held recently in Toronto offered a wealth of practical advice for communications in the workplace according to Globe and Mail columnist Virginia Galt.

Management consultant Peter Taylor of Peter Taylor and Associates Inc. in Oshawa speaks of the need for face-to-face meetings to communicate about contentious issues:

If an issue is contentious, it’s better to handle it in person. “A face-to-face meeting is probably most important when you are afraid to have it; the more contentious, the more you need to be there,” Mr. Taylor says.

Ms. Alderson says people will often hide behind e-mail when they have unpleasant news to deliver and, like Mr. Taylor, she recommends that the most complex matters be handled in person.

Ms. Alderson says e-mail is effective and convenient for conveying messages and information, but less effective as a communications tool. Face-to-face communication is best, when possible, and telephone contact is the next best option for genuine dialogue. E-mail adds “another degree of separation,” she says. “Communication is a two-way street. Most of what we are doing today is not communicating; we’re simply sending messages.”

Mr. Taylor, who counsels clients on the importance of operating with “emotional intelligence” — including being aware of how one’s actions affect others — says it is much easier “to pick up people’s reactions if you have some sort of live interaction, be it face-to-face or voice contact.”

James Gray, principal of Toronto-based Media Strategy Inc., has some good advice for those of us who are prone to turn to the phone while on the fly:

Ms. Alderson says it is important, as well, to make sure that you are in a time and place where you can give the person on the other end of the telephone your full attention.

Conducting a phone conversation while you are on the treadmill breathing heavily into the telephone, or tapping on your keyboard at your desk, sends a message that you are “distracted, disorganized or disinterested,” she says.

Mr. Taylor says it is important to listen to telltale signs that the other person is rushed or distracted as well. Ask if it is a good time, and whether they prefer to conduct business by e-mail, by telephone or in person. If they say it is not a good time, don’t ignore them and launch into a long discussion anyway, Ms. Alderson adds.

Conversely, it is not always prudent to pick up the phone when you are in the thick of something else. “Be selective” and let voice mail pick up at times, Ms. Alderson says. Avoid, too, the common trap of responding to every e-mail as soon as it lands in the inbox.

Good, practical advice that’s worth remembering and putting into practice.