The ability to communicate effectively is highly sought after in new graduates and first-time hires, but its importance actually grows with you as you advance in your career. Research shows that managers devote three-quarters or more of their time to communicating internally and externally. Strong communicators enjoy competitive advantage in landing new positions and promotions. To accelerate your career, consider fine-tuning your communications skills.
It’s what you say and how you say it
In an annual study conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), employers consistently rank the ability to communicate orally among the top five skills they seek most when hiring. In fact, oral communication skills rose to the number one spot in 2018.
Strong communicators have an advantage both in landing new positions and in being promoted within their current organization. Studies also show that being an effective communicator improves personal job satisfaction.
Conversely, poor communication leads to weaker results for individuals, teams and, ultimately, the organization. It makes sense, because getting your ideas across, sharing your competence and engaging with others to inform, persuade and motivate makes up a big part of the workday.
Just talking or actually communicating?
A study of more than 8,000 people in various occupations found that nearly everyone thinks they communicate as well or better than their coworkers. Since it’s impossible for everyone to be above average, perhaps the disconnect results from people knowing what message they intended to convey and then assuming that’s the one actually received.
Contemporary models of communication demonstrate that people are always communicating, whether intentionally or not. In fact, one of the best-known experts on human communication, Stanford Professor, psychologist and therapist Paul Watzlawick, famously said, “One cannot not communicate.”
Craft and deliver a better message
With communication a constant, investing the time to improve your skills is likely to offer strong returns. Oral communication in particular requires clear purpose and practice. There are no second drafts when speaking aloud. But there is plenty you can do to make spoken words work for, rather than against, you. Consider these strategies.
Listen first. Even people who enjoy sharing their thoughts orally can still be poor communicators. Because many people skip right over the first step to effective communication: listening. Only by listening attentively to others can you learn what they need and tailor your message accordingly.
Consider the audience. Not listening goes hand in hand with focusing on your interests rather than those of the intended audience. Effective speakers start with what their audience (of one or 100) wants and needs. When you consider what the audience already knows on the topic, what their concerns might be and how you can help them, you can craft a message that will resonate. Your boss or senior leader may need a one-minute, high-level synopsis of progress on the new marketing campaign. A colleague working on the project will need far more detail and clear expectations on deliverables.
Make your point simply. When you can explain a complex topic simply, it demonstrates mastery of the material. And delivers a message that is easy for others to grasp. By thinking through your main points, or jotting down a couple notes before speaking, you can make more succinct and powerful points others can remember.
Use proper grammar and avoid filler words. A trusted friend or mentor can be a great sounding board, as can recording yourself for practice. It can be surprising how often “um” “you know” “uhhh,” “like” and other filler words creep into our speaking. They distract the listener and decrease the competence you portray. Ask a trusted mentor or colleague to observe you in meetings, presentations and workplace conversations to help you become more aware of speaking quirks and grammatical errors that undermine your authority.
Use concrete language. The more specific and concrete you make your communication, the less chance for miscommunication. Instead of asking a team member to complete a project as soon as possible, let him know you need it by end of day Thursday. Rather than referring to high-quality customer service, specify the activities and outcomes desired.
Seek feedback. Even accomplished communicators need input from their audience to know how their message was received. Ask team members to paraphrase the guidance you shared for the project. Ask your supervisor for feedback on your presentation at the department meeting. Ask your customer if your response has met their needs.
Organizations place a high priority on oral communication, and are more likely to advance those who possess such skills, because communication is how work gets done. Those who do it well help reduce conflict and improve individual and team performance. Strong oral communication skills both help you advance in your career, and must keep pace with your progress.