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Business Etiquette: Enhancing Communication

Last month I had the good fortune of attending the annual conference hosted by the National Association of Legal Placement, aka NALP.  One of the most informative sessions to me was on law firm associate retention and the role that interpersonal relationships play in associate satisfaction. 

Given that 75% of associates leave the firm in which they start within 5 years, I was eager to know why, and what made the other 25% happy enough to stay?  Turns out the biggest factor is engagement - feeling heard and valued.  Engagement increases productivity, loyalty, and innovative work and generates a positive referral of the firm as a good place to work. 

A culture of engagement created is created by strong communication including giving constructive feedback, providing recognition and reward, and sharing consistent messages to associates of what firm is doing, its vision and business activities.

One easy place to start fostering a culture of engagement is to improve our communication skills: how we talk, how we listen and appropriate body language.  Consider the following to improve communication and build relationships in your office:

How we talk:  Every time you speak, the listener is subconsciously noticing the quality of your voice, your enunciation, grammar and choice of words.

  • A midlevel voice is ideal.  An overly loud voice is annoying and unnerving, while a too soft voice can make you seem uncertain or lacking confidence.  Similarly, talking too fast can be hard to understand and talking too slowly can make the listener impatient.
  • Use inflection and stress word(s) that are important and add variety to your speech.  A monotone voice flattens your message and the listener’s interest.
  • Use proper enunciation and grammar.  Avoid jargon, slang, profanity, and be careful with words that could be construed as offensive (e.g. “sucks”).  If you are sloppy with basic communication, your client or boss may wonder if you’ll also be careless with assigned work. 

How we listen:  Good listening is a skill that is critically important in business conversations and being an engaged listener goes to one’s degree of professionalism.  Superiors can tell whether someone has been listening by the quality of questions and accuracy of his or her summation.

  • Actively hear – absorb what the speaker says, why he is saying it and what it means for your future association.  Be fully present mentally and physically.
  • Concentrate on what’s being said and don’t interrupt.
  • Be interested, ask questions and occasionally paraphrase what was said to reconfirm.
  • Listen to the words said and the tone used. 
  • Be a good listener in both phone and in person meetings. 

Proper use of body language: 

  • Stand up straight, with your shoulders back and chin up to show confidence and ambition. 
  • Hands clasped behind you or at ease by your side is more graceful and authoritative than hands in pockets. 
  • Sit straight in a chair, as slouching conveys laziness, tiredness or disrespect.  Jiggling your knee or shifting in your seat, especially during an interview, can convey insecurity or apprehension.
  • Maintain good eye contact – but don’t stare.  Shift your focus to other parts of the face periodically, looking at the lips or bridge of someone’s nose.
  • Nod mindfully to show understanding, not necessarily agreement.

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