Have you ever had a time where you immediately followed up something you said with, “Well wait, that’s not what I meant,” based on an unexpected reaction or response you received? Yeah, I thought so. We’ve all been there.

Recently, I participated in a two-day communication boot camp filled with a diverse cross-section of working professionals – from marketers to network technicians.On the first day, all of us were asked to rate ourselves on how good of a communicator we felt we were, on a scale of one to 10. Almost every person in the class rated themselves above a seven, myself included. At the end of day two, all of our ratings were below a five.

Why such a drastic change? It turns out most people who consider themselves good communicators are also excellent at talking at people, and that’s about it. The best part about this class is that applying what was learned is insanely simple.

So why am I bringing this up? Whether you’re a business owner who understands people still buy from people, a marketer who needs to bring together a team to achieve a common goal or you’re working with a marketing agency, your lines of communication could probably use a little refresh.

Thankfully I learned three easy ways to help improve communication and strengthen business relationships, no matter the context:

Step 1: Be Proactive

When I first started out in my marketing career, I thought clients considered me to be a terrible person when they voiced frustrations. But over time I realized it wasn’t a personal affront, but rather they were upset because there was a lost opportunity. The number one way to remedy situations turning into lost opportunities is to be proactive in your communication. Look ahead and create a plan of execution. To be truly successful, you need to have the bigger picture and strategy at the forefront of your clients’ goals and ambitions.

Step 2: Ask Clarifying Questions

Asking questions sounds easy, right? More often than not, the reason for a breakdown in communication is due to a lack of understanding – which then turns into setting unrealistic expectations. This can be especially true in those situations when you don’t even realize that just because everyone around the table is “saying the same thing,” you don’t all mean the same thing.

3 Easy Ways to Improve Communicate in Business Relationships

By asking clarifying questions in the moment, you can either confirm your understanding or immediately realize that you both are not on the same page. You may be hesitant to do so in the moment, but it’s better than waiting for weeks to pass before you are forced to have the painful follow-up meeting which almost always goes something like “Why wasn’t this executed properly? We were all in the same meeting, right?” Do yourself a favor and avoid that awkward follow-up by just asking the questions you need to ask promptly. You may feel uncomfortable in the moment, but you’ll thank yourself later.

Step 3: Take Responsibility

When a project goes poorly due to a failing on your part, do you immediately jump up and assume full responsibility?

We all want to believe we are great communicators, so naturally, we get defensive and start thinking of all the reasons a particular shortfall or failure is not entirely our own fault, if at all. Not to mention taking responsibility when something didn’t go well is never an easy conversation to have. However, the reality of the situation is that, in order to grow and learn from your mistakes you have to be able to take responsibility. Own it.

Final Thought

We are all creatures of habit and, unfortunately, do not always create the best habits for ourselves. Take these three steps into consideration the next time you come face-to-face with an uncomfortable situation and ask yourself: “Was I proactive in my communication? Did I ask clarifying questions when I didn’t understand something? What could I have done differently to be more successful?”

When push comes to shove, what matters is the relationship that is fostered and nurtured through this process. At the end of the day, you’re all on the same team with the same end goals in mind and need to work together to be successful.