Posted on: May 4th, 2017 by Jen Mueller

There’s a belief in the corporate world that business communication gets taught through books, college classes and corporate training sessions. That’s how I know you suck at it.

Here’s what business communication is: a category of books, a description of a class and a type of training session. Here’s what it’s not: an actual communication style. Which means you can read all the books you want and take all the classes, but the only way you’re going to get good (and stop sucking) in conversations at work is to:

  1. Actually talk to people that you work with.
  2. ​Understand that people are people.
  3. Recognize everyone hears messages and communicates differently.

Stop minimizing the need for actual conversations in business, start talking to people and understand how to make your message land in a way that leads to action.

That’s effective communication whether you’re in a corporate environment or any other business setting – which for me as a sports broadcaster is a locker room. The way I approach interviews with athletes is the same way you should approach conversations in your workplace. You need to have a plan. Here are the questions I use to formulate my plan:

Who am I talking to?
​It’s not enough to just know the player’s name, I need to know something about the athlete’s personality type, communication style, and comfort level in doing interviews.

Why am I talking to that person?
During a post-game interview, the player has usually made specific play or contribution that constitutes doing an interview, but I could also be looking for perspective on the team in general, or perhaps insight on a specific team mate.

What am I trying to communicate?
​I usually have two objectives. I need to ask a question of the player that resonates with him and leads to an answer that benefits the listening or viewing audience.

What does all this mean? I can not ask the same question to every single player and expect to get a good answer. It doesn’t work that way. Some athletes enjoy letting their personality show on camera, others are more introverted and shy away from the limelight. An athlete with a dry sense of humor isn’t going to respond in the same way as someone who is boisterous and outgoing. A rookie isn’t going to have the same perspective as a 10-year veteran, and someone who doesn’t speak English as a first language is going to benefit from an approach that accounts for their comfort level in speaking a foreign language.

Jen Mueller (that’s me!) interviewing Hall of Famer, Ken Griffey Jr.

In other words, athletes are people. The same types of people that you work with. Here’s what you’ve probably figured out in small talk type interactions with your colleagues – you can’t talk to everyone the same way because you won’t get the same response. Think about the conversations you choose to have with one person versus another. Are you that particular, thoughtful or strategic when it comes to a business conversation? You should be.

​If you don’t talk in a way that your colleagues or clients want to hear, you minimize the chance of your message being heard and acted on. That doesn’t mean you don’t ask the tough question or you refrain from asking a question that needs to be asked. It means that you when you do ask that question you’re cognizant of their communication style, your objective and the environment you’re in.

You can not apply a one-size-fits-all approach to conversations and think you’re excelling at business communication. ​There is no homogenous way to approach business communication that works across the board with everyone, to foster buy-in and increase productivity. You can’t deliver your message the same way to everyone and think it’s going to resonate the same with everyone. To really have a message hit home in day-to-day interactions you’ve got to have a personalized approach.

The only way to develop that kind of approach is to have actual, real-life conversations. Plural. Start talking to people. Get a feel for their personality and communication style. Talk about things outside of work (I always recommend sports) to build rapport. That’s how business gets done and it’s what business communication really is.

​You can be as smart (or as stupid) as you want. Your success – and the degree of success you want to have – comes down to your ability to communicate effectively.

The only real way to do that is by talking. I talk for a living. All of this type of business communication is second-nature to me and it’s often the subject matter I write about on my blog and the reason I publish weekly sports conversation starters. I’d recommend signing up so you won’t suck at business communication.

Jen Mueller, America’s Expert Talker, has been told she’s not qualified to teach business communication classes because she doesn’t hold a Master’s degree. She does have what most business professionals don’t – a job that requires multiple conversations in high-leverage situations, on live TV and radio. Jen is a member of the Seattle Mariners television broadcast on ROOT Sports NW and serves as the Seattle Seahawks sideline radio reporter. Hire Jen for a practical, real-life approach to conversations. You can get in touch with her via email: