To say that you need to an effective communicator to succeed at work (or in life!) is possibly as cliched as you can get. But aside from some remedial “soft skill" training, high-quality communication training that genuinely moves the needle is rare to find. Add to it the natural fear that the lack of an English language high-school education hampers our communication for life, the question of whether you can really learn how to communicate better remains an open one. In fact, people with great mastery of the English language can be very poor communicators. Equally some of the best communicators we have worked with speak “broken" English.
Most educational institutions teach language courses and hope that communication skills get developed as a by-product of having learnt a language or its literature. But being a good communicator is much more than mastery or proficiency of a language or love for its literature. Professional communication certainly demands more than error-free sentences or having a wide vocabulary. We believe mastering communication at the workplace is a function of developing these five skills:
Speak effectively: Workplaces are collaborative. You are dependent on others for inputs information and action. Speaking is the most common way of conveying one’s thoughts to your collaborators. Whether you are trying to persuade a group of people or expressing your opinions, you have to be mindful of the context, audience, and purpose. You have to build judgment on the tools and tone that may be best applied to achieve your objective. For example, if you are having trouble working with a colleague due to different work styles, how can you approach that conversation to bridge the gap and work better together?
Write proficiently: Writing is a persuasive tool that allows you to deliver ideas with the power they deserve. Good writing also conveys a sense of professional excellence and is rated as one of the most important skills for career success. Knowing how to write proficiently gives you a powerful advantage to build alliances, create enthusiasm, and articulate what you need others to do. For example, well-structured and concisely written presentations are strong skills set for any professional to develop.
Read deeply: Most of us believe that we are great at reading because we can make sense of the text. At the workplace, being an effective reader means to understand the various purposes of reading. Are you reading for depth of knowledge? Are you reading for the quick recap? Are you reading to collate facts to build an opinion? Each objective requires a different tool or technique for reading. We don’t realize that we are not trained to read for different purposes, whether it is to read deeply or to read to infer. For example, reading as part of your research role would be different from reading the profit and loss statement.
Listen actively: Listening is a skill we take for granted. Many of us don’t realise though that hearing and listening are two different things. At the workplace, listening well can prove to be a key skill because it is directly linked to the quality of information your receive. How a sentence is worded and structured might reveal something unique about the product that is being pitched. Catch-phrases and tagline can be of acute importance and can reveal unique features of the product. For example, in the middle of a difficult conversation with a manager who is upset, it’s easy to only hear the words, but not listen. In this case, you lose the possibility of imbibing rich information and inculcating trust.
Build presence: As organizations invest in building their own brands, professional can also build their own presence. Each person’s presence stems from the unique styles and sensibilities that they use while communicating and conducting themselves at the workplace. Most people think that presence is limited to one’s grooming. While this is most visible and often the first thing that others notice, your authenticity in the way you communicate and deal with others is what makes up your presence. For example, the way a client servicing executive behaves when he/she goes for a pitch can have a consequence beyond the content they are pitching.
Art of Work is a five-part series about habits critical to career success. Pramath Raj Sinha and Shreyasi Singh are founders of an online learning venture that helps professionals and students build career enhancing habits.