One of the key criteria for being selected in most organizations (I am looking at you, consulting firms!) is ‘communication skills’. Even after joining an organization, this is a skill that comes up frequently during the regular reviews that the employee has with their bosses. As a result, over the years, communication skills have become an important dimension of career development. But, what are these communication skills that companies look for? How important are communication skills for your career? And if so, how do I develop ‘good communication skills’? If these are the questions that keep you awake at night or during the never-ending quarterly business update meetings, then fear not! I will attempt to answer some of these questions in this article.
At the very outset, let me clarify that companies are not looking for people who present their ideas, reports, emails and resignation letters with a flair that will put Shakespeare to shame. What they are looking for are people who can share their thoughts in a coherent, cogent and concise manner! So, once you have perfected your idea that will transform the company into the next pre-IPO Facebook, you should be able to share it with the management effectively so that there is no loss of translation and the company does not end becoming the next post-IPO Facebook. Well, this is where effective business communication plays an important role.
One of the first things to note is that your audience in a business context comprises people who are extremely busy. While you may be presenting your marketing ideas to them, they may already be planning next week’s yachting trip with their fraternity group buddies. Hence, it is important to get to the point immediately, so that you can communicate your ideas before they are lost among the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Pyramid Principle is a useful concept that can be used in such situations. In its most basic form, start with the context of the issue being discussed, followed by the problem that you are trying to solve and finally, your solution. In the solution section, start with your main recommendation followed by the supporting arguments in a deductive structure. At each stage of the solution outline, the audience should be able to get an answer to their ‘why should I do it?’ or ‘how will I do this?’ questions. This will also ensure that the audience remains engaged throughout the discussion.
The other dimension of good communication is your verbal skills and body language. Always speak confidently in a concise manner. Confidence of manner can be achieved only if you are thorough with the subject matter being discussed. Investing time before your talk – to understand the subject, anticipate questions that can come from the audience, and empathize with the audience in terms of the implications of the message for them – will be helpful to build your comfort. Speaking in a clear, loud and assertive (NOT aggressive) manner will give your audience the comfort that this person seems to know what he / she is talking about. Also, distributing your attention uniformly across the overall audience (and not just focusing on the CEO) will keep the entire room engaged. Of course, a couple of tequila shots (for both yourself and your audience) will further streamline the entire process of getting your recommendations approved.
Communication skills are becoming increasingly important in today’s world as businesses are entering unchartered territories in a bid to grow faster. In such situations, senior management of companies is expected to interact with the external world at a higher frequency and thus communication skills become an inseparable part of ‘leadership skills’. In addition, this is what is going to help you when, you as the CEO, have to tell your shareholders why they are losing money, but should still pay you that big fat annual bonus.
However, a small note of caution to the companies! Communication skills are desirable but not the only criteria for determining the career path of a candidate / employee. Who would you rather have to design your turbo-powered automobile engine? – An automobile engineer known to be a very bad communicator or an orator with no mathematical skills? Remember that communication skills are ‘learnable’! Evaluate your candidate on other parameters and fitness for the job, and THEN determine the extent of training required to help them improve their communication skills.
What do you think of the above points, as an employer and as an employee? How important is communication skills in your job? What do you do to communicate your thoughts effectively?