DG Consulting

Leading by Communication

Technically qualified people often miss out on an essential skill: Communication. This turns out to be the single most crucial deciding factor later which gains them a competitive advantage. Here is how to prepare them for some of the situations in our day-to-day work life.

An Overlooked and Understated Skill

Any job worth having comes with pressure, and no where is that more true now, more than ever, than for technical personnel. Professional savvy with people-sense -–this is what every employer and subordinate looks for in technical personnel. Technical expertise, to an extent, they have acquired in the course of their regular curricula. The importance of communication and the essentials of effective communication are also dealt with, at least the tip of the ice berg is shown, during their academic career. What no institute ever teaches them or ever prepares them for is the pressure that comes in many shapes and sizes from a variety of communication situations – an upcoming presentation, presenting a new product to a small group, motivating a large audience, selling your proposals, explaining policies, handling conflicts, dealing with different employees, giving warning to an erring employee, confronting your boss and offering explanation for lapse, handling appraisal interviews, dealing with references requests, listening to consumer complaints, preparing employees for change, or for that matter, even termination. Some situations have to be dealt with on a one-to-one basis, where as some require that you tackle groups.

Face to Face Communication Situations

In a Progressive Discipline Program

Face-to-face communication situations at times appear complicated. For example, disciplinary problems have to be nipped in the bud. Otherwise, they become chronic. Oral warning is the first of the steps in a progressive discipline program. Oral warnings aim at discussing the problem objectively and rationally. Give the employee a chance to respond. You may hear anything from a legitimate excuse to a defiant reply. Whatever it may be, the trick of the communication lies in letting the employee know that the talk is a warning, that you mean business, that your action has been warranted by the company’s disciplinary procedure, and that the next disciplinary measure will be forthcoming if the objectionable behaviour continues.

In Initiating Damage Control

When a small mistake you made at work creates not-so-small problems, a tricky communication situation arises. You have to comfort your boss and break the news yourself rather than let it open up through a third person. To initiate damage control you should be candid, have willingness to correct the problem and the desire to re-establish the probably temporarily lost creditability. Be straightforward. Indicate what you want to discuss and why. Give background information that led to the present situation. Tell honestly about the failure and the events you think led to failure. Be direct. Remain calm. Get the reaction of your boss. Be willing to face a showdown, or an unexpected indifferent shrug. Explain what remedial steps you have taken to fix things. Share with him further steps you intend to take. Get suggestions from your boss. Sum up the decisions taken regarding the course of action to avoid any potential goof-ups due to any communication gaps. Own up responsibility but do not grovel. You should state your perception of what you did right and where you went wrong. If there has been any positive fallout, indicate that, but make it clear that you are not using this as an excuse to justify your failure. Review the planned remedial action and finally thank the boss for discussing the problem and for his supportive space.

In Handling Appraisal Interviews

Appraisal interview is a challenge for you. Whether you are giving praise or criticism, be specific. Have tangible evidence of the four ‘P’s – problems, praise, performance and pitfalls – at your fingertips. Be prepared to allow enough time to discuss any unexpected issue that may come up. Acknowledge difference in performances even if some may be displeased. Suggest specific ways of improvement and point out precisely areas that need improvement. Give positive reinforcement. Allow for two-way communication. Let the appraisee explain, if there is an explanation, the gap between performance and expectation.

Group Communication Situations

In any group situation, your rule of the thumb should be: always keep the listeners’ needs in mind. The audience may fall in anyone of the following three categories. They may be there to gather information – they have precisely come for that, anything else there would be sheer waste of time. Another group does want to be entertained; people who fall in this category think they know everything they ought to know and they have not come there to learn. Another group does not know what they know, and people who belong to this group don’t care what they ought to know. They need motivation. So any presentation should be designed to teach, entertain and motivate at the same time.

To be able to teach, acquaint yourself with at least general details of the background of the audience – their education and experience. Use appropriate vocabulary, technical jargon, etc. Anticipate at least a few of the questions they must be grappling with. Make it a point to address these. Provide solid examples of how your ideas work. Use concrete rather than abstract expressions. Be specific. Use visuals. Never tell something that you can show them. Give relevant data. Make use of charts, graphs, etc. to support your proposals. Give complete information. Never leave any room for queries regarding the peripheral details about any proposal or project. Clarity should not be lost sight of. Focus your presentation. Offer bite-size morsels – only those details that are relevant to the context and can be covered within the available time should be offered.

To entertain the listener, go prepared with a story. It might be a joke, a first person humour, an analogy or an anecdote. Avoid jokes that are repeated ad-nausea, or a far- fetched story that does not connect with the objective of the presentation.
To motivate the listener, become like your listener. When you suggest that you have a similar background, ideology or aspiration as the listener, this sets the stage for the acceptance of ideas. Appear at your best. We may like to think that people are influenced by what a person says or does, not by a person’s appearance – but studies prove otherwise. Attractive people have the winning edge in influencing people. Make a believable case. Don’t be hesitant, vague, or self-contradictory. Avoid exaggerations. Enhance your creditability by using straight talk.

Never assume that your audience is responsive. Come prepared to answer the most difficult questions you can think of. Speak in a pleasant but authoritative tone. Don’t sound weak. Ask for a microphone if you need one. Keep good eye contact with the audience. See that no one feels left out. Watch for clues that tell you if the audience is getting bored or becoming hostile. If some one attacks with an abrasive question, leave no moments of silence. Thank the audience and end your presentation.

Written Communication

With the advent of electronic mail, now technical personnel have to send and receive messages on their own. There is no secretary to fix your sloppy writing .Whether it is a letter, a report or a memo, plan an outline of the main points. Choose the key points and the supporting facts, ideas and examples. Imagine that the reader is listening to you. Start talking to that person in paper. Use simple language used in normal conversion. Let the ideas flow naturally. Let them incubate for a day or two. In the mean time, reflect on how you might improve them.

Edit the draft. Read aloud. Test for clarity. Check whether your write-up fulfils the objectives. Look out for vague or confusing expressions. Avoid insupportable claims