Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success

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How to be a great communicator at all levels

Every resume that I read when I was hiring new project managers had two common items:

  1. Delivered a $1.5m IT project
  2. Great communicator at all levels

The thing about point number one is that great project managers - Conscious Project Leaders - would never claim responsibility for delivering a $1.5m IT project, regardless of whether they had or hadn't. They would say that they were part of a team (it wasn't 'theirs') that delivered the project, thereby taking none of the actual credit for the project being a success.

The thing about point number two is that very few people actually know how to do it, never mind how to do it well.

When quizzed on what it means, interviewees would typically give me the 'well, I can have a conversation with the CEO and the cleaners' answer. To which my response was 'what kind of personality did they both have and how do you change your approach for each based on the mood you were in at that time?'



*Grabs jacket, folder and printouts of the website and sprints out of the room*

My intention was never to embarrass or catch anyone out, however, having spent 20 years trying to master how to be a great communicator, I know there's more to it than simply having a conversation.

Interpersonal Intelligence

I know that around the next corner is someone I've never met before and I'm going to have to work harder than I've ever worked to understand how they like to communicate. Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence calls this Interpersonal Intelligence, and it involves - but is not limited to - ascertaining the following:

  •         What are they saying and how are they saying it?
  •         Are they formal, informal, direct, or sociable?
  •         Do they respond best to facts, stories about people, actions or pictures?
  •         What are their priorities, challenges, and opportunities for improvement?
  •         What are their passions?
  •         What are they responsible and accountable for?
  •         What do they most enjoy?
  •         What do they most regret?
  •         What are their expectations?
  •         What are their interests outside work?

These questions often take weeks and months to answer and throughout that time I would never stop working, or seeking feedback, on my communication approaches. What worked? What didn't? What can I do more of? What can I do less of?

You see, being a great communicator at all levels is a complicated business and understanding someone else might actually be the easy part. To be truly great at it, you need to understand yourself as well.

Intrapersonal Intelligence

Goleman calls the ability to understand yourself, Intrapersonal Intelligence. Explaining that it is 'the capacity to form an accurate, veridical [truthful] model of oneself and to be able to use that model to operate effectively in life.' In other words, you're able to confidently answer the following:

  •         What do you stand for?
  •         What are your values?
  •         What's your vision for yourself?
  •         What emotions do you feel right now?
  •         Why are you feeling them?
  •         What can you do about them?

In Emotional Capitalists, Martyn Newman says 'If you are not fully aware of what emotions you are feeling and how it affects you, you lose a crucial piece of feedback to inform your actions.' This is what we see when relationships breakdown. The inability to read ourselves and others and to fully understand what is needed to make it work.

In a paper entitled 'Introverts vs. Extroverts: Do office environments support both?', researchers Cushman and Wakefield stated that 'if organisations want to change how teams/departments with synergy collaborate, they must recognise the differing communication preferences in the workplace.'

Becoming a great communicator

Being great at communicating is a never-ending journey of discovery and is something to be enjoyed. However, it's also something that you may never master.

So before you write 'Great communicator at all levels' on your resume, first ask yourself: are you both interpersonally and intrapersonally intelligent? Or is there still some work to do?

I'd love to hear about your techniques for becoming a great communicator.

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