90% of a project manager’s time is spent on communication. They have to make sure the right information reaches the right people at the right time. They also have to make sure the information is understood and acted upon. Without proper communication, projects can fall behind schedule or in worst case scenarios fail costing organisations loss of time and money. I cite this to illustrate the importance of communication in our lives. Even if you are not a project manager, your productivity will benefit from improving your communication skills.
Communication starts with being responsible. Both the sender and receiver of the message have a responsibility to ensure communication is effective. The sender has a responsibility to take the communication needs of the receiver into account. Sticking with the project management analogy, a good project manager finds out the preferred communication channel and frequency of updates required by all stakeholders. Personally, I’d rather read an email than receive a long call. If you pay attention, you will often find out what channel someone prefers. I know someone who insisted they only be called if it was an emergency. For all other purposes, he’d rather receive a text or email.
The receiver has a responsibility to ensure they have understood the information before acting upon it. Where necessary, they should request for clarification, also known as feedback. A good way of getting feedback, especially for verbal communication is to repeat the message you have received. At work, when I receive a verbal request, I say “Let me tell you what I have understood so I can be sure we are on the same page.” Repeating the message provides an instant opportunity for the sender to provide feedback.
Asking for feedback, also teaches you a very valuable communication skill: Active listening. Effective communication requires you to listen to understand not to reply. Simon Sinek mentions how good leaders must learn to be the last to speak. This skill can be very difficult to master because it requires a person to sit and hear everyone else’s opinion without judgment before they can share their own. Active listening ensures you have understood things from the other person’s perspective before you share your thoughts.
Communication is not just about words. In fact, a key part of communication is non-verbal. When a person holds a gun to your head and says “Hand over your wallet”, you know they are not making a request. Subordinates are more likely to share bad news with a boss if their boss’s body language suggests approachability. People observe how you react when they bring bad news and if you get angry every time someone tells you about a problem, subordinates will soon start telling you only what you want to hear. That is poor communication.
The most productive people are effective communicators. They understand poor communication costs time, effort and money. It is easier for everyone if communication is comprehensible and feedback encouraged. It also makes you likable.