How to Communicate Effectively as a Manager
By: Patrick Alain, author of The Manager’s Phrase Book (Career Press, 2013)
You are a respected professional with more than enough expertise to succeed in your field. But sooner or later, you must communicate effectively with others that are either your peers or your subordinates.
Communication skills become even more critical if you you’ve been in your chosen profession for a long period of time and have risen into a management position. By that time, you’ve encountered a wealth of information that you were never formally taught.
You will need to communicate to push projects forward, but the tools for workplace communication have changed. Email has virtually wiped out the memo, the fax, and the letter. Social media has added a layer of communication that is extremely nuanced and very difficult to control.
A Failure to Communicate
What are the consequences of failing to communicate well?
- Your client’s or project needs may not be met.
- Your subordinates may be confused about what is expected of them.
- Your goals may come crashing down around your head, and the collective heads of your superiors, peers, and staffers.
Not a pretty picture by any means.
Let’s face it: effective communication is not easy. Nearly all professions suffer from some form of communication problem. A recent survey documented that 70% of respondents said they didn't understand their accountant (not surprising, really), and a staggering 97% said the same thing about computer experts.
Some of this miscommunication can be blamed on the fact that accountants and computer specialists use a wide slate of terminology and jargon.
Is your profession any different? Can you sleep at night, knowing that the same percentage of people might not understand what you consider critical information from where you sit? Is it any easier to drop off knowing that, whenever you are passing information to another person or group, you are doing so precisely because that information is new to them, no matter what their industry.
The keys to effective communication are simple and direct:
- Speak clearly and briefly. Don’t fluff up your speech with flowery phrases or empty anecdotes. Pare down your words to the essentials and let the power of your simple phrases do the heavy lifting for you.
- Back up your ideas with knowledge. Stick to the facts. A little research goes a long way to proving your point and winning over your audience. If you are an expert in your field, introduce yourself with pithy information about your background and then swiftly segue into the meat of your presentation.
- Speak positively. Avoid negativism, talking down to your audience, or badmouthing others in your profession (no matter how much you may think they deserve it). Ultimately taking the high road will win you plaudits quickly and effectively.
- Think before you speak. Using notes is acceptable in most speaking occasions, but even with practice it is possible to depart from the script. If doing so, avoid vapid extemporaneous bridges to nowhere. You usually won’t be able to find your way back, or to recapture your audience’s attention.
- Finish each thought before moving on. This seems to not need an explanation, but if you aren’t your most critical editor, vital information can be obfuscated.
- Have a calm attitude and a clear head. Like a captain sailing a ship, know the most effective route between thought A and thought B, stick to the route, and end the voyage to applause.
- Don’t interrupt others. This is really most applicable if you’re part of a panel discussion, but is equally applicable during Q&A. There is no better way to tune people out than to cut them off.
Great speakers are born, but most of them have to learn on the job, and there is no shame in that.
Using the right communication techniques really helps. Most people who are obliged to speak in meetings or at leadership retreats either have never been shown these techniques, or have never taken the time to practice them.
The best news is that these techniques are easy to remember, to learn and to master. Even better -- they work in all situations, from large formal speeches to casual information sessions and even social occasions.
Patrick Alain is the author of The Manager's Phrase Book. He is an internationally known developer of some of the world's best-selling video games, including the multi-awarded blockbusters Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption. Alain's first publishing venture, The Leader Phrase Book, was immediately successful. He was born in Paris, France, and has lived in a number of countries. Fluent in five languages, he attributes much of his success to his ability to be a vital participant in large, multilingual teams. Alain holds a master's degree from the University of Paris and has lived in San Diego, California since 2004.