Two simple ways to improve communication
To succeed in most careers these days, you need to be an effective communicator. Whether you’re an engineer talking to a PM, a project manager sharing news with a stakeholder, or a job candidate interviewing for a role at a new company, speaking and writing in a concise way can improve your odds of a successful interaction.
As an Operations leader, I’m often asked about how I communicate well — to a team member, to an executive team, or even to an entire company. There are a lot of specifics I could get into around formatting and tone and other complexities, but I’ve boiled down a lot of my communication strengths to two simple things: shared expectations and open communication.
A simple concept that can be performed in a variety of ways, shared expectations makes sure you and the involved parties both know what you intend to get out of the conversation and what you need from one another.
Shared expectations can be met with:
- Meeting agendas (even for quick catch-ups)
- Action items or takeaways from a conversation
- Starting emails or documents with a brief summary of what the reader should expect
- Including target dates where it makes sense
- Sharing what will happen if expectations aren’t met
Another thing to keep in mind here is that specificity helps a lot. “Send Bri expense reports” is less helpful than “Email Bri all October expense reports by Friday.” You won’t always be able to include that level of detail, but you’ll have a greater chance of shared expectations if you do.
If someone around you failed to follow-up on an action item or you’re being blocked by them on an important project, the first question I’ll ask is around shared expectations. Did they know how urgent this task was to complete? Did they know to follow-up with you after completing the task?
Before firing off a frustrated message, consider that you and the involved party may not even be on the same page. To truly give others a chance to succeed, shared expectations are necessary.
This one may be puzzling to some folks. Aren’t there more ways than ever to communicate with others? You can send me a Slack message, write me an email, shoot off a text message, schedule a quick meeting, give me a call, and leave me a comment on my Google doc. But, alas, I’ve found that communication is much like Schrödinger’s cat: the door of communication is both open and closed until it is observed. Sharing how involved parties can communicate with you for follow-ups or future matters makes a big difference.
Open communication can be met with:
- Ending a call by saying you’d prefer any follow-up questions or concerns come through Slack
- Going ahead and scheduling a check-in for a specific target date
- Proactively reaching out to involved parties to ensure tasks are on-track
- Hanging around after a meeting to answer questions
- Making space in 1:1s or other meetings for feedback and concerns
- Maintaining recurring office hours (and talking about your office hours to others frequently, so they know they’re there for a reason)
Of course, you don’t want to make yourself too open and available — then you may as well change your title to Professional Meeting Attendee. This is why using shared expectations alongside open communication can be so effective; you want folks to understand how and when to contact you.
Don’t leave your stakeholders or teammates unsure of how to reach out to you. They may not want to interrupt your work day with a Slack message, even though that’s what you’d prefer. Give them a clear avenue to ask questions and share feedback.
If you keep these two aspects of communication in mind as you move forward, I’m certain you’ll be communicating more clearly than ever before. In my experience, most of the problems we encounter both at work and in the world are people problems (they’re the most complex of all); using these simple tips to help build bridges can really make a big impact.