24

I am not as good at communicating with others as I'd like to be. I'm sure many other software geeks and introverts have some difficulty here.

Are there any good resources out there? Either blogs or books or just little tips that make things easier when trying to communicate ideas with coworkers.

I'll spend a while writing a nice email that I feel like nobody actually reads or I'll miss the point of an email I'm reading. I get into IM conversations and we end up spending hours going back and forth. On phone calls I'll get asked something that I need more time to process and I lock up. In other cases when I know what I'm talking about I try to explain what is in my head, but if they don't grasp the idea immediately I'm stuck just repeating myself and hoping that it will eventually make sense to them.

It feels like it takes a lot more of my time and energy than it should to communicate even simple ideas. Maybe that's just the way it is and it takes more practice. But I would welcome any tips that make the process smoother or easier.

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    You know what, while you said you feel communication is a deep problem for you, but on the other hand you have written this question so well! So basically, you have the most important ingredient needed for effective communication "clarity of thought". Just try to find ways to come over your fear and you will do good! – Dipan Mehta Apr 26 '12 at 3:20
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    See Related Meta about list questions – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 26 '12 at 12:46
  • Have you ever considering getting screened for Asperger's? Given what you've outlined here, it might be worth looking into, and could help provide you resources on how to manage your communication problems (even if it turns out you don't have it, the resources the specialist will have will probably still help you). – Shauna Apr 26 '12 at 13:11
  • @Dipan: You know, I do wonder sometimes if the trouble I have is on my end or their end. Though if it is on their end, I'd like to be able to help them out still. – David Hogue Apr 26 '12 at 16:14
  • @Shauna: That might be worth looking into, thanks! I've met a few poeple with Asperger's and they clearly had much more trouble than me communicating. Though I'm sure the severity of it does vary from person to person. – David Hogue Apr 26 '12 at 16:51
18

One popular book is How to Win Friends and Influence People.

In the US, there is an organization called Toastmasters which helps develop public-speaking skills. Joining a local chapter or another public-speaking club can really help you in expressing ideas and getting your point across.

You also mentioned missing the point of an email. You need to ask yourself, "What is being said here?" If you can't answer that for yourself, you can always reply back with a clarifying question. It's never dumb to ask a question (that you can't answer yourself)

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    +1 for HWFIP, although personally I recommend getting an earlier edition. – Joshua Drake Apr 25 '12 at 20:53
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    +1 on Toastmasters. Let me expand on that. Toastmasters is a wonderful organization that has as its express purpose helping people improve their communications and leadership skills. They have a system of certifications that really mean something, and don't cost much money to earn. Highly recommended – Jim In Texas Apr 25 '12 at 22:23
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    Note that Toastmasters is global, not US only. And to get even more out of Toastmasters, you can also participate in the leadership of the group by becoming an officer of your local chapter, division or region. – Scott C Wilson Apr 26 '12 at 13:05
  • I actually own and have read HTWFAIP and it totally slipped my mind. It's a pretty good book on building relationships, but again, it's focused more on the face to face aspect of individual communication and not so much on writing, presenting, and group dynamics (at least, the version I have - the version linked to appears to be new and updated). – Thomas Owens Apr 26 '12 at 13:06
8

I'm not sure that it's the answer you're looking for, but the real answer is simply "practice".

Regardless of what aspect of communication I'm trying to improve - presenting, technical writing, answering questions concisely, negotiation and problem resolution - you can do all of the reading of techniques and practices and methods that you want. But the one thing that I've always seen in every book or mentioned in every training course or seminar is that you need to take these ideas and practice them on a regular basis to integrate them into your life and continue to improve them.

As far as resources go, most of what I'm familiar with deals with specific aspects of communication and not a general purpose guide to communication. In terms of having a conversation, I would suspect something like Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most might be a good starter, and you might be able to apply the concepts to writing, but it doesn't go into presenting, meetings, or writing specifically and focuses on one-to-one communication. I suspect "communication" is just too broad for a reasonably-sized book.

The only other suggestion that I can make is to prepare. If you're writing an email, make it something that you would read if you got it and be sure read it just as if you received it to put yourself in the place of the recipient. If you're reading an email, read it more than once before responding. If you're presenting, do a dry run with other people present to provide feedback. If you're going to be answering questions, brush up and even if you don't know the answer, know where the answer is contained or who would be the best point of contact. If you're resolving a problem, try to go in knowing as much about the situation as you can from all angles.

5

Here are two simple things that have helped me a lot in workplace communications. These are "meeting" related, but provide excellent practice for all forms of communication:

  1. Before you have any type of meeting with one or more people, prepare an agenda. Just list the main items you want to cover and the most important points. During the meeting, take notes and make sure that each item on the agenda is covered. Be mindful of the agenda if the discussion starts skidding off-track. Explicitly write down any "action-items" or obligations that result from the discussion.

  2. After the meeting, email everybody a very brief re-cap or summary of what was discussed, what conclusions were reached and what action-items are expected from each person.

Doing these simple things easily put you far above average as far as effective workplace communication goes. The hard part is making your writing effective. Writing is a skill that can be improved almost without limit even by the most introverted personalities.

Two books that are the writer's "equivalent" of K&R and H&S are On Writing Well and The Elements of Style. I can't recommend them enough.

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    There's a missing #3 - accountability. At the next meeting on the subject, follow-up on the action items to make sure there is action on them. This is not a communications thing per-se, but it does make your meetings more effective. – Surreal Dreams Apr 27 '12 at 14:01
5

Here a few other ways to approach this:

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 - Granted this is a bit broader as it covers self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship building, the tools may still prove useful within communications to some degree as you may be giving mixed messages at times, e.g. some people may mistake silence for disapproval when really one may just be thinking something through thoroughly.

