I was once asked in an interview what my greatest career skill was – and I answered that I believed it was the ability to communicate, clearly and effectively, to people at multiple levels of a business. I believe I first learned the power of effective communication shortly after my Father died, when I began to really concentrate on how people were feeling when the spoke to me. For me, communication isn’t just about transmitting a message – it’s also about how you leave people feeling.
When I was at University, I became increasingly aware of the different facets of communication and started working on it as a skill. I decided that, as far as I could maintain, I’d always be mindful of how I was connecting with people on both an emotional and intellectual level.
There isn’t really a ‘right’ way of communicating with others – trying to mimic someone else usually comes across as a shallow attempt to ‘borrow’ their credibility, so it’s far better to focus on building a style of communication which is authentic to you. Concentrate on your own style, refine and build upon the strong points to make it even better.
There are lots of ways of describing styles of communication, but I’ve generally found that people fall into an ‘Analytical’, ‘Functional’, ‘Emotional’ or ‘Flexible’ style of communicating. The first of these, ‘Analytical’, is based on data and logic, leading the people who employ it to consider the next logical step – often ignoring the emotional aspects of communication.
A ‘Functional’ communicator often describes things in detail, but risks over-communicating and losing focus as they strive to ensure no aspect of an idea or situation is lost.
‘Emotional’ communicators are fantastic at connecting with others on an emotional level, although some may find this desire for deeper connection intrusive and unwanted.
Finally, a ‘Flexible’ communicator switches between the first three styles as requirements dictate, allowing them to deliver a message in the most appropriate style for their recipient. This final form of communication enables the most positive outcomes, allowing the user to deploy emotion and logic to their full extent to educate, encourage and inspire listeners.
A big challenge for me has been the difference between written and verbal communication – if you ask a member of the audience at one of my speeches whether I’m an engaging communicator, they’ll likely agree, and if you ask someone who has received an email or piece of written content from me, I’d hope they’d tell you the same.
It took me a long time to master the skills needed to communicate effectively over these mediums – when delivering a speech, I deploy body language, eye contact and tone of voice to bring my point to bear, but writing requires a totally difference set of communication tools.
Understanding how to communicate via written word is critical in the modern world. Unless the other party has a clear understanding of my personality and character, I’d never write the same way that I speak. I always focus on clarity and ensure that there is nothing present which could be ambiguous or misinterpreted upon receipt. A good rule of thumb is to write every document as though it may one day end up on the front page of The Times!
A good communicator also understands the difference between speaking to a group and speaking to an individual. Speaking to of a large audience has been crucial to my career development, giving me the confidence to address individuals of greater status than myself clearly and concisely.
Ultimately, the ability to communicate is a skill which requires focus and work in order to hone. I believe good communication to be much like good manners, in that they are things which can be drilled into a person but fundamentally require a consideration and understanding of others before all else.