Do you ever feel like the more you repeat yourself, the more people around you don’t understand you? It’s not a rare occurrence for entrepreneurs to feel frustrated. Even after explaining things over and over again to investors, employees, vendors, customers — they still don’t get it. Meanwhile, you think you’re being crystal clear. How do you communicate to make sure everyone’s hearing, and actually understanding, what you have to say?
Colin Powell said, “Leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.” As a leader, one of your most important jobs is to communicate effectively. You must be able to do this with a diverse set of constituents that your company engages with. Successful businesses rely on the owner’s communication skills to set the tone for the company.
Quickly and succinctly convey your business idea, product, or service to your audience. This is true of whether you are speaking with a customer, employee, investor, or advisor. Keep it simple, comprehensible, and clear.
However, sometimes there is a disconnect between the entrepreneur’s understanding and explanation versus the interpretation of the listener.
Sometimes we may think our constituents have a secret club. This is where it’s imagined they plan new ways to mess around with us. However, it turns out we are the common denominator in this negative repetition. If, as entrepreneurs, we stubbornly insist that we’re the ones communicating clearly, our words eventually will fall on deaf ears. Because, in reality, we are likely the ones not making any sense.
Why The Disconnect?
It’s understandable for the following reasons.
- You live and breathe it. Meanwhile, everyone else is in their own bubble. Entrepreneurs live and breathe their business every day. The rest of the world is consumed with thinking about other things like family and their careers. Most of your constituents — whether they are advisers, board members, existing or potential investors, employees or consultants — step in and out of your world. Entrepreneurs are the only ones who think about their business 24/7. They do not live and breathe your venture like you treat your life.
- You know every detail. Entrepreneurs not only live and breathe their business, but we know every detail of every issue. The history of every issue is etched in our minds.
- Your balloon is full. The typical entrepreneur’s balloon is full. We look for a way to let some air out. For some reason, it feels good to send a five paragraph email on why we chose the office space we did.
- You think we need every detail. Successful entrepreneurs adopt the perspective, which is normally wrong (and not usually appreciated) that their audience must know all the details to fully comprehend an issue. For example, consider the moment when someone asks you how you picked your logo. It is tempting to reply with a long-winded answer, but the person asking was really only looking for, and needed, the elevator pitch.
Poor Communication Implications
Great communication requires the ability to clearly deliver a message, align a plan, and generate engagement. The implications for your business are significant. When a party understands the essence of an issue, it leads to deeper discussions on the topic. As such, providing the essence of an issue with clarity is the foundation for good communication. This will naturally lead to next steps with employees, customers, vendors, and investors. If you fail to do this, it will be harder to make real progress. Customer sales cycles get longer. Investor deals get harder. Employee motivation falters. Advisors guard their knowledge and time.
Do not underestimate the negative impact poor communication can have if your company earns a reputation for being difficult. For example, responding to questions with long, complicated answers wears people down. I recently asked an entrepreneur, “What is the price for the product?” The answer was so long that I stopped listening. If this occurs on a regular basis, interacting with you and your company becomes a chore.
Potential investors not only need to be able to grasp the value of your company. They also need to understand your role as a leader. Will it be difficult to communicate together? Is it helpful and informative or does it strain patience and trust? If everything sounds too difficult, they will likely pass.
Your Job — Simple and Clear
Regardless of the cause, our job is not to make it clear for us. The only criterion for success is whether or not the other party understands. If you are failing to achieve this, figure out the cause for the disconnect. For instance, let’s say you find yourself saying “they just don’t get it.” Instead, this should be interpreted to mean that you are not communicating clearly enough for your audience to understand. It’s your job to help them get it.
So, how do you make communication simple and clear? Here are some techniques:
- Send one paragraph emails. Keep your emails to one paragraph only. That paragraph can’t be a thousand words. Most people will not read ten paragraph emails. Don’t risk your audience reading nothing at all.
- Answer questions like you are a trial witness. Communicate the core point you are trying to make. For example, imagine you were on the witness stand at trial. A lawyer asks you, “Have you ever taken a drink before driving?” You could say, “Occasionally I have, but I know my limit.” Or, you could say, “I have, but it depends on the type of alcohol. For beers, I can have a few and it doesn’t affect me. With wine, two glasses is my limit. With liquor, I have a pretty good tolerance so it depends on the drink.” It’s all about being concise and to the point.
- The one-pager. When an issue requires more detail, written communication should not exceed one page. Assume no one is reading more than one page. If you create something greater than a page, pare it down — and not with a larger font.
- Think like Twitter. In all your communications, think like you would tweet when you’re on Twitter. Typically, a tweet is more than 140 characters and then we par it down. Do the same with all of your communications.
Think about the left panel of the front page of The Wall Street Journal. One paragraph about the top stories. Enough to spark your interest. If you get the core of the story, you read more. Take pride in developing good communication skills. Make a commitment to improving these skills. Anyone can write a five-page paper on a given topic. Good leaders can distill five pages into a single, comprehensible page that everyone will read. Start training your organization and clients to expect the one paragraph and the one-pager. Hopefully they will respond with the same economy.
Michael Dermer is an entrepreneur, lawyer, speaker, coach, founder and author of The Lonely Entrepreneur. This is a one stop shop that understands the entrepreneur’s struggle. It provides solutions to the business and personal issues we all face as entrepreneurs. Michael founded and sold the first company to reward people for being healthy. He is considered a pioneer of the health rewards industry. Michael’s book is based on his experience of watching the company he built from the ground up almost get destroyed overnight by the financial crisis of 2008. Today, Michael’s mission is to help unlock the potential of entrepreneurs worldwide. He helps turn their passion into success through The Lonely Entrepreneur Learning Community.