Best business advice I ever got
An entrepreneur and innovator shares what he’s learned about communicating effectively.
Ram Fish ’95, MS ’95
The best business advice I ever got actually came in business school. It’s hard to believe at first: How do you get business advice from a professor who never ran a business? The credit goes to Professor Sigal Barsade, who taught us organizational behavior at Yale.
When we finished learning about motivation theory, organization structures, fairness theory, and much more, her parting advice for us came in three words: “Communicate, communicate, communicate.”
The more years I spend in the industry, the more I realize she was right. Some 99% of the issues organizations run into involve communication. Even fierce disagreements, more than anything, have to do with communication. So, I thought it worthwhile to dive deeper into her advice, share it with others, and explore my interpretation of what she meant.
If you work with smart colleagues and everyone believes in the company’s mission, why would there be disagreements? First, people tend to have different facts in mind. Getting both sides to work on the same set of facts is the first step toward effective communication. But that’s not enough. Often, the goal is perceived differently. The willingness to take risks is different. Egos can play a role. Communication can bridge or narrow those gaps significantly.
First step: Conveying the information
How do you get your point across to busy people who might not have the time or bandwidth? I often run into team members who, when asked to do a job and summarize it, send the executive team an email saying “I did my assignment, it’s attached. Thank you!”
They’re proud to tell us, “Wow, I’m done!” Except they’re not. The message is often unopened, unread, and the key takeaways/ action items have not been shared.
Communicating effectively means getting the other person to absorb the information. How do you get the right attention from the right people?
- Subject lines
- Short sentences
- Using tables
- Attaching the information as well as pasting it into the email
- Highlighting who has action items, or what you need from whom
These are all critical elements of communicating effectively within an organization.
Pick another medium
Many people default to text, WhatsApp or email when communicating. But if a conversation is emotionally charged, call the person. I have often found myself saying things in a completely different way when talking to face-to-face.
Maybe invite them to go out on a walk (Steve Jobs’ favorite way of having a meaningful discussion). When you walk with somebody, you’re less stuck in a specific way of thinking, more open to other scenarios, and more focused on what you’re discussing. Getting out of the meeting room and changing physical
surroundings helps to keep us open-minded.
Communication is a two-way street. You have smart people working in the organization; listen and learn from them. Put your phone away — out of sight — listen to the tone of voice and observe body language. Try to absorb and understand how a person feels, not just what they say.
You also have to create an environment where criticisms are welcome. I often start a meeting with “What’s today’s bad news?” to make people feel comfortable sharing concerns.
When brainstorming, create an environment where new concepts or out-of-the-box ideas are not killed on the spot but are taken into consideration. And if you are the decision-maker, try to explain why one option is chosen over the others or why you aren’t taking the OOB ideas. Your team will feel appreciated and learn for the future.
There’s lots more to add! Plus, I would love to hear your ideas on effective communication. For me, this was the best business advice I ever got.
Ram Fish is the founder and CEO of 19Labs and a former innovation leader at Apple, Samsung and Nokia. This essay is excepted from an essay posted to LinkedIn in September 2021. To respond, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.