Good communication skills should be non-negotiable. But are they?
Ask any manager, especially a hiring manager, what they most value in job candidates, and you're likely to hear "communication skills."
Ask that same manager, "What skill is most often lacking in job candidates?" Once again, you'll probably hear communication skills. Especially if the candidates are new college hires.
But as a manager, you don't have to settle. In fact, you'll feel better if you don't. Here are some tips for how to make good communication skills your company standard.
1. Be a good communicator
"When we communicate, we assume that the first rule is, 'Communicate so that you are understood.' It's not. The first rule is: Communicate so that you cannot be misunderstood.'"
— Harry Beckwith and Christine Clifford Beckwith, You, Inc.
If you want to improve your company culture, start with communication.
Think of the best communicators you know. Chances are excellent they have certain traits in common. For example, they ...
- Ask good questions
- Listen intently without distractions
- Make requests clearly and respectfully
- Follow up and follow through
- "Speak your language"
That last point. It matters only if you want to be heard. For example, some of your managers, staff, clients and co-workers are persuaded by logic. Others are moved by stories and emotion.
Some may be wonderful conversationalists—yet their emails border on terse.
The point here is not to bend yourself into a pretzel over every email or phone call—simply to take note of differences and adjust where you can.
Doing so will help you build stronger connections and take other people's communication styles (including the terse emails) less personally. P.S. Try not to write terse emails.
For tips on email etiquette, click on What are your email pet peeves?
2. Hire good communicators
When you have a job to fill, it's easy to dismiss the need for good communication skills. Yet the person you hire is either going to elevate your company culture and make life easier—or bring it down and make life harder.
To help you make a better hiring decision, ask yourself, Does the candidate ...
- Follow directions? If they're playing by their own rules at this stage, they'll probably do so even more after they're hired.
- Show up on time? Or at the very least, let you know if they'll be late?
- Show up prepared? This is part of being a good listener.
- Ask good questions? Beware the candidate who has no questions.
- Communicate gratitude and respect?
- Leave you feeling better and more confident?
Your gut has a lot of life experience. It can pick up on cues you might not be able to verbalize. Trust it.
A lack of good communication skills can cause extreme frustration, lost productivity and lost sleep. Hold out for the candidate(s) who make your team better, brighter and happier.
3. Help your whole team improve
Wherever possible, the best leaders take the attitude of Let's do this rather than "You do this."
So how do you help your team become better communicators? Start with something easy and universal.
For example, is there any member of your staff (or any working person on the planet) who doesn't have Zoom fatigue? Introduce your staff to the Zoom Etiquette Checklist for Managers and Teams.
Use it as a conversation-starter, or a refresher on how to make Zoom meetings less stressful and more productive.
When the group sees good communication becoming the company norm and expectation, they'll naturally feel more respected, energized and productive.
4. Make good communication a priority
Zoom meetings are one example. But what if you wove good communication into everything you did—including every meeting?
As an example, when I worked at a university (which I realize is far different from a company), our manager had each of us take turns preparing a brief presentation/group discussion on some aspect of professional development.
This simple practice accomplished several things:
- It sent the message that each of us had something to contribute, beyond our job descriptions
- It helped each staff member, regardless of rank, develop leadership and communication skills
- It raised the stature of the presenter and the group's awareness on a topic of interest
- It kept the team from boredom and stagnation, because we were always learning—even better, we were learning from one another
You might not want to do this in every meeting. But even once a month would make a difference.
And it works whether the staff member is presenting on communication or something else. As an example, our office typically focused on cultural awareness.
Why not ask your team what topic(s) they would like to focus on?
5. When in doubt, take initiative
I had not planned on sharing this, but here's a quick personal example of non-initiative—and non-communication. This happened a few weeks ago when I was seeking treatment for an injured shoulder.
I had just pulled into a parking spot for a 3:00 appointment. I had never been to this person's office and was rather pleased with myself for having shown up 15 minutes early. Then I noticed the parking meter.
The parking meter required an app, one I didn't have. I spent the next fourteen minutes downloading the app, signing up for an account, making sure my passwords matched, registering my credit card—all while squinting to see my phone screen in the afternoon sun.
After all of that, the app wouldn't let me pay. Looks like I'm going to get a ticket.
But I didn't want to be late, so I locked my car and high-tailed it to my appointment. At one point I casually mentioned all of this to the person treating me.
"Yeah," he said, "they're not enforcing those meters." Seriously?!
Had I not had needles in my back, I probably would have sprinted out of there. To his credit, he did improve my shoulder. Nonetheless, I'm seeing someone else now.
Moral of the story: Communicating small details takes all of five seconds and can make a world of difference. How hard is it to give those around you a friendly heads-up?
Examples of taking initiative
"If you can't feed 1,000 people, then feed one." — Saint Teresa of Calcutta
In the workplace, taking initiative might mean ...
- Letting someone know when their appointment has arrived
- Calling ahead when you're going to be more than 3 minutes late
- Clearing up the confusion before the report is due
- Leveling with your team, rather than letting them hear important news through the grapevine
- Politely and privately letting a co-worker know when they have spinach in their teeth
You get the idea. Taking initiative is a powerful way to show your professionalism and consideration for those around you.
How do you define good communication?
Now that I've shown you a glimpse of my world, please share a glimpse of yours. What are your own examples of taking initiative, someone not taking initiative, or good communication in general?
Please leave a comment below