During your time in business, what has been your biggest lesson about the importance of communication for success?
Shanita Baraka Akintonde, MBA, M.ED., DTM
Communication is queen. The ability to communicate ones’ thoughts, ideas and opinions are keys to the throne. As President and Chief Love Officer of ShanitaSpeaks, LLC, a media enterprise that provides women and young adults with customized tools to open doors to complex dialogue, I am qualified to wear the hegemonic crown.
Clients reported that their toughest challenge was the transmission of tasks during COVID-19, given that guidelines were obstructed by more than masks during the pandemic. Virtual platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have democratized dialogue but can potentially limit clear understanding. As a communication professor and entrepreneur, I have first-hand experience with this dynamic daily. In my podcast, Marketing Insights, I share highlights on the power behind practical language usage in business. Here’s one example: Marketing Insights: AEIOU and Sometimes Y: How Language is Used to Build Brands Part 1 of 2 on Apple Podcasts.
My communication success manifests in three verbs: LISTEN out loud to those I LEAD and put LOVE in everything I support, like NAWBO!
I have a physical products business and my accessories are manufactured overseas, so good communication is critical when working with my sourcing agent. 100% of our work is handled via email, which can make it even more challenging to get it right. I quickly learned the hard way that if I’m not clear in the direction and feedback I provide, it can lead to unnecessary costs and delays.
These basic principles have improved how I communicate with my suppliers:
Be concise and to the point
Avoid being vague and leaving things up for interpretation (this is a balancing act)
For more complex requests, check in to be sure what you’ve communicated was clear
Proofread multiple times before hitting send
Use bullet points to make emails easier to read
Use images and graphics, when appropriate, to help articulate a thought
It takes a little more time on the frontend to make sure what you’re communicating is clear, but it can help avoid a lot of headaches down the road.
I have learned two great communication lessons: first, that we communicate with our actions as much as we do with our words, and second, to listen before we speak! When asking our team to embrace and live our company values or our corporate strategy, the first step is for our Executive Leadership Team to walk the walk as the first and best adopters! Then we can start talking. In big or small groups, we need to listen and address the questions, concerns and feedback we get from the team. Our actions, our words and our ears are equally vital to achieving our goals.
I’ve always made decisions that I believed were in the best interest of my employees. To validate those decisions, we distributed an employee survey to garner feedback. Questions such as: What do you like most about working here? What do you like least? What is one change we can make to be a better place to work?
We received some great input, but the magic was not in the responses that were written on the survey, rather the open line of communication that was formed. Individuals started to speak up more and employees from all levels would pop into my office with an idea. Processes and procedures were improved. Overall, the team felt more ownership across the board because they felt empowered to improve it.
It’s not enough for team members to have a voice. As a leader, I’ve learned to make sure that each person on the team KNOWS they have a voice that is heard. Only then can communication really start to flow.