Avoiding A "Failure to Communicate"
by Craig Harrison
It's in every classified ad and most job descriptions: must have excellent
communication skills. Worse yet, once hired, it reappears annually at review
time: Improve communication skills. What's a worker to do? Communication skills
don't require a graduate degree, just some common sense, a bit of homework and a
better understanding of the role communication plays - in everything:
Listen. Don't assume that better communication skills mean you have to
speak like John F. Kennedy or orate like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Listening
skills are the most ignored aspect of good communication skills. More
misunderstandings occur due to poor listening than to misstatements.
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 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.
Gen. 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.
Don't get labeled missing in action. Some excellent communicators are
deemed less so for not contributing in meetings. A coaching client of mine 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. Spelling matters, 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!
As a self-employed speaker, trainer and consultant on
communication and customer service topics, Craig Harrison is simultaneously a
decision maker, gatekeeper and caller on a daily basis. Craig is standing by to
take your calls and e-mails: (510) 547-0664, or via Excellence@craigspeaks.com.
Visit his website at