As a leader, you expect the people you work with to communicate effectively and efficiently. Too often, they don’t.  Meetings waste time. Presentations fail to persuade and sometimes seem pointless. Employees disengage, and everyone dreads the next meeting.

Much of this could be avoided if people remembered that all business communication—whether it takes place during meetings, presentations, or important one-on-ones—has to succeed on two levels. Helping your employees understand this is the first step toward improvement.

The first level of success gets a lot of attention. It’s about achieving a business goal—getting others to understand, buy or agree to something—whatever needs to get done that day. The business goal cannot be reached, or reached easily, without the second level of success.

The second level is about how the communication process is managed. No one wants to feel they have to work hard to understand what’s going on. Nobody wants to feel their time is being wasted. What everyone does want is a sense of ease, relevance and efficiency. Or, to put it another way, people go into every meeting, presentation or training session with three needs in mind:

  1. They don’t want to work harder than they have to.
  2. They want it to be about them.
  3. They don’t want to feel their time is wasted.

Establish context

It’s common for people to show up to a meeting not knowing why they were invited or what they’re supposed to accomplish. Effective communicators establish context from the very beginning. They explain (even when it seems obvious) why the meeting has been called, what they’re trying to accomplish, and what’s brought the group to this point.

For example: “Thanks for joining the meeting today. As we all know, we have a problem in the supply chain. Our goal today is to examine options and fix the problem.” When the context is mundane, it’s still important to establish it.

Go in with a plan

Good communication requires structure and clarity.  Agendas should be used and followed. Supporting documents should be clear. Participants should feel that the person in charge made an effort to get organized, that they aren’t just winging it.

It’s all about the process until it’s not

While business communicators need to go in with a plan, communication is a process. This means that the give and take of the conversation is essential. It also means that meetings can get messy. A little mess is okay. Slogging through the muck can often uncover ideas and perspectives that lead to better outcomes. However, if things get too messy, the goal gets lost and everyone feels stuck.

There must be a balance between too much conversation and too little. Striking that balance requires keeping the needs of individuals and the needs of the group in mind.

  • The needs of individuals: Business rarely gets done through one-way communication. It requires dialogue and conclusions drawn from multiple points of view. This means that whoever is in charge must encourage others to contribute and make everyone feel safe. Empathy, curiosity and good listening all play a role. Each of them takes real effort.
  • The needs of the group: While individual perspectives must be brought into the conversation, the group as a whole craves efficiency. One way to communicate a sense of efficiency is to talk about the process. For example, acknowledge the decisions you make as leader, “Let’s dig a little deeper into that comment; it’s important.” Or ask for input about how to proceed, “There are 20 minutes left, and two more agenda points to cover. Should we continue down this path, or table it so that we end on time?” Doing this keeps everyone focused and the overall goal front and center.

Business communication will never be perfect. But meetings shouldn’t grind to a halt because they are poorly run. Using the concepts outlined here will help you coach your team to more effective and efficient communication.

Dale Ludwig is the president and founder of Turpin Communication, Inc.