I’ve always considered myself a good communicator. Through my early years and on to my college years I was praised for writing clearly and for speaking to the point. However, once I got out of school and took my first professional position, I learned that effective communication is an art form in itself. Here are a few things I’ve learned:
- Consider your audience. I learned early in my career that depending on who I was working with, if I wasn’t detailed in the instructions that I gave, I would get exactly what I asked for – which wasn’t always what I intended! I could speak with a senior business analyst about a requirement and they would “fill in the blanks” asking clarifying questions to ensure that the business need was met, whereas a less experienced person would do exactly what I asked, and then we iterated to address the resulting gaps. The lesson here was to try and mine the gaps myself – thinking things through as completely as possible to anticipate where things would be lost and attempting to bridge understanding from the start.
- Look at the solution from other perspectives, as well as your own. Working with technology all day long, it is easy to forget that our understanding of things may not be the same as those we are working with. In order to ensure that information is exchanged and understood by all persons, it is important to listen, ask questions to confirm understanding, and then explain the solution and expected result completely and patiently.
- Anticipate questions, and attempt to address them. Particularly when communicating in written form, it is important not only to follow items 1 and 2 above, but also to go a step further and read the outgoing communication. Email and other written communications give you an added opportunity to ensure that information and expectations are clear and requested actions are outlined explicitly and succinctly. It helps to read the communication “as a member of the audience” and attempt to answer questions and address concerns upfront, so that you’re more likely to get the response you’re looking for the first time.
No one communicates perfectly all of the time, but adopting these three simple things certainly helps me to keep myself focused on getting the most out of every exchange.