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Improving Communication With Marlise van der Merwe

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Communication is one of the most important aspects of any business, and improving how you do it can make a huge difference to not only your bottom line, but your workplace happiness too.  

Marlise van der Merwe is a business engagement partner at the Alternative Board who is an expert in systems management, service delivery, team dynamics, and the role of communication within the workplace. She joined us to pass on her knowledge on effective communication and how you can reap it’s benefits. 

Adapting your communication style 

Communication is a process, and you have to consider the message you want to send to your audience as well as the different listening styles because different people communicate differently and they have a preference to be communicated to. Some people like more details. Some people would like communication to be slower. They need time to process what you’re saying and feel safe and have that comfortable, calm feel around them. Some people prefer to read through things and process the material in that way. 

There are various options on how you can communicate. The important part of it is to consider the intent of the message. What is it that you want to communicate with and why? 

Talk like a 15-year-dld

My general rule of thumb is to use easy language at a general age of 15 years old. If a 15-year-old is listening and he or she understands the message, you can use this type of language toHappy employees having a meeting communicate with people. Not everybody knows a specific industry talk, the jargon and the abbreviations they use.   

When you use those terms, make sure that you also give a proper explanation of what it means and put it in context. When you’re going to talk to people, say, at an old age facility or a specific city, you should do a bit of study of who your audience is—what is the general age, what’s the culture, what are the language that’s spoken, is English the first language, is it younger generation? Do a bit of research around that region: what’s the history like, what technology trends are going in there, what type of firms and technology are they used to. 

Once you’ve got a bit of a background regarding that, you can then work out what is the best medium to reach them. 

What are ways to make communication more effective? 

You’ve touched on a couple of things, including cultural differences, like if you passed your business card to someone in Japan and you handed it with one hand, it would be seen as very

woman writing on a notebook

disrespectful. Hold it using both hands when passing a business card. Similarly, in a business meeting, the first few minutes are meant to be friendly banter. You don’t just start talking about business straight away.

1. Use Terms That People Will Understand

If you’re writing about the features and benefits or specifications of something, some of the readers might not know why that’s important to them. You might be writing it fully as a really passionate business owner, but a lot of the time, you’re not your customer. That means that they’re not necessarily understanding what you’re writing, so they’re not going to call you up.

2. Ask for Feedback
If you know someone that’s got a bit of a background, such as culture, or if you can approach someone that can give you a bit more context, go and do it. There’s always someone that might know someone that you can reach out to and bounce your ideas with.  

If you’ve got an important message to share with someone, check it with various people. Check with someone from the Asian culture. Check with someone with South African culture because Australia is so diverse. Remember to study your target audience. 

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3. Utilise Your Target Audience’s Platform

Do a bit of research on the platform that you want to join. If you’re going to talk to teenagers, you might consider talking to them through Snapchat or TikTok.

Some people don’t want too many words, and you have to send the same message in different ways. Some people would like to have a bit more explanation of your intent in a certain way. If people want to know a bit more detail, then prepare a message in that regard. If people prefer a short message, do so but with the purpose. Bring that across like in a picture and you will publish that in different areas.

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4. Communicate to Understand and Be Understood
Even if you were stepping away from marketing and business communication, like knowing your family and knowing your business. You see all the time in shopping centres, a child throws himself on the floor, ‘I want that lolly.’ And then the mother’s yelling or the father’s yelling, ‘No, you’re not going to get the lolly now. Get up.’ If you have a look, the child is communicating exactly the same way as the parent—yelling—as opposed to effective communication. How do you make sure that you have effective communication?

5. Listen Twice as Much as You Speaktwo men talking
Josh has a great story about listening over speaking: I’ve been taught you have two ears and one mouth and use them in that ratio—listen twice as much as you speak. Many years ago, I was working at a shop called Jaycar Electronics. I was selling speakers for certain applications, and someone came in who was deaf. He was looking to buy speakers for his son. When he came in, it nearly made me cry because he just completely entrusted everything on what I had to say.”  

