How to Improve Communication Skills – Tips for Managers

how to improve communication skills

If this is your idea of effective communication, you better keep on reading (image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

The experts say that communication is the key to a successful marriage.  I would argue that improving your communication skills is also a key to being a successful manager.  And if you’re a manager who happens to be married, then reading this article on How to Improve Communication Skills is like a 2 for 1 deal.

 

Why is communication a key manager skill?

As a manager you’ll find that you will need to use your ability to communicate effectively at the most crucial junctions.  For example,

  • When you need executive approval for a funding increase on a critical project
  • The deadline for a key initiative is quickly approaching and your need your team to work over the weekend to deliver
  • Your team has been asked to give the closing presentation for a lucrative client.
  • To improve your relationship with your high performing staff

Success in all these scenarios will be determined by how effectively you communicate and if you’re able to obtain buy-in / agreement.

How you can tell if you need improve your communication skill as a manager?

  • Do you have difficulty developing meaningful relationships with your team members?
  • Do you find it difficult to pull together a report or PowerPoint presentation for senior management?
  • Do you walk out of a meeting asking yourself if everyone understood what you were saying?
  • Are you crafting emails that requires your reader to scroll down more than once?

If any this sounds familiar, then chances are you need to work on your communication skills.  But don’t worry, managers who are great communicators aren’t born, their made.   It takes effort on your part certainly, but you can absolutely do it, you can become an effective communicator.  I will teach you how.

 

How to Improve Communication Skills in 4 easy steps

1. Prepare in advance

Your first step in communicating more effectively is to prepare, prepare, prepare.   In fact preparation will be you new best friend.  Spend enough time with your new best friend, and she’ll open doors for you.

Depending on your workload and schedule, you may not have time to prepare for every single meeting or discussion.  I’ve calculated that on an average week, I spend 70% of my time in the office in meetings.  If you’re in a similar position, you’ll have to be selective about what meetings you’ll prepare for.

How to prepare:

  • Identify what questions and issues will be raised during the meeting
    • Identify the people who have not “brought in” yet  or will have objections
    • Understand why the will have an objection
    • Understand their point of view
    • Identify your common ground.  Why do they have a take in your success, how will it benefit them?
  • Identify what questions will be asked

After you’ve identified who will object or ask a questions and why they will ask it.  Anticipate what questions will come from them. To anticipate the questions, think about what type of questions they have asked in the past or what opinions and thoughts they will have the most objections with?

  • Formulate your answers to these anticipated questions.
    1. Remember here to include a buffer before your reply.
    2. Buffers that I like to use include
      • That’s a great  question….
      • That is absolutely a valid concern…
      • Your right, this will be a difficult task, but I’m confident that if you provide us with the following support, we will succeed

 

Target & tailor your message to your audience and their needs

Knowing your audience and what their needs are will dictate not only what you communicate, but how you communicate it.

Some common sense here folks,  if you communicating to the executive level, don’t fall into the trap of getting too deep into the weeds.  Meaning, don’t spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the granular details.  Even if the details are where you’re most comfortable, remember, this is not just about your needs; it’s also about the needs of your audience.  When I’m communicating to the executive level, I find it beneficial to stick to the PSCB method.

PSCB?  Nope, it’s not the latest designer drug all the teenagers are craving.

P – Problem

S – Solution

C – Cost of the Solution

B – Benefits of the solution

Using the PSCB method when communicating to more senior levels will force you to summarize your communication and delivering it in a concise manner.

The PSCB method works well when you’re communicating verbally or through written communication such as email or a report.

  1. Open your message by stating very clearly what the problem is and why the problem exists.  Be careful not to lay blame when you do.
  2. Quickly pivot to the solution.  Be very clear about how the solution will address the problem.
  3. State both the direct & indirect cost of your proposed solution
  4. Close with stating the benefits of the solution.

Here is an example of how I used this method when I needed the approval of my COO and CFO for funding for a project

All,

Thank you making time in your busy schedules to attend this important meeting.

As you know, at the start of the year my division was tasked with divering 3 major projects for our company.

{Problem}

We were informed last week by the vendor of our core ERP system that they will be eliminating support of the current version of the platform we use at the end of this calendar year.   We need to upgrade to version 10 or purchase extended support at a cost of $250,000.

{Solution}

We have reviewed what it would take to upgrade our platform and have deterimed that it can be done in 6 months with 5 employees.  However, the majority of my team is deployed on the other major project, which cannot be deferred.  We have 3 staff members with capacity to undertake this upgrade, but we’ll need to temporarily add 2 additional staff members to my team to complete this upgrade within the next 6 months.

{Cost}

The total cost for these two additional resources is $140,000.

{Benefits}

I know our budgets have been finalized already, and I’m asking for an exception to be made here.  However, this solution will save our company $110,000 this year and ensure that we can deliver the 3 major projects that are required this year, and maintain compliance with our core ERP system at the same time.

Thank you, do you have any questions. 

Watch your body language

Think about those who you work with or those that you know who are great communicators; one trait that they will share is the strength of their body language.  If you remember nothing else from this post, remember this.  It’s not just what you communicate, it’s how you communicate.  And part of this how is your body language.

Simple ways to improve your body language

  • Maintain eye contact when you speak.
    • If you’re uncomfortable with eye contact, look at someone’s forehead or eyebrows.
    • Start off with a smile.
      • Even if you are having a bad day at work (or bad month), put that all to the side by starting off with a welcoming smile.  This is a tactic that I use when I’m having a one on one conversation with a staff member or an important meeting with our C.O.O.
  • Don’t be afraid to use your hands.
    • I know some people don’t advocate the use of hand gestures during verbal communication, but I actually find it effective in moderation.
  • Project confidence not cockiness.   If your saying to yourself “what confidence”.  I say to you, the confidence you now have from preparing, knowing your audience and anticipating their questions.   (see how it comes full circle)

Stop saying “umm” when you speak

Before we get into how to stop saying um, let’s address why we say um.   And I’ll freely admit it here, I still say umm on occasion myself, but I’m getting much better at it.

Why do we say “umm”?  Basically it’s a comfort word. You know how some people have comfort food that they turn to in a moment of stress or difficulty (Ice Cream for me), well comfort words work the same way.  These are words you turn to when you’re nervous or searching for the next thing to say.

How can you stop saying umm?  Easy, prepare and practice what you are going to say over and over again until you know it inside and out.   If you still feel like saying umm, just say it in your mind or better yet, don’t say anything at all.  Embrace the silence, there is nothing wrong with a brief pause.

Additional Resources:

Here are some additional resources that I’ve found very helpful when searching for how to improve communication skills.

TrainingCenter.com is a leading provider that online e-learning that I’ve personally used.  They have a terrific course on communication called the Communicating with Power series that I highly recommend.

One of the most useful resources around and one of my top 3 favorite business books is The ”Communication Problem Solver”  by Nannette Rundle Caroll.   If you’re like me and you don’t have the time to read 300 pages in one sitting, you’ll really appreciate this book.  The Communication Problem Solver is organized into chapters and sub-topics so that you can choose where to focus your efforts.

My personal favorite is Chapter 7 – “Common People Problems – A Handy Reference Guide”.   In this chapter, Ms Carroll describes a 3 step process for solving common problems managers face with effective communication.  If you have challenges with managing former peers,  have team members who communicate poorly or have difficulties communicating organization concerns / issues, this chapter is very handy.



 

A cheat sheet for lazy managers 

If you cheated and scrolled down to the bottom of the post here is a summary.

Improve your communication skills

What next?

Once you’re ready, go ahead and move on to one of the other skills in the Basic Manager skills series.

Top 5 Basic / Foundation level Manager Skills

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