In our digital age, communication skills are a key requisite for techies in order to communicate the importance of their work to colleagues and customers.
And while you do not have to be a world-class orator, public speaker, or author, you should have a solid set of tools that span face-to-face, presentation, documentation, and virtual communication, so that you can clearly convey your ideas in the workplace.
Whatever your role, organization or sector, there are some basics that you are going to need to master. As you grow in your career, you will evolve all aspects of your communication skills.
- Speaking skills
- Presentation skills
- Documentation or writing skills
- Digital/Virtual skills
Cast your mind back to the last conversation you had with a colleague, your boss or somebody within your company. Was it entirely successful? Were you able to express the information that this person needed? Did you fully understand their request or questions?
Successful face-to face communication hinges on getting a few basics rights. Let’s start with body language. How you hold yourself, the gestures you make, eye contact and the tone of your voice are all communication cues that can help or hinder understanding. When you are interacting with someone face-to-face, try to maintain eye contact, and adopt a relaxed stance so that you appear more approachable. It will encourage others to speak to you.
And while you are communicating, be sensitive to the body language of the person you are talking to. Are they engaged? Are they comfortable? Have they understood?
Did you know that 65 – 75% of communication is nonverbal? Nonverbal cues can help iron our communication issues before they become problems.
Presentation Skills: Tailor Your Message
At some point in your career it is pretty inevitable that you will be called upon to present a plan or a project.
A good idea is to kick off by asking yourself what it is that you need to communicate. So be clear about what you want to say and try to say it as succinctly as possible.
When you are presenting, whether your audience is techie or not, it’s also a very good practice to balance detail with clarity. Try to figure out what they people you are addressing already know. Put yourself in their shoes. If they may not understand jargon or technical terms, keep these to a minimum - and if you do mention them, ensure that everyone has understood.
Also be prepared to explain the “why” as well as the “what.” Be aware that while you might have a passion for tech, your audience may struggle to follow or just not be as interested in the mechanisms of your solution. Ensure that you have clearly outlined the problem you are solving.
Finally, think about your tone. How formal is the setting? To what extent can you use humor or rhetoric as tools to engage your audience? When in doubt, avoid language that could lead to misunderstandings and cause offence.
The same rules hold true when you are documenting a project or creating a spec. Keep front of mind who your audience is, and what it is that they need to know. Be guided by the need for complete clarity, keep it simple, and succinct.
Try to kick off with a simple outline of your goal.
To get stakeholder buy-in, you will need to flush this out with a little detail, but again, let your big idea do the guiding. Each section or paragraph should follow a logical progression that endorses and re-endorses your big idea. And do not be afraid to use headers, horizontal rules to create sections, typography, or bullets to lend visual clarity.
Email and other virtual tools are a mainstay of the modern business organization. We are deep within the Information age and with Internet of Everything – all industries are working virtually in one capacity or another. Which means that communicating effectively when you do not have someone in front of you is another key skill to master.
As with presentations and documentation, always aim for clear and concise. You might find the BRIEF acronym useful when sending emails.
- Follow up
Most people complain about email traffic – we all receive too many emails – so try get to the point as quickly, as concretely, as coherently, and as courteously as possible.
And when you are communicating via video conferencing, such as WebEx or TelePresence, simple as it seems, make sure you remain present in the conversation and listen to everyone who is speaking.
Listening is one of the absolutely core communication skills. No one likes to communicate with a person who does not seem interested, or is only interested in hearing their own voice/thoughts.
Active listening means paying close attention to what the other person is saying, asking clarifying questions, and, where appropriate, rephrasing what the person says to ensure understanding : “so what you have told me is ...”
Through active listening and feedback, you can better understand what the other person is trying to tell you, and respond more effectively.
Confidence and Communication
Above all, approach communication with confidence.
Your goal is to convey information effectively. And you will not convince anyone if you do not seem to be convinced yourself. Avoiding eye contact, defensive body language, or excessive self-deprecation will give off a sense that you lack confidence in your own argument.
Instead, when you speak, speak firmly and with clarity. Focus on solutions rather than problems and you will find that most people are more receptive to your ideas.
Communication is simple but can also be quite complex. Once you master all the different facets of communicating – you will become a pro not only in the workplace but at home too.