🚀 How to Improve Communication Skills for Work - Issue #223

Great communicators will thrive the most in the remote work world

Do you believe that you’re a good communicator? Most people probably think that they are. But, then again, everyone thinks that they have a good sense of humor too.

However:

  • 91% of employees surveyed in one poll said that their leaders do not communicate well.

  • The average listener only understands and retains about 50% of what another person says.

  • 57% of employees say that their bosses don’t give them clear directions.

We spend 70-80% of our waking hours in some form of communication. So, it’s not an overstatement to claim that communication skills are essential to your success.

Sometimes, when people fail a job interview, stall when climbing the career ladder, or can’t seem to break into management, it’s due to poor communication skills.

However, I think we’ve all discovered that the wonderful world of remote work has taken everything up a notch. I don’t know how people will succeed in the future of knowledge work if they can’t communicate well — and often — with others.

What do great communicators do differently? Here are ten things that make them stand apart.


1. They prepare for conversations

Naturally-talented communicators often do well in impromptu conversations. But, people who have learned to become great communicators know that it helps to prepare ahead of time.

  • They think about their goal for a conversation. What outcome do they hope to achieve (e.g., persuading someone, resolving a conflict, educating someone)?

  • They have a rough agenda in mind to cover the points they think are important to discuss.

  • They research the people with whom they will be talking. They know who they are, their backgrounds, what they care about, etc.

  • They will even rehearse the conversation in their head, out loud, or with a willing listener. They want to make sure that they’re coming across as intended.


2. They ask lots of questions

Great communicators know that a conversation should be give and take. They ask questions to understand the point of view of the other person.

They don’t make assumptions about what the other person wants. They also don’t assume to know what the other person is going to say.

Have you ever done that? I know that I have.

I’ve gone into a meeting with an assumption that the other person would be combative or demanding. My guard was up, as well as my stress levels.

Asking questions helps you have a more open conversation about the real issues, not imagined ones.


3. They listen

No, I mean they really listen. People think that they are listening, but they usually only listen enough to prepare their responses. They aren’t listening to understand.

Active listening is a powerful tool. The best communicators do it well.

  • Pay attention. Put away your phone and close your laptop.

  • Listen and seek to understand without leaping to judgment.

  • Let people speak without interrupting them.

  • Use nonverbal cues to show that you are listening and engaged (e.g., eye contact, nodding, smiling, leaning forward).

  • Ask for clarification if you don’t understand something.

  • Paraphrase what you hear to show your interpretation of their message. Let them correct you if you are wrong.

  • Summarize what you heard to demonstrate your understanding before moving into your response, answer, or counterpoint.

Essentially, you should give someone your full attention and respect, just as you hope they will do when you are speaking.


4. They read the room

Have you ever had an effortless conversation with someone? Most likely, that person had a high EQ. They were conscious of their own thoughts and feelings while being tuned into your emotional signals, too (i.e., “reading you”).

Great communicators can read the room during conversations. They sense how others feel and tune the conversation appropriately (e.g., people seem upset, so I’m going to focus on being a calming influence right now).

They are paying attention and following the flow of the conversation. They’re even “reading between the lines” to understand the meaning under the surface layer of the words being used.

They keep the discussion within the intended context. They will guide people back on track if someone tries to derail the conversation.


5. They are polite and professional

If you’ve watched the political debates over the past year in the U.S., you may have sadly noticed that polite and professional debates are a lost art. Don’t take your cues from these people — ever.

I engaged in some pretty heated conversations during my decades of work and leadership in the corporate world. The best communicators were strong debaters and talented negotiators, but they were never rude, nasty, or unprofessional.

They kept their cool. They didn’t lose their temper and shout at people. They didn’t insult or threaten others.

You can be persuasive AND respectful. The best leaders know how to communicate well and still be decent human beings.


6. They don’t dominate the conversation

Great communicators are highly visible during most conversations and meetings, but they also let other people speak. In fact, they will often call on others who have been silent to ensure that they get a chance to be heard.

That’s why they are great communicators, not just great speakers. Effective communication isn’t a monologue.


7. They’re not afraid to speak up

The best communicators don’t dominate conversations, but they also don’t silently sit back either. They speak up when they want to make a point and be heard.

They aren’t afraid of having tough conversations. They also aren’t scared of upper management. They know how to raise issues respectfully, instead of being too afraid to upset the big boss.


8. They write well

Writing skills are certainly useful for emails, chat, texting, and social media posts. A whole new skill level is required when writing articles, presentations, proposals, books, etc.

How does one get better at writing? There are numerous helpful books on the craft. There are also numerous courses taught by writers and authors. But, it’s hard to replace hands-on experience.

Write, write, and write some more. Publish frequently, and engage with your readers. Don’t wait for perfection. You’ll only find your voice with practice.

The best communicators are also talented writers. They will be the ones who stand apart in this new remote world.


9. They pay attention during video chats

This is a new-ish skill that the best communicators exhibit. Many of us have been working remotely or at home this year. Our meetings have moved out of the conference room and into the Zoom room.

When we used to have physical meetings together in conference rooms, the worst communicators were distracted by their smartphones and laptops. I remember so many inefficient meetings because people weren’t really paying attention to the conversation.

Unfortunately, this now happens during video chat meetings. Do you think that we can’t tell when you’re switching windows away from Zoom?

  • We can see the screen flashing and lighting up your face.

  • We see your eyes focusing elsewhere as you read your email.

  • We hear your keyboard clickety clacking when you chat with someone else.

  • We listen to you fumble when someone calls on you, and you have no idea what the group has been discussing.

If you want to be a great communicator in this modern world of remote work, learn how to pay attention during online meetings, and add value.


10. They end strongly

Great communicators wrap up loose ends at the end of a conversation. They make sure that people are on the same page with understanding what was said and what comes next.

They will often actively check in with everyone to ensure that there are no misunderstandings or forgotten points. It’s not always possible to reach a consensus, but at least people feel heard.

Unless it’s just a friendly “checking in” talk, professional communication should have a point. There’s a reason that you had the conversation or meeting.

The best communicators summarize what was said, decisions made, and what the follow up will be. They often assign owners for action items to make sure nothing falls between the cracks.


Remote work demands better communication

Whether you like it or not, the future of work is becoming increasingly remote. Teams are globally distributed. Employers are hiring people around the world and letting them work at home.

I hope we have a vaccine next year, but the genie is out of the bottle. Remote work is cost-effective for employers. Many have already let their workplace rentals go. More are selling off their commercial real estate.

You may be one of those who enjoy remote work. I do. Or, you may hate it. The reality is that teams are just as productive as before, and employers are saving money, so many won’t fully return to physical offices.

Working remotely requires even better communication skills than before (e.g., writing skills, video chat etiquette). If anything, we must now overcommunicate to avoid misunderstandings and mistakes and maintain a strong team culture.

Even if you return to the workplace, you still need a great communicator's skills to move up the ladder. Great leaders are great communicators. They know how to motivate, inspire, and help teams do their best collaborative work.

Luckily, communication skills can be learned and improved. Some people may have a natural talent for it, but anyone can become a better communicator!


This week’s professional development challenge

⭐ What Stands Between You and Your Vision?
- Identify anything and everything that stands between you and your dreams


Larry Cornett is a leadership coach and business advisor. He lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, a Great Dane, and an adopted rabbit. He does his best to share advice that can help others take full control of their work and life. He’s also on Twitter and Instagram @cornett