By Maura Fay Learning
“Communication is the most important skill any leader can possess.” So says billionaire Richard Branson, who believes that communication is the skill that will set you apart from the crowd.
Indeed, Branson can certainly form alliances with the many business leaders and entrepreneurs who credit effective communication skills for much of their success. He joins the ranks of Warren Buffet, who believes that effective communication will instantly raise a person’s professional value. Branson and Buffet are not wrong. Effective verbal and nonverbal communication skills are highly valuable in the workplace. So valuable that some companies dedicate a good amount of their training budget to upskill their employees on how to communicate effectively.
Why? Because it’s a big bad world out there. Competitive. Dynamic. Fast paced. And being able to communicate effectively will help you stand out from the crowd.
But what exactly are the benefits of effective communication skills? To the individual, to the team and to the organisation. Let’s explore, shall we?
Verbal and nonverbal communication
Before we begin to understand the benefits of having effective communication skills, let’s first identify what we mean when we say those three words: effective communication skills.
Effective communication skills is more than just having the right vocabulary and knowing how to string superfluous adjectives together.
Pure communication respects that in the act of communicating, the message received is as important as the message sent, which means the onus is on both parties to honour basic communication principles, such as pausing, active listening, tone, vocal range or volume, articulation, body language and the pace at which one speaks. True communication also respects that you say something even in the way you present yourself, including the visual cues you emit, before you even utter a word.
Author and master communicator, Albert Mehrabian believed in the delivery of visual, vocal and verbal cues so much, he bestowed a whopping fifty-five percent to an individual’s visual cues alone when communicating a message.
So now we’ve identified what effective communication is. It doesn’t sound that hard. Surely we can all communicate. How else do we read, write, tell a story, talk to our friends, get a job, and more importantly, keep that job?
Yes, no doubt everyone can communicate. Even babies who know only to utter sounds and know not yet how to form words. But we’re talking about effective communication skills the likes that Branson and Buffet believe in. The kind that makes others sit up and listen. Literally.
Blowing your own trumpet
While businessman and author Harvey Coleman was with IBM, he researched why people get promoted, and his findings were surprising to many. In his book, ‘Empowering Yourself, The Organizational Game Revealed’, Coleman outlines that an individual’s ability to perform their prescribed task or execute their skillset makes up only ten percent of the overall success of that individual. That said, he identified the other two elements as image at thirty percent and exposure at sixty percent.
So essentially, he identified that a professional’s overall success can be graphically represented as a pie chart that looks like this:
Author David Avrin articulates it best: “It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.” But what’s communication got to do with it?
Consider this example: It’s all fine and dandy if you have a skill, and you may well be the best in the business. But if you don’t – or worse, cannot – articulate and explain that skill to others who don’t speak the same jargon, where does that leave you?
In other words, even if you’re great at doing what you do, but no one knows anything about it, how do you get ahead?
And if you’re a business with a product or service, who can you tell that will sit up and pay attention if you can’t clearly and effectively communicate that through to your target audience? Or at least, hire someone who can?
As Branson said: “Today, if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, you also have to be a storyteller… It is not enough to create a great product; you also have to work out how to let people know about it.”
This certainly further supports the need for effective communications contributing towards an individual’s, team’s or organisation’s overall success.
So yes, the positive effects of effective communication don’t just benefit you. It benefits those around you.
No more seen and not heard
Managers and leaders who can communicate well gain the respect of those they lead. They appear more approachable, nurturing and wiser, and certainly more inspiring than their silent, non-communicative counterparts.
In a Harvard Business Review Interact/Harris Poll from mid-2015, it was identified that ninety-one percent of employees regarded communication issues as something that can drag executives down. That is too big a number to ignore. The poll acknowledged that communication issues that prevent effective leadership included not giving clear directions and refusing to talk. In fact, something as simple as not being able to, or refusing to talk on the phone or in person could damage a leader’s executive brand. This is a hard pill to swallow.
With such confronting results, it would be a career limiting move not to embrace improving one’s communication skills.
Gone are the days where managers could lead from an office or room in a different space to the rest of the organisation and behind closed doors. And open plan spaces are simply not enough either. With that territory comes open communications and the ability to effectively communicate the message – whatever that message is. Employees don’t just want to be able to see their managers and leaders. They want to hear from them, too.
Effective communications skills help build stronger teams
The more aware a person is about their communication style, the stronger and more effective a communicator that person is. The more aware and more effective a communicator that individual is, the more open that individual is to collaboration. And the more readily available that individual is to articulating and promoting the needs of him or herself and that of the team.
What’s more, effective communication, whether at home or work, or any circumstance where a group naturally forms, builds rapport, which then leads to trust. And in a professional capacity, whether that individual is a leader, manager, or employee, trust is the backbone of any productive or positive relationship. In such a relationship, where communication thrives, there is transparency, which means the employees know where they stand, and the manager is able to provide feedback, lead and coach the employee through to their highest potential. Honest, authentic and open communication therefore fosters positive relationships that benefit the individuals in the relationship, then the team, and finally, the organisation.
These days, organisations are playing on a global scale in a much more robust manner. What this means is that we are forced to liaise, communicate and collaborate with individuals from across the waters or be left behind. With everything available at the touch of a button or swipe of a screen, being able to communicate effectively could result in making or breaking a deal or partnership.
Cultural differences also enforces a sense of duty of care in the way we articulate what we mean. We are prone to do more research into how we can better engage with the other party, whomever they may be. Organisations who work strategically see the value in preparing their employees with effective verbal and nonverbal communication skills so that they are better able to tackle international waters.
Start now. Start simply
Effective communication is an essential tool for persuading, influencing, inspiring, building rapport and trust, and building stronger relationships.
The benefits speak for themselves. So improving one’s communication skills should be an adopted continuous improvement on one’s personal and professional agenda. And it doesn’t have to be such an extensive exercise that overwhelms. Start with the basic principles that you can apply immediately and implement now into your daily habits. Read books on effective communicators, sign up to a workshop that teaches how to listen, watch a video about effective presentations, or read blogs and articles such as these. Or do something as simple as ask someone how their day is going. Then step back. And listen.
The true power of effective communication is exactly that, to communicate. So start simply. Start communicating. Start now.