If you want more success in these situations, improve your communication skills.
1. Facilitate a discussion
“That’s an interesting point. Nita, what do you think?”
Work communication is rarely one-to-one. Meetings, group calls, and presentations all involve multiple people talking together. Keeping these group conversations on track is important. It prevents wasting time for everyone involved. Knowing how to keep a group discussion focused and moving in the right direction is a valuable skill.
2. Share ideas
“That’s a great idea. Hey everyone, listen to what Amy is suggesting.”
Sharing ideas is one of the most common communication situations. The goals for sharing ideas include convincing others, contributing to solutions, and selling. Successful sharing of an idea means more than delivering information. It requires many other skills to ensure other people understand and support the idea.
3. Justify decisions
“Why did you choose to do it like that?”
We make a lot of decisions at work. Decisions about what work to do first, how to do it, and what we won’t do. At some point one of our decisions will be challenged. It might be because of a bad result, or because someone disagrees with the choice we made. Knowing how to justify a decision makes it easier and less stressful to respond to a challenge.
4. Ask for things clearly
“I know you want something from me but I have no idea what it is.”
No matter what job you have you need and want things from other people. The CEO wants strategy executed. A new starter wants help learning the proper processes. Asking for things clearly is critical to get the response or result you want. If you can’t ask for things clearly you won’t get what you need. Not only that, you will waste the time and effort of the people you are asking.
5. Give status updates
“Tell me what’s going on with your project.”
We spend hours every month giving managers, clients, and other stakeholders status updates. Being able to give short, clear, status updates can save time for you and your audience. The further you progress in your career the more status updates you’ll give. Especially to important clients and managers. Without this skill you will, at best, give ineffective updates that waste people’s time. And at worst you can be stuck, unable to rise up from the lower levels of an organization.
6. Present informally
“Raghu, can you share your idea with the rest of the team?”
Presentations aren’t always given standing in front of a room. Informal presentations happen all the time. They happen in team meetings, group discussions, and in zoom calls. Informal presentations may not need a stage but they are no less important. Informal presentations share ideas, persuade people, and define next steps. We should all know how to present an idea, topic, or plan without being on a stage with a PowerPoint presentation.
7. Present formally
“As you can see on slide 87…oh sorry, the words are a bit small on the screen.”
Formal presentations are one of the most feared events at work. They can feel like make-or-break career events. It doesn’t matter if you are pitching an idea to the board, or presenting to a client, formal presentations are major moments at work. Knowing how to present reduces the stress and increases the chance of a positive outcome.
8. Communicate with executives
“Steve from engineering has an idea for a new product. Go ahead Steve, impress us with your idea.”
As you progress in your career the more likely you are to communicate with executives. Executives are leaders of the company and as such they have a different way of thinking. Executives make decisions quickly with limited information. If you need to communicate with an executive it helps to know what they are looking for. You must structure short, clear messages, focused on the information they need. Knowing how to communicate with executives will make your job easier. Not only that, it may well open doors when it comes time to try and join the ranks of senior management.
9. Answer open-ended questions
“So, tell me what’s going on with the project. But keep it brief.”
Open-ended questions don’t ask for anything specific. They leave the door open for long answers on a wide range of topics. We often get asked ‘What’s happening with your project?’ or ‘How’s everything going?’. In these cases, you don’t have forever to give an answer. You also don’t know if the person asking had something specific in mind but they didn’t say it in the question. Knowing how to give short answers to open questions will get the most out of the conversations.
10. Answer interview questions
“That all sounds very impressive but you didn’t actually answer my question.”
Unless you are self-employed, or plan to stay in the same job forever, at some point you’ll need to answer interview questions. Giving good answers to interview questions is about more than having good examples. You need to structure and deliver the examples quickly and clearly. The key point needs to match the question and deliver what the interviewer is looking for. The consequences of not doing this well are significant.
11. Write good emails
“I could read one of your emails or seventeen short emails from other people. Do you have to write so much?”
Email has overtaken conversation as the primary method of communication at work. Even though the medium has changed doesn’t mean communication is less important. Long rambling emails get skim read or ignored. Unclear emails lead to extra emails asking questions and clarifying what’s needed. People who master short emails that get to the point get what they need faster. As a bonus, they also have fewer emails in their inbox to deal with.
12. Send good meeting invitations
“I’m here for the meeting. What is about?”
When you send a meeting invitation you are asking for someone to give their time to you. Do this badly and you risk them not attending. If they do turn up you waste the first part of the meeting explaining why the meeting is happening. Starting an effective meeting starts with a good meeting invitation. Ignore this skill and people might ignore your meetings.
13. Run good meetings
“That was a complete waste of time for everyone.”
Getting people together for a meeting takes time and effort and you need to make the most of the time in the meeting. Meetings fail because of unclear purpose, unstructured discussions, and more. Run good meetings and people will want to show up. Do the opposite and you will struggle to get people to turn up next time.
14. Talk about risks and issues
“This never should have happened. Why didn’t you say something earlier?”
Much of our work involves anticipating and fixing problems. As a result, a lot of our communication revolves around things that might or have gone wrong. People who can’t talk about risks end up having to fix problems that could have been avoided. People who can’t talk about issues waste entire meetings. They talk about how a problem happened leaving no time to focus on how to fix things. Senior leaders spend a lot of time on risks and issues. Communicating well about these topics makes your interactions with leaders easier.
15. Say ‘no’ clearly and appropriately
“I don’t know why they are so angry. All I said was ‘no’.”
Saying yes to every request is a sure-fire way to get overloaded and burn out. But saying no the wrong way can alienate you and annoy your colleagues. Part of the answer is about choosing what to say no to, the other part is about saying no the right way. People who master the art of saying no have less stress. They can even build relationships with the people they say no to.
The list of workplace situations improved by good communication skills is by no means complete. However, it does cover many of the common and everyday situations we experience at work.
Whenever I write about a topic that doesn’t fit into the 15 skills on this page, I’ll put the article here. When there are enough topics on a single theme, I’ll add a new section to the page. Also, if you’d like to see a specific topic do let me know and I’ll add it to my writing list.
Read more on these workplace communication situations.