"The Art of Communication is the Language of Leadership" - James Humes

Effective Communication is a key skill to becoming a good leader. It is not what you say but how you say it. It is more than just exchanging information. It is about understanding the intentions behind the information and being able to clearly convey a message that makes the other person feel heard and understood.

In this digital age, at workplaces, communication is shifting more towards online platforms such as Slack, Hipchat and other customized chat channels. The mode of communication is constantly changing and we have to quickly adapt to it. While communicating on these platforms are informal and faster, sometimes they could lead to misinterpretation if not conveyed succinctly. The use of emojis can play with how a person is feeling or reacting, it is not the same as a face-face conversation as it would be difficult to develop a connection with the other person on how they are perceiving what we are saying. No matter what tool you use to communicate, you still need effective communication skills.

WEST partnered with Zendesk to host a panel on Effective Communication on Thursday, November 9th, 2017 at Zendesk HQ in San Francisco.

Below are a few best practices that were discussed by the panelists.

7 Effective Communication Skills

  1. Active Listening
    Listening is the most fundamental component of interpersonal communication skills. As the name suggests it is about listening actively and concentrating on what is being said instead of passively listening to the speaker. Below are a few active listening techniques
    * Reiterating and Summarizing — At the end of the conversation re-iterate what was being said. This summary will help the opposite person understand how you perceived the conversation and signals that you are confirming what was being said.
    * Demonstrating Engagement — Using verbal affirmations during the conversation such as “I see,” “Sure,” “Thank you,” or “I understand”, “uh-huh” are very helpful and encourage the speaker to continue with the conversation. Your body language can also aid in showing interest in the conversation. Occasionally nodding, smiling, and making sure your posture is open and inviting helps.
    * Waiting to disclose your opinion — While we all have opinions we want to give or say during a conversation, hold off on disclosing your opinion until you have heard and understood the entire context of the conversation. Avoid interrupting or trying to redirect the conversation to your concerns. A good leader would know when to be quiet and listen.
  2. Being Empathetic and Compassionate
    Empathize with the opposite person on what they are communicating. Try not to be judgemental or have any preconceived beliefs or ideas. View and think about the situation from the other person’s perspective.
  3. Body Language/Non-Verbal Communication
    Nonverbal communication includes body movement, gestures, eye contact, posture, voice tone and facial expressions. Developing the ability to understand and use of nonverbal communication can help express what you are trying to say and also establish a connection with the other person. Actions explain more about how you are feeling than words, ex: the way you are listening, or looking or even reacting to the person. One such effective tip is to use your hands to communicate, Gesticulate — articulate using gestures. Use hand motions/signals to establish the seriousness of the topic when communicating. Don’t let your body movement become stiff and intense. 
    If it is a video call, make an effort to look at the camera. This engages the speaker and makes the conversation more effective.
  4. Providing Feedback
    Providing succinct and timely feedback is key. Be appreciative and deliver more positive than negative feedback. Giving positive feedback shows that you care about them and puts them at ease, so they are more likely to receive constructive feedback well. Positive statements come across as encouraging and appreciative whereas negative statements are often critical and disapproving. Therefore balancing it more with positive feedback will tone down the negative aspect at the same time, will help delivering the negative/constructive feedback effectively.
  5. Being Present
    Being present in a conversation means that you are paying to attention to what the other person is saying or talking. Therefore, playing with you mobile or electronic devices, responding to emails or text messages, looking away and not making an eye contact, facial expressions that seem disinterested are a few indicators of showing disinterest in a conversation even when it’s done unintentionally. Therefore, close your laptop, put away your phone and give them all the attention by fully being with them. If you have any emergency issues you are dealing with, you may mention that to the person at the beginning of the meeting to set expectations.
  6. Customize your communication style for every role
    People have different learning styles. Some like a lot of detail and prefer to go through every step in the process and some like to figure things on their own. It is all about tailoring your communication to match the preference of the learning style of that individual. Within departments, engineering roles prefer specifics and exact details on what needs to be builts, whereas product roles can work with a high level vision to begin with.
  7. Ask before your speak
    Understand the perspective of the conversation before you put your statement/solution through. Ask specific questions and open-ended questions to seek clarification — During the conversation or at the end of it. This will help eliminate any misinterpretation or assumptions.