I’ve mentioned in the past that I have my clients go through a self-assessment of eight different traits. As it seems to be of interest, I will share a bit about another of those traits: communication.
My definition of communication in this context is: the effectiveness and clarity with which you are able to convey your thoughts, concerns, and opinions to your employees, colleagues, and superiors. This spans across face-to-face meetings, emails, Slack messages, Zoom calls, and so on.
I’ve been diligent about limiting my assessment to only eight traits to measure the progress my clients are making, and so every attribute has to count. Some people are skeptical at first about communication being so prominent, but I wholeheartedly disagree. I know that techies who are good at talking seem like a stereotypical anathema, but that is an incredible historical mistake.
I was helping a CEO with his company’s strategy the other day, and he told me about a situation where his language wasn’t clear enough. He intended to compliment an employee. Only a few months later, did he realize that the employee got it the other way and was walking around fearing there was a sword hanging over his head. That’s the impact a single word has if you’re an executive.
When you communicate properly, you can change the course of the company. You can help your team grow, and the individuals see where they can be improving. You prevent endless back and forth. You run effective meetings. You don’t have to repeat yourself as often. Furthermore, you act as a role model. When the executive is giving attention to the way she communicates, others tend to mimic it.
Remote work exacerbates the gravity of poor communication. In a time where people have become two-dimensional—there’s no body language and barely any gestures—a lot of information is being lost. When we communicate in written form more, we have to account for the loss of tone. And I won’t get started about the extra difficulties if you’re working in an environment that’s crossing countries and people are not using their native languages.
Assessing Your Communication Skills
Here are a few prompts I use with clients to help pinpoint issues:
- Do you have trouble communicating with one group in particular out of these: your employees, your colleagues, your superiors?
- How often do you realize that you were misunderstood?
- Do misunderstandings happen in specific mediums or all of them?
- Are there patterns of situations where you have communication issues, for example, when you provide negative feedback or deliver bad news about a project?
- What is your path of least resistance to communication? Knowing which mediums you default to can often help identify the others that need improving.
Steps for Improvement
Improving one’s communication skills is not something that you do in a day. It is often a part of a longer process that we go through. Still, I’d hate to leave you without practical advice. I’ve assembled here some actionable ideas. Choose one (preferably that which the assessment reveals as the most relevant) and start with it.
- Be embarrassingly clear: Sometimes, people have to hear things being said in the simplest way to be able to comprehend the rest of the message. When our daycare teacher calls during school hours, the first thing she does is to always start with “everything is fine.” That’s because she understands who she is communicating with: parents see a call from daycare and instinctively fear the worst. Before your calls and meetings, think if you should have a concise preamble to start with.
- Add depth: You can get your point across better if you paint a picture with words and don’t use dry, technical language all the time. Metaphors and analogies can help you drive your point. Use examples and stories to make your idea accessible (now, see the previous bullet).
- Compensate: If you are aware of shortcomings in how you communicate, actively compensate for them. For example, consider using emojis or gifs more on Slack (yeah, I know this sounds absurd to some of you). I always have a big notebook next to me to be able to sketch something quickly and hold up to my webcam in remote calls. Use online collaborative whiteboards. Whatever it takes to be able to convey your thoughts in a way that helps who you’re discoursing with to understand you.
- Use the Socratic method: Effective discourse is especially vital when it comes to making decisions or pushing for what you think is the right strategy. Do not go into arguments or power plays—just because that’s how meetings look like on TV doesn’t mean that is the right way to gain influence. Instead, practice Socratic debate to help get your point across and make your case.
- Invest in your language: Being able to use richer phrases and words is invaluable. If you spend a lot of time using a language other than your native language (like I am doing right now), invest in improving at it. I’m not talking about night courses. You’d be surprised how big of an improvement you can see with something as simple as ten minutes daily on Duolingo.
- Write with intention: Lastly, in this day and age, where we have to use written communication a lot, do it with the proper focus and clarity. You cannot gesticulate, and therefore you have to articulate. One good meeting can spare you from five more sessions. One great email can save dozens of hours lost to meetings. That might mean that you have to put your phone down and answer that critical question when you are back at your computer—trust me, it’s worth it.
Pick one of these, and you’ll quickly see a noticeable improvement.
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