Susan Foster is a communications coach who spent 17 years working in a large semiconductor company. Before she was a coach, she worked as a software engineer, a product manager, and then a people manager.
She eventually developed an interest in communications and is now a coach for internal and external customers.
It seems like most people in the workplace don’t realize how important communication is until there’s a breakdown.
Foster defined communication as the exchange of ideas and information. And the key focus, she said, is the exchange part.
Unless people can communicate, any contributions they might be able to give to their company won’t be heard. They’ll stay inside someone’s head. Those ideas won’t go advance, and the employee likely won’t either.
Put simply, good communication reduces misunderstandings.
“It gets everybody on the same page with communication,” Foster said. “A company can’t go forward and grow without effective communications within.”
Good communication has a couple of important factors.
The first is active listening, according to Foster. This is the ability and practice of saying, “This is what I think you said. Is that right?” That key question will get everyone on the same page.
The second is good preparation. If a manager is about to walk into a meeting with employees, and they don’t know what the purposes of that meeting are, nobody will benefit from the meeting. They just won’t get anything out of it, Foster said.
When a meeting leader doesn’t know the exact purpose for that gathering, the meeting feels long.
To avoid this, set an agenda. Be boring. Say “This is what the purpose of this meeting is.” And most importantly, end meetings on time.
People’s attention wanders. So have a short point because it really helps.
During a meeting, don’t let people get side tracked with idle talk. Wrangle people in. Be confident. Chit chat will make meetings longer.
Another tip for meetings? Start them with facts everyone can agree on.
“Our products were down last quarter. Here’s what we saw,” Foster said as an example of one such fact.
If it’s an interactive meeting, listen to everyone’s ideas, and incorporated their input into the solution. This will make people more connected and dedicated to the overall objective.
Meeting leaders have to learn how to incorporate other people’s ideas. Even if they’re not going to use them. People need to feel included, or else they might attempt to derail the project.
Show sincerity by really listening to them. That’ll go a long way.
When it comes to explaining complex ideas, the best approach is just to make sure the speaker truly understands the idea.
Bottom line? If the speaker doesn’t understand a complex idea they’re trying to explain, the listeners won’t get it either.
It’s also important to remember people retain more if ideas are presented in multiple ways, verbal, written, graphs, charts, etc.
Preparing people ahead of time can also help. And for those in the meeting, keep detailed notes on what happened and be able to send them out afterwards.
If important decisions get made, and someone doesn’t write them down, people will think they’re on the same page when they’re not.
Good communication skills are like working out. Exercises help to really flex that muscle.
Foster suggested joining a public speaking club to beef up communication skills. Members can practice, goof up, and make mistakes without risk.
At work, there are risks, which makes it a bad place to rehearse.
And of course, there’s nothing like the real thing. Speaking in front of an audience helps people get over the jitters.
“You can’t do that by yourself. You have to have an audience,” Foster said.
Recording a practiced speech can also be a big help. Speakers don’t know what they sound like or if they use lots of ‘ums.’
Bring in a friend with dog clicker, and have them listening for when filler words slip in, Foster suggested.
“It’s really important not to use a lot of filler words,” she said.
Practice is so important to this process. A natural person who can speak well might start off at a great pace in communications, but with practice, they’ll move to the next level.
And, Foster said, even those who start their practice with challenges will find some improvement.