By Stephen Kellett
30 March, 2012

Are you any good at communication? Thats a good question. If you’re like me, you probably think you are not good at communication.

You may think that good communicators are slick, polished, don’t make mistakes, can sum things up nicely and exude a certain level of confidence. Well yes, the public speakers that have been around for a while do tend to be that way. But that is more the result of speaking in public many times than natural ability. Eric Ries wasn’t as polished when he started speaking in public. He is the first to admit that. Practice makes perfect.

That isn’t want I’m talking about. I’m asking you if you communicate your ideas to others and if at the end of the conversation do they understand you?

Why am I mentioning this? Years ago I had a performance review by my line manager. The review was done in 3 parts. My manager would fill in his scores for various tasks and abilities, rating me. I would do the same. Then we’d compare the scores we had for each task and discuss the differences/similarities and how to improve any areas that needed improvement and how to make the most of areas I excelled at.

There were lots of categories, none of which I can remember except for “communication”. I don’t tend to award myself a 10 or 1 in anything when I self score, so the sheet had various high scores and a few low scores. I was hitting it out of the park in software development terms (which would come back to bite me a few years later in the form of RSI – my work was 3 months ahead of schedule) but for communication I gave myself a really low mark.

The really low mark for communication confused my line manager and we spent a good chunk of the review just talking about communication. I had interpreted “communication” on the form as “Can I present, Do I speak in public, do I do this, that the other…” all these imagined things that I thought a good speaker should do. I didn’t think I could do them.

My line manager wasn’t interested in that. He was interested in did my team mates, colleagues, people in teams interfacing with our team (in person or via our documented API), senior managers etc, did these people understand the technical work I was doing? Did they understand how to use it, why certain things were the way they were and most importantly if someone came and asked me a question could I answer it with confusing the living daylights out of them?

Turns out I could. I scored quite well on all that. No idea what he wrote down. Not really relevant these days.

All I’m trying to say is communication is making sure the other person understands. Far better to be slightly slower, or more verbose, or elaborate (or whatever) and succeed in communicating than be super concise, uber terse, abrupt and leave the other person feeling bewildered or intimidated by what you’ve just said.

How do you feel about communication now? Think you’re better at it than before reading this?

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