The Introvert Advantage - For something aimed a bit more directly at an introvert. There are likely other books aimed at Introverts though another side to this is to consider how well do people already get that you may not be the quickest to reply on some things.

Last but not least would be to look at various strengths tools like StrengthsFinder or Standout to see what strengths do you have and then using that as a frame of reference communications things may shift a bit. For example, a goal-oriented person with a strong Achiever or Pioneer strength may view relationships from the perspective of having a check list that they use to maintain contact rather than just talk to people whenever it feels appropriate.

2

Being an effective communicator is about... Communicating.

  • Establish Authority
  • Use words they understand.
  • Break it into small bits.
  • Be confident in your address.

I am not a great communicator. I am terrified of crowds, have a stutter brought on by years of being talked over by my father and brother, and threw up all over myself the very first time I was in a play. So what right do I have to give you advice for improving communication skills?

I was a relatively successful magician and mind reader.

When I was in high school I dabbled in little tricks, card cheating, and picking pockets and the like. I would do a bit here and there for the amusement of my friends, but had little performance skill. I went to university in Las Vegas and had the wonderful fortune to take a class from Looy Simonoff (whom I'm sad to say I just found out passed away last June), who was a wonderful talent and a great mentor. When I asked him how he could stand in front of people and show them something that they know is fake and still have his wonderful confidence, he said something so simple that it made perfect sense: "I do it."

The key to improving your communication skills is simple: Communicate. Get out, walk up to people and introduce yourself. Tell them about yourself and they'll tell you about them. Make a mistake, insult someone you don't know and will never see again, and then walk away. Then do it to a crowd. Then do it on stage.

Whatever you're going to say, say it with confidence.

I gave a speech once to a group of insurance agents about selling yourself. Here I was in my early 20s standing up in front of a room of 50 people who knew:

  1. I made a living performing mind-reading and hypnosis magic.
  2. I had sold myself as the speaker for the event.

Between you and me (and anyone else reading this), I told them the biggest load of malarky you've ever heard. I made $500 for a one hour speaking engagement about selling yourself and I had no idea what I was talking about. I told them all about relationships between customers and their agents; I told them to forget about the company and to sell themselves as the company, using words like "I" and "Me" whenever they were talking about the insurance service. I could have told them to give their customers chocolate cake and a glass of milk and they'd have believed me.

Eventually you're going to find it doesn't matter what you say so long as you break it down into something they can understand and you tell them it with absolute unshakeable confidence. That is:

  • Establish Authority
  • Use words they understand.
  • Break it into small bits.
  • Be confident in your address.

With messages and emails, you have to remember that people skim emails. If it's important, speak to them directly. The hierarchy of communication is:

Face-to-Face » Phone » Written

Consider your message, and pick the appropriate format. Remember, no matter what method you pick to transmit your message, keep this in mind:

  • Establish Authority
  • Use words they understand.
  • Break it into small bits.
  • Be confident in your address.
1

Communicating to get results really boils down to one simple principle - Hone your message done to what the listener is going to hear. This has been expressed in several ways by several great books, but here are few ways of seeing this principle at work:

  • (Stephen Covey / St. Francis before him) Seek to understand as much as to be understood

  • (Dale Carnegie - How to Win Friends & Influence People) The key to influence to convince the other person that you understand them. The easiest technique to do this is "mirroring." Pick up on their likes, their dreams, their needs, and connect with those things by revealing in your manner and speech the same things you have in you.

  • Begin with the end in mind

  • Keep the Main thing the Main thing

  • Remove everything that can be removed, but nothing more. (Put another way, the mind cannot secure what the butt cannot endure)

  • (Bryan Chapell) Every point in an argument is either Explanation, Illustration, or Application. Everything else is irrelevant. Think of it this way: Express your point as no more than one sentence (a thesis). Then, for any detail, any point, any background information in your communication, ask this question. What is the relationship of this sentence to my point. Remember that in war, long supply lines are the most dangerous thing you can have. If the route from your thesis to this sentence is long, it will be attacked, destroyed, and forgotten.)

  • The famous preacher John Wesley used to practice his sermons on 4 year olds. If they could get it, anyone could get it. I'm not saying your emails should be written to four year olds - but if you are going to introduce any concept (even say 'polymorphic inheritance') make sure to restate it in a way that doesn't require a degree to understand it. (e.g. 'This object in my code can use functionality from other objects that are more general forms of this one - and more specifically, from more than one object.')

Again, in each of these things, the point of effective communication is this simple - Focus on the recipient, not yourself. The best communication has a hint of yourself but is made concrete in a way that says "You are the most important recipient of this."

0

The first thing you need to do is LISTEN. If you listen to the questions or to other feedback you might be able to discover what you are missing.

Stephen Covey suggests - "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."

Are you assuming levels of competence or other knowledge in your explanations?

Can you identify common themes in the frustrating conversations/missed communications?

0

In order to communicate well, there are at least three things you have to keep in mind. I´ll mention them in order of importance:

First, you must have confidence, a lot of it. I think this is related to everything else. If you don´t trust yourself, you won´t be able to use and improve your skills and talents. Be aware of the fact that some people, specially people who are older than you, may not like your confidence and will sabbotage your efforts.

Second, study grammar intelligently. By intelligently, I mean study how language is used in different contexts, what is called genre or register, in academic jargon. As for resources for this, study the work done in the field of Functional Linguistics. Avoid conventional grammar.

Third, have something to say. If you know what you have to say, you will be able to do so, persuasively. Learn to tell your truth in a persuasive manner. Merely speaking your thoughts won´t work. Remember, say what you have to say with touch.

As you develop your communication skills, you will realize that true power is extremely subtle. The best communication occurs at that level. But mastering it requires a deep understanding of human nature.

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