Back to Basics: What Makes Business Communication Effective?

This is the second post in a new series in which we revisit the fundamentals of business communication, from what it means and why it matters to tips and techniques for success. We’ll present the information in ways that you can share directly with your students, and we hope this information will enhance your lectures and class discussions.

Communication efforts are successful when they transfer information, meaning, and understanding. In some instances, this is a simple matter of sharing basic facts about a topic, but it others it can be complex process of building understanding and negotiating meaning until both parties are satisfied with the exchange.

To make your communication efforts as effective as possible, focus on these five goals:

  • Provide practical information. Give recipients useful information that helps them solve problems, pursue opportunities, or take other action. Understanding your audiences and their needs is a key step to providing the right information.
  • Give facts rather than vague impressions. Use concrete language, specific detail, and information that is clear, accurate, and ethical. “We need to get better at this” isn’t terribly helpful because it doesn’t explain or quantify what “better” means. Depending on the situation, it might also be helpful to explain why the improvement is important.
  • Communicate efficiently. Concise, well-organized messages and documents show respect for people’s time, and they increase the chances of a positive response. Efficiency also means reducing the number of messages or conversational exchanges required to achieve your communication goals. Spending a little more time in the planning and writing stages often saves time in the long run by eliminating multiple rounds of explanations.
  • Clarify expectations and responsibilities. Craft messages to generate a specific response from readers. When appropriate, clearly state what you expect from audience members or what you can do for them. Always look for ways to make your communication efforts more precise. For example, instead of writing “we need to have a plan as soon as possible,” describe what kind of plan is needed and when it is needed.
  • Offer compelling arguments and recommendations. When you are offering an analysis or a recommendation, present compelling evidence to support your message. When a situation calls for persuasive communication, show your readers how they will benefit if they respond the way you would like them to respond.

These five points make a great quality-control checklist as you develop messages, documents, and presentations throughout your career.

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, p. 6. This topic is also addressed in our titles Excellence in Business Communication, Chapter 1, and Business Communication Essentials, Chapter 1.


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