A lot of the most common feedback given on performance reviews centers around communication, and chances are some aspect or another has been noted in one of your own discussions with superiors.
Perfecting your own communication style will be a lifelong process -- we can always get better and do better, and the more you think about how you’re communicating, the more you’ll notice the styles of those around you and how they affect the people around you. Check in and evaluate your abilities in the areas below.
Do people know what you’re saying and where you stand on an issue? Your No.1 priority when speaking or writing to others in your organization is to provide clear and effective communication. Speak plainly and articulate your ideas, concerns and instructions with simple language. Even if you state several other supporting thoughts or issues, be sure to recap with a short statement of your main message.
What follows is our next point – be brief. Clarity in your message will lose its punch if you ramble. Keep your statements tight and to the point, so that your idea really hits home. Don’t leave time for people’s minds to wander.
Being thorough probably seems really challenging when you’re also trying to be concise. Try to ask yourself these questions: has it already been said in this conversation? Is this a generally known piece of information? Would a recap of this point help my point or level set the knowledge in the room? Try not to state the obvious, but make sure you briefly cover all the relevant points – confusion comes when you leave out a bit of data that you assume “everyone” knows.
Carefully consider your statements before you make them. The purpose of this is twofold – first, you don’t want to be “that person” who is known for chiming in just to say something or hear your own voice; second, be mindful of your audience when sharing your thoughts. Announcing that last year’s numbers were dismal, for example, to a room full of people who worked hard all season is not exactly sensitive or inspirational. Being thoughtful and considerate in how you phrase things will draw people to you, rather than making them feel demotivated or attacked.
You can be thoughtful and still be genuine. Being sensitive to the audience doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t be sincere. People will know if your statements are less than honest so don’t shower false praise or understate difficulty. Instead, be genuine and positive – if you’re trying to solve an issue, fixate on possible solutions rather than belaboring the problem. Be known as someone who cares little for who is “to blame”, but is only interested in how to do better in future.
Never forget that communication is not a one-way thing. The best communicators use their curiosity to engage and empower others by asking a lot of questions. Try this: next time someone is sharing a thought, instead of jumping in with your own opinion, ask them questions about their idea. Ask open, thoughtful questions that encourage them to round out their thoughts and broaden their thinking or clarify their points, rather than questions that make you seem skeptical or negative, or them feel attacked. This takes practice, but is a powerful tool in communicating and in making allies in your organization.
When it comes to soliciting ideas and asking questions, be someone who asks for input from those both above and below you. You can learn so much by gathering thoughts from those around you – both those who work for you, and from the managers and executive you report to. It can be tempting to try to go it alone, or only brainstorm in one direction or another, but good ideas can come from anywhere. Communicate with everyone and you’ll learn far more and get ahead more quickly.
Whenever and wherever you learn, be sure to give credit where credit is due. If a great idea came from an employee, a coworker, or an executive, don’t hesitate to say so. When you put the great work of others front and center in a conversation, you both win and everyone benefits from the recognition. People are more likely to engage in conversation with those they know will be generous and gracious in attributing a great idea to the source.
Even if you’re someone who is really on their communication game, you probably see areas for improvement in the above list. That’s normal – most of us have at least a few skills that could use some work. Spend some time noticing the business communication skills and talents of those around you. What do you really admire? What do you wish was different? Use your observations to evaluate and improve your own workplace communication for greater success.
Joel Garfinkle is the author of seven books, including "How To Be a Great Boss" and "Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level." He is recognized as one of the top 50 executive coaches in the US, having worked with many of the world’s leading companies, including Oracle, Google, Amazon, Deloitte, The Ritz-Carlton, Gap and Starbucks. Sign up to his Fulfillment@Work newsletter (10,000+ subscribers) and you’ll receive the free e-book “41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!”