“Where do I start?” That’s the one question I get asked at the end of every training session on what it takes to become a good manager. In a typical two-day session, we explore topics such as: transitioning into management, understanding personality styles, managing performance, and motivating people. At the end of Day 2, participants feel overwhelmed by it all and they don’t know where to begin.
My answer to their question on where to begin is always this: “Start building your communication skills.”
Good communication is the thing companies need the most and the thing they do the least. Poor communication is cited as a one the biggest mistakes companies make in managing its people. It is the heart of morale problems and it is also the reason behind half of all unsuccessful projects.
Effective communication is a really big deal.
Good communication, the ability to express yourself, listen really well, and ask powerful questions, will see you through any kind of difficulty in your career and your personal life. Fortunately, these are skills that can be learned; you just need to practice these three things—every day:
- Speak assertively: Express your thoughts, wishes, and opinions clearly and directly. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
- Listen actively: Give the speaker your time and undivided attention. Really listen to understand what the speaker is saying.
- Ask powerful questions: Ask your team members provocative, open-ended questions to encourage them to find new or deeper ways of thinking about issues.
These skills don’t come naturally for most of us. We are not taught how to communicate in grade school, middle school, or high school. We may sign up for a communication course in college or through a professional development program, but by then we’ve developed a long habit of miscommunicating. And even if we do sign up for a class, it doesn’t mean we’ll become proficient.
You have to practice these skills. It’s the only way you’ll get better. If you’ve ever tried to play a musical instrument, you know what I mean. Think of when you first learned to play. It felt awkward to place your hands on the instrument and the sound you produced was pretty awful, right? With practice, though, you became more comfortable with the instrument and your noise started to sound like music. The same holds true for the first time you learned how to ride a bicycle, play a sport, or work at a craft. And the same holds true for learning how to communicate.
When you become skilled, you’ll be able to do almost anything required of you as a manager, including:
- Defining roles and setting expectations for how you and the team will work together
- Expressing your thoughts, wishes, and opinions
- Giving and receiving feedback on performance
- Resolving conflict
- Finding out what others are thinking
You’ll also be able to strengthen your interpersonal relationships, professionally and personally, and that counts for a lot. Communication holds the key to everything! I’ll give you some strategies and techniques for effective communication in the next few posts, so stay tuned.