Your communication style defines your personal brand. It’s how you interact with people and build relationships. Strong communication skills builds trust and respect, and ultimately your professional credibility. It is the most important skill for influencing people and advancing your career. The take-away is this:
Great careers are built on a foundation of strong communication skills.
As an engineer, my day-to-day job involves a huge amount of technical details. For the folks I’ve mentored in my career, I’ve always said the skill that separates good engineers from great engineers is communication. Good engineers can design and build a quality product. Great engineers can do that along with communicating the details effectively to everyone involved. This theory isn’t unique to engineering; it applies to all disciplines. Regardless of your profession, being a strong communicator will put you in a position to succeed.
What can you do to be an effective communicator? Here are some ideas.
- Learn proper grammar and spelling – this one is at the top of the list for a reason. Invest the time to learn proper grammar and spelling. As the old adage goes, “You only get one chance to set a first impression”, and your communication style sets the tone for this interaction. If you inject spelling and grammar mistakes, then people will begin to question the credibility of the content of your message. Technology has come a long way to helping us with this, but it’s not fool-proof.
- Know your audience – Knowing the right level of detail to give your audience is extremely important. Whether you’re writing an email or giving a speech, take the time to learn what your audience is interested in hearing. Not giving them the right amount of details (too much or too little) can cause confusion, which is almost worse than not communicating at all.
- Over Communicate – Yes, there is a point where you can over communicate, but the threshold is pretty high. Err on the side of caution and send the email. This is especially true as you transition to a position of leadership. Keeping your team informed will always be beneficial.
- Phone a friend – Whenever I’m sending an important email, or delivering a presentation, I always run it by a coworker first to make sure my message is being received as I expected. It’s amazing how you can read your own email a dozen times and not see a mistake, but another set of eyes can catch it in an instant.
- Public speaking – These two words make most people’s skin crawl. But the fact of the matter is, for you to take the step to the next level this will be imperative. Trust me, for some it won’t be easy at first. But I can assure you it will get better. Reach out to others who can help you with this. Toastmasters is a phenomenal organization that has helped me work through my fears and become a better communicator.
- Stick to the facts – This is some of the best advice I received from one of my mentors. Don’t send emails while you’re upset about a particular subject. It’s perfectly fine to take some time and gather your thoughts. When you do send that email or make the phone call, stick to the facts. Remove your emotion and let the facts make the case for you.
- Be responsive – Answer emails and in a timely manner. Have you ever sent an email and felt like it fell into some kind of abyss? Frustrating, isn’t it? Do your best to avoid doing this to others. One good approach is to set aside 30 minutes at the end of your day to get caught up on email. Even if your response is “I need to check with Mary and I’ll get back to you when I have more information.” That feedback has provided great customer service. After all, aren’t we all in customer service?
In his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell teaches us about the Law of the Lid. In this law, Maxwell explains that a person’s level of effectiveness is determined by their leadership ability. In other words, the lower his/her ability to lead, the lower their overall potential. The same can be said for communication. Without good communication skills, you’re going to be limited on how far you can go in your career. Build your career on a foundation of strong communication skills, and you’ll increase your level of influence and ultimately your overall success.