Communication Strategies for Business Leaders

Clear communication skills are vital for nearly every profession, but especially to business executives.  Research suggests that the American education system is failing to teach its students (and therefore, its future business leaders) effective communication skills, yet communication is becoming increasingly important in today’s business environment.  The advent of the Internet and telecommunications technology has increased the number and complexity of communication options, and today’s startup executive must navigate the options carefully in order to successfully convey his or her ideas to employees, investors, and other stakeholders.  There are several strategies that startup executives can utilize in order to successfully communicate their business ideas to those around them.

One powerful strategy, which is often forgotten, is simply to be very direct.  Many speakers today rely too heavily on rhetoric and filler words, and forget to clearly convey their ideas to the listener.  Communication coach Karen Friedman says “It is absolutely critical to be as direct, to the point, and concise as possible,” and thinks that vagueness, from managers and stakeholders alike, is a common problem in the workplace (Adams).  A tactic to remain direct and concise is to only focus on the main points of the message you wish to convey: who, what, where, when, and why.  When a manager focuses on these key points, the listener is less likely to become distracted by unnecessary speech.

Another communication strategy is to ask open-ended questions.  Open-ended questions do not have any one correct answer, so they are excellent for engaging the audience to think critically about the subject matter.  For this reason, they keep audiences attentive and focused.  They are also useful for clarifying another party’s perspective and preventing misinterpretation; having somebody answer an open-ended question ensures that he or she can construct a thoughtful answer, rather than a simple ‘yes or no’ response (Adams).  These questions can also be used to constructively oppose another opinion.  “Even if you think your colleague or boss is completely wrong about something, you can counter with an open-ended question that shows respect and a can-do spirit,” explains Friedman.

A third communication strategy is to do something unexpected to capture the audience’s attention.  While the world of media and communication has evolved in leaps and bounds in recent years, the realm of corporate communication has remained stagnant and stale.  Consider the ways in which people engage with the world around them, and surprise them by delivering a message through a more meaningful medium.  Georgia Everse of Harvard Business Review writes that communicators should “aim to catch people somewhere that they would least expect it. Is it in the restroom? The stairwell? On their mobile phone?”  An unexpected and creative message is far more likely to engage and to resonate with the person with whom you are trying to communicate.

A fourth communication strategy is to tell a story.  Although it may seem unprofessional, an audience will remember a story better than they will remember facts and figures.  It helps lend imagery and realism to the message the speaker wishes to convey.  Stories also bring humanity and relatability into an otherwise dry and robotic monologue (Everse).  In addition to being interesting and memorable, stories are great for engaging listeners.  A speaker may choose to combine this strategy with the previous strategy of asking open-ended questions by sharing a relevant story and prompting listeners to do the same.  This will simultaneously illustrate the speaker’s point and engage the listeners on a personal level.

The fifth and final communication strategy is to be mindful of non-verbal communication, and to utilize it properly.  According to Dr. John Lund, 55% of the information that listeners interpret is derived solely from the speaker’s facial expressions and body language.  37% of what a listener interprets is based on the speaker’s tone of voice, and only 8% of the message is derived from the words themselves (Anderson).  For this reason, it is absolutely imperative that speakers understand their non-verbal communication, and use it to lead listeners to the desired conclusion.  Lund even recommends being cognizant of non-verbal communication while on the phone because body language affects the speaker’s tone, which affects the overall message.

In addition to this broad overview of communication strategies, there are countless other strategies that can be utilized depending on the speaker’s message, goals, audience, and other factors.  As technology is increasing the complexity and intricacy of communication, business leaders must remain savvy with communicating their ideas to stakeholders.  Some experts believe that communication skills among Americans are on the decline in an age of their ever-increasing importance.  However, armed with the right knowledge and sound strategies, a business leader can communicate his or her ideas to stakeholders without a problem.


Adams, Susan. “How To Communicate Effectively At Work.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 19 Nov. 2013. Web. 05 July 2014.

Anderson, Amy Rees. “Successful Business Communication: It Starts At The Beginning.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 28 May 2013. Web. 06 July 2014.

Everse, Georgia. “Eight Ways to Communicate Your Strategy More Effectively.” Harvard Business Review. Harvard Business School, 22 Aug. 2011. Web. 08 July 2014.

By Jacob Shimota

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