Communication is a fascinating subject.
In almost every job I’ve applied for, ‘communication’ was guaranteed to show up as one of the main qualifications required.
“Must be an excellent communicator”
“Must be comfortable communicating across different environments”
“Communication skills are a must”
When I would see these listed as required skills I would always think:
“That’s one less thing I’ve got to worry about”.
To me, communication was just one of those general soft skills that anyone could say they had. I thought that as long as I could string together cohesive sentences and speak without stuttering, I must be a good communicator.
Most companies tend to overlook communication skills as well. Sure, they say they want it. But what they’re really looking for are the hard and technical skills and experience you can bring to the job.
As a result, I overlooked this valuable skill for years in favour of the things I thought would get me hired. Was I hired? Yes. But I always felt like I was missing that one thing to really elevate myself professionally.
Communication as a Skill
Just because you can communicate doesn’t mean you do it well.
The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
— George Bernard Shaw
So what does it actually mean to have good communication skills?
Good communication is the ability to effectively convey ideas (yours or otherwise) to an audience, using mediums that allow those ideas that be translated into mutual understanding between all groups.
It wasn’t until I started working full-time that I realized how much I sucked at communication.
I had a sales job too…
It was a struggle trying to express the value of my products and services to customers in a way that made them want to make a purchase. The silver lining? Most of my co-workers weren’t any better.
The salespeople who would consistently bring in the most sales had a few things in common. They each had their own unique ability to express an idea or viewpoint to customers.
And they used mediums at their disposal to ensure that customers fully understood and agreed with them. This allowed them to close deals.
There was the hard-seller, who specialized in getting deals done quickly. This person made you feel like the best deal you were going to get was the one that was right in front of you.
There was the marathon runner, whose strategy was to slow cook. Constant follow up through phone calls, emails, and texts either made you feel like you were the center of the universe or just drove you into submission. Either way, you signed the dotted line.
There was the empath. This person really made you feel how much better your life was going to be after making that purchase.
I can probably profile a long list of characters who work in sales, but I think we all get the point.
Obviously, a sales environment isn’t the only area where communication is relevant. But what I wanted to illustrate was the fact that there is a clear difference between those that have good communication skills and those that don’t. And many people will fall into the latter.
Communication is a Broad Subject
Countless mediums can be used to communicate:
- Facial Expression
Each has its own unique characteristics to pay attention to. Mastery of one does not translate to mastery of others.
Let’s take speech for example. Somehow we’re able to forcefully position our mouth and tongue in ways that allow us to generate noises that represent the ideas in our head.
And if someone can decipher said noises, they can process it in their own mind and decode the original idea.
Obviously, there’s more to it than that, but for the sake of simplicity, that’s pretty much what it is to talk to another person.
And of course, this over-simplistic representation of speech is not what happens in real life.
So many nuances in how we speak can affect how our ideas are perceived and understood by others. Subtle differences in tone, pace, volume, word choice can result in drastic differences between what was said and what was received.
And I’m only talking about the actual speaking part of it. Add in hand gestures, facial expressions, body language and there are an infinite number of ways your message could be interpreted by someone.
Here’s a quick and dirty list of the differences between good and bad communication:
Good communication leads to:
- Savings (time, money, etc.)
- Inclusiveness among teammates
- High achievement
- Good relationships
Bad Communication leads to:
- Constant re-work
- Waste (time, money, materials, etc,)
- Frustration and anxiety due to the absence of mutual understanding
- Poor morale
In short, good communication is a seriously underrated skill that many people think they have but few actually do. It’s an area that I’ve been researching and trying to improve on for the last number of years. I’m still a work in progress, but far further along than during my days as a junior sales associate.
Have you experienced the difference between good and bad communication, whether it be with colleagues, friends, family, or your partner? Let me know how it influenced your interaction.