What Does Effective Communication Really Mean?

People communicating with speech bubbles

In my early days in IT, the last line of job postings for most IT positions was “and an ability to communicate.” Each posting listed all the technical requirements of the position, and then at the very end, almost as an afterthought, was the requirement of an ability to communicate.

Fortunately, times have changed, and it’s now clear that the ability to communicate is not just nice to have, but a must-have for many IT positions. Indeed, it belongs at or near the top of the list rather than dangling at the bottom.

The ability to communicate is essential for people who have client contact responsibilities or who will interact regularly with senior management. But it’s also important for any role that’s outward-facing, such as vendor relations and contact with other departments in or outside IT.

This is not to say that technical skills are less important than in days gone by; it’s just that more people now recognize the need for them to be appropriately balanced by communication skills. Still, the term “communication skills” is vague, and it’s reasonable to ask, as one IT group did, what it actually entails.

When the group tried to list the specific skills that are implied by the ability to communicate, they were struck by how many possibilities they came up with. Their list included all of these skills:

  • Influence decisions
  • Express empathy
  • Overcome resistance
  • Stimulate creative thinking
  • Referee conflicts
  • Negotiate objectives
  • Facilitate change
  • Inspire confidence
  • Evaluate alternatives
  • Solicit support
  • Gather and interpret information
  • Listen (and really hear)
  • Placate anxieties
  • Achieve consensus
  • Generate enthusiasm
  • Sell ideas
  • Develop momentum
  • Manage expectations
  • Give advice
  • Offer feedback
  • Explain complex material
  • Present options

This is just a partial list, and that’s without addressing the different ways information can be communicated, such as by email, by phone, in a proposal, or in a presentation.

Not every position requires all of the above communication skills, but without considering the range of possibilities, how can you know whether a candidate for an open position has the requisite skills?

You may find it useful to create your own list of communication skills to use when evaluating candