A popular post on LinkedIn discussed the most in-demand skills for 2023. It highlighted one of my favorite things in the top ten: communication. As you might expect, I have opinions on this subject. When it comes to communication, I am curious: what did they have to say about communication? Did they differentiate between different media? What about the importance of accuracy and understandability? Surely they considered how culture impacts the definition of “good communication”?
As it turns out, they only had one paragraph to offer on this soft skill. So I’d like to expand on aspects of communication that you might not think about when considering the “good communication skills required” on a job posting.
Different Communications Media Require Different Skills
On any given day, I will find myself writing or reading content from a variety of sources:
- Wikipedia for quick topic checks
- Websites for product or service information
- Search Engines for short summaries to help narrow down my research path
- Online journals for deep dives into the topic of the day
- Mastodon for quick queries out into the void (I used to use Twitter for this)
- Instagram for service promotion
- LinkedIn for personal branding maintenance
Every one of those venues for communication requires specific expertise to do well. A person who is fantastic at writing copy for a product is probably not the person I want writing the detailed white paper for the latest Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering. The person who promotes the company on Instagram or LinkedIn is probably not the person who writes the article to publish in a peer-reviewed journal. It’s not just a question of expertise in the subject matter; the communication skills required are fundamentally different for each medium.
The Curse of Knowledge
But speaking of expertise, it can absolutely get in the way of clear communication. What’s more, it can get in the way of recognizing whether someone has good communication skills at all! Known as the ‘curse of knowledge,’ this bias, especially in tech, makes assumptions regarding what you know and what, as a result, you assume your audience must know as well. If you are talking to people in the same line of work, it’s harder to recognize when you’ve moved into a realm of communication that people new to the field or new to your service will not understand.
If you’re responsible for evaluating whether someone is a good communicator, bringing in someone who is not part of the “in” crowd of subject matter experts can help. Alternatively, if you are evaluating yourself, work with friends and family, so you have someone to remind you when you’re starting to write or speak in incomprehensible jargon. And finally, if you are responsible for interviewing candidates, bring in someone from an entirely different department to help evaluate the candidate’s communication skills. I can guarantee it will be both frustrating and enlightening.
The Culture of Communication
While the post on LinkedIn included email and instant messaging as two media people should be able to handle, it doesn’t point out that what’s considered “good” communication is contextual. Company culture has a significant influence on the criteria for good communication. People have been fired for the use of emojis. They have also been fired for not using emojis. It’s a game of You Can’t Win.
As usual, Grammarly (I am a huge fan of Grammarly) has a great article on the use of emojis in email. Whatever your stance on this style of communication in email, remember that even in the workplace, this is a contextual decision. Don’t judge too harshly.
Listening as a Communication Skill
Communication is never a one-way street, a fact that seems to be missed as people highlight the visible outputs of communications. Listening is perhaps one of the most under-mentioned communication skills in the world. Call it active listening, effective listening, or listening for a purpose; taking the necessary moments to hear what your audience has to say is the only way to communicate effectively.
It is an ongoing source of amazement to me that “effective listening skills” are not promoted as part of “good communication skills.” Without a doubt, it is a skill that is both challenging and necessary to learn, and it will make you more effective in every aspect of life, including business.
Blog posts always suffer from the need for brevity, even when trying to convey big topics, so I’ll wrap up here. Suffice it to say, there is certainly more to communication than being able to grammar-check content. Rather than rely on the easy-yet-imprecise expectation of “good communication skills,” think about what you really need and convey that need clearly.
Don’t just demand high-quality communication skills; model them yourselves.
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