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How can communication be improved in business?

1. Establish a Safe Environment 

Usually, when you look at your business processes and company’s performance and a specific department or certain areas that are not doing as good as they should. About 90% of the time, it is because you are not having a crucial conversation with someone even if you have all the processes documented. Making sure people are doing what they are supposed to be doing by having that crucial conversation has a big impact on your legal and financial environment.  

For instance, when you’re having a crucial conversation with someone, he or she will not be honest if the emotional environment is perceived to be not safe. So how do you create a safe environment?  

Make sure that they understand that all emotions are accepted. Sometimes when you say something, it might come across as being dictative or aggressive. They say there are two cues when people perceive it’s not a safe environment. It’s either silence, that is, people don’t say what they want to say because they don’t feel emotionally safe, or the conversation becomes aggressive. That’s when they become intimidated and start shouting. Find the balance to create that safe environment to speak with people.  

What if there’s a way to improve your team communication and productivity at the same time? Learn more!

2. Understand Nonverbal Cuesa disinterested woman sitting with her arms crossed legs crossed

When people talk to you but don’t make eye contact with you, there are various reasons why they wouldn’t do that. Figure out which is applicable. You can say, ‘If this discussion is too detailed for you, how can I communicate more effectively with you? What works for you?  

You should know your team. If you’re in a leadership position, know what motivates your team. There are various tools that you can use to figure that out, the DiSC Profile method is easy to use.  

You can get an expert to coach your team and help you with general cues. An interesting thing I’ve heard is dealers know when a poker player has got a good deal just by looking at their facial expression.  

 3. Practice, practice, practice

It takes practice. The more you do it, the better you get at it. Practice and talk to your family and even strangers and see how that works for you. Join networks. Have you heard about Lunchclub? It’s a networking platform for practicing your communication skills, but it’s like a networking setup where you get to meet people. They facilitate the introduction, and I use that to meet interesting people. There are various reasons why people do that. It could be to be in contact with people that advance your business in a different area or a country, for instance.  

The conversations I’ve had with those people are very interesting. For me, I’ve got to practice my communication skills and I’ve used different platforms to practice my skill set.  

What if there’s a way to improve your team communication and productivity at the same time? Learn more!

4. Determine what motivates your employees

People also have different motivational methods. What motivates Josh and what motivates myself might be totally different. I like to learn new things and have different experiences, but maybe you like to have a journey through life and experiment with things and feel safe in that area to do so and then give feedback.  

Use what motivates people when communicating with them. If I’m going to talk to my daughter about something that she’s done wrong, I won’t be shouting. With my son, I have to make him realise the consequences of whatever he’s going to do, like ‘That’s not a good idea because you’re going to lose this and this.’  

It’s about knowing the audience, understanding what motivates them, and adjusting the message.

Join the Alternative Board

If you’re interested in improving your communication in business, I highly recommend joining the Alternative Board. We gather small business owners and medium-sized business owners with similar complexities and in similar stages of their business around a table for a safe, secure environment.  

The type of people that are there are not just open to receive input but also open to give input into someone else’s challenges. We use those boards to have a more affordable option for people toroundtable meeting board meeting talk about business and solve challenges using the room’s expertise.   

It’s similar to a board of directors in public companies. It has the same structure. Each one gets a chance to present a challenge and then a round of questions goes to understand the challenge a bit more and make sure that the goals are addressed.   

We also do one-on-one business coaching in terms of forming a strategic plan and then having goals in place to reach that specific personal vision of the owner. As you progress, you take those challenges and opportunities to your board.  

Other people from different walks of life join the board to prepare the next generation and someday distance themselves from the business. They want to prepare their team for different roles and responsibilities. Through the Alternative Board, you can meet very interesting people and become good friends.  

Do you want to take your business to the next level?
Join the Alternative Board!


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