Improve Your Communication Skills

One of the most difficult challenges in leading people and Organizations is being an effective communicator. It is often intimidating for people. Yet, it is such a critical skill to master if you want to achieve your full potential.

At Procter & Gamble, written and verbal communication skills were heavily coached and great communicators were highly valued throughout the Company. I thought it might be helpful to reach back into my career and share with you some common mistakes people make in communication. Mistakes that P&G worked very hard to train out of their future leaders. If you avoid these mistakes, you should find your communication skills improving.

Some Typical Mistakes

  • Giving too much detail. This is one I still struggle with. There is really no need to demonstrate how smart you are. It is not important to give 10 reasons why something is right to do. The more reasons you give, the more likely your conversation or presentation will get sidetracked. Private and Public Sector decision makers only care about the 2 – 3 most important reasons they should align with your point-of-view. In fact, the more reasons you provide the less confident they will believe you to be.
  • Not answering the question that was asked. Sometimes we are so anxious to convince somebody that they should agree with what we are saying that we don’t take the time to listen. There is an old saying worth paraphrasing – God gave you two ears and one mouth, use them in proportion. If you don’t understand the question, clarify before attempting to answer it. If you need time to collect your thoughts, repeat the question. Don’t allow a question to get you too far off on a tangent. Answer the question and then get back on track. Try not to be defensive, and definitely don’t start defending your point until you truly understand the question being asked.
  • Putting too much information on a handout or chart. Don’t allow the people you are talking with to turn their attention from you to reading a detailed handout. You make it easy for people to get sidetracked when you put too much information in front of them that is not truly relevant to your presentation. Highlight only the most important points you need to make.
  • Not being responsive to the person/people you are speaking to. It is important to know your audience’s preferences for receiving information. Anticipate the data they need and be certain to present it in a format they are used to. It is more about effective communication than demonstrating your creativity. Watch their body language when you are talking. If they are nodding to what you are saying, move on. Be flexible and find a good balance between demonstrating your personal conviction and a willingness to be open-minded. It is important people feel that you are genuinely interested in finding the right solution rather than being right.
  • Winging it or not taking care of the basics. You must be prepared and thoroughly understand your subject. I am often amazed at how often people do not do basic research on the internet to determine what is known about the subject matter. Another common mistake is to not declare what the meeting purpose is right upfront. It is important people know what you are looking to get from them. Also, share the agenda for the meeting with people so they know what to expect and can comfortable waiting to ask questions knowing information is coming up that may be relevant. And always summarize next steps to be certain agreements you thought were reached in fact were.
  • Don’t bluff. It is perfectly fine to admit you don’t know an answer to a question. If it is an important question you can get back to the person with an answer. You are not expected to know everything. In my opinion, bluffing implies you do not respect the other person enough to be transparent. And, if you are caught bluffing it is the kiss of death from a trust perspective.

I am certain the above is not a comprehensive list. But, I think it is a good list. And, if you are making any of the above mistakes adjusting your behavior will definitely improve your communication skill.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Improving your communication skills is one of those never ending challenges. I always replay every presentation in my mind right after I give it. I always find things I could have and wished I had done better. What tips do you have for people working on improving their communication skills? What have you learned that you can pass on?

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