By Craig Harrison,
How to Avoid "A failure to Communicate" By Craig Harrison
You've seen it in every classified ad and most job descriptions: must have
excellent communication skills. Even worse, once hired, it reappears annually
each review period: Improve communication skills. What's a person to do?
Communication skills don't require a graduate degree, just common sense, a bit
of homework and a better understanding of the role communication plays — in
Listen. You don't have to speak like John F. Kennedy or orate like Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr to be considered a good communicator. Listening skills are the
most ignored aspect of good communication skills. More misunderstandings occur
due to poor listening than to misstatements.
Want to be a good listener? Suspend that urge to speak while others are
speaking. Don't begin to prepare what you'll say next. Listen actively and
intently, with ears, eyes, mind and body. Are you following what's being said?
If so, nod in agreement. If not, a furrowed brow indicates you're confused. Your
speaker needs these cues. If you truly heard and understood, repeat it back in
your own words. This lets both parties know they're on the same wavelength.
Mind Your ABCs. Some people turn complex topics into simple explanations.
Sadly, others' talents lie in the opposite direction: making simple topics
complex. I strive to mind my ABCs: Accuracy, Brevity and Clarity.
General Douglas MacArthur once remarked that even more important than giving
orders that could be understood was issuing orders that couldn't be
misunderstood. Whether or not lives are at stake, your reputation as a
communicator may be. People appreciate short sentences; they are often confused
by long, convoluted ones. Keep it succinct.
Are you labeled missing in action? Some excellent communicators are deemed
less so for not contributing in meetings. A foreign-born coaching client from
overseas was culturally uncomfortable speaking up, so others monopolized the
meetings, often rudely interrupting to make a point. Her timidity, coupled with
self-consciousness surrounding her command of English, resulted in her
Now the night before meetings she reviews the agenda, composes her thoughts,
and rehearses making powerful, yet concise statements about items of the day. To
others, her remarks appear off-handed. She's thus perceived as a more powerful
and effective communicator. She's also developed a nice yet firm statement when
she's interrupted, which reminds people she hasn't yielded the floor yet. After
a few invocations of this phrase, others respect her opinions better. Her boss
has noticed and applauded her new assertiveness.
It takes two. I knew a worker who was fired for her boss's inadequacies as a
communicator. Don't pay the price for another's communication shortcomings. It
may require some work on your part, but it's worth the effort.
I once had a boss who listened, but never asked questions. After a while I
anticipated the questions that needed to be asked and posed them myself, or
simply provided responses as if he'd asked them. I would go prepared to each
meeting with a list of project-related questions, which showed my foresight and
attention to detail. It benefited us both.
Write speech. It sounds like a Buddhist precept, yet remember, writing is a
big part of communication. Let e-mails, weekly reports and other writings
reinforce your clear thinking, organizational skills, attention to detail and
ability to express important ideas.
Make your writing easy to read. Speling madders, even in e-mail. Use white
space, numbered lists and bulleted items to communicate more effectively.
Titles, subtitles and lists similarly add cogency. Write your piece, set it
aside for a spell, then review it and strike out 25 percent to say it more
Speak up. Consider taking a public speaking class, joining a local
Toastmasters club (www.toastmasters.org) to improve your oral communication
skills. The new skills, offline practice and confidence gleaned will help you in
meetings, in giving reports and in making presentations.
Excellent communication skills help in many ways. With practice you can
confidently give a speech, make a cold call, train others; conduct a meeting,
make a sales presentation, interview someone or be interviewed.
Improved communication skills can open many doors, both within and beyond the
workplace. It's time you sharpen your CQ — Your Communication Quotient!
Craig Harrison is a speaker,
trainer and consultant who makes communication and customer service fun and easy
for his clients. To hear his voice, call (888) 450-0664. Otherwise you can visit
www.craigspeaks.com or send e-mail to service @ craigspeaks.com.