A research study quoted in the book Developing Management Skills, by David Whetten and Kim Cameron, found that effective interpersonal communication was judged to be the most important managerial skill to master for business owners or managers who truly want to build a strong company.

Good communication skills can be an important factor in building teams, selling a vision, and encouraging the most from employees. Poor skills can lead to distrust, distant relationships, inaccurate messages, frustration, and decreased productivity.

With that in mind, what are you doing to improve the communication flow within your office?

The first step is to realize that communication, like many interpersonal skills, is a behavior that can be improved with work and practice. Then it's time to focus your attention on the way you communicate with the people around you. One of the most common problems is the overuse of conversation stoppers. These behaviors halt productive discussions in their tracks.

  • Interruptions. If you jump in with an answer before the other person is finished speaking, you're assuming you know the answer without full information. It's condescending and can lead to providing incorrect solutions.
  • Inappropriate tone of voice. If you're exasperated or impatient, your voice can easily carry that attitude into your conversation. Few employees will continue asking for input or clarification if they're feel you're too busy for them or that you think their questions are stupid.
  • Lack of eye contact. Few things make a person feel less important than not even making the effort to look at them.
  • External distractions. Do you answer the phone, answer e-mail, or talk to other people at the same time one of your employees is trying to discuss something with you? If so, you're instantly telegraphing that someone — anyone — is more important than he or she is.
  • Instead, train yourself to use the following communication enhancers, which encourage open conversation and show your employees that they are important and you care about their issues.

  • Focus on the individual. Stop what you're doing and give your entire attention to the person to whom you're speaking.
  • Actively listen. Give the other person an opportunity to share their thoughts. Use verbal encouragement such as, “Go on”; “Tell me more”; “Why do you say that?” This conveys the idea that you think employees are important as people and that you value what they have to say.
  • Delve deeper. Ask questions until you're sure you have the whole story and understand their concern.
  • Paraphrase. To make sure that you understood them, repeat back what they told you. Only then, move to help develop a solution.
  • Reschedule. If you're just too busy to give someone your full attention, ask them if you can reschedule the meeting, and then follow through.
  • Working to improve your communication skills can have huge dividends for your business. You'll find your relationships to be much more positive and work will become an even more enjoyable, productive place to be. —Victoria Downing is president of Remodelers Advantage, Fulton, Md. 301.490.5620, Victoria@RemodelersAdvantage.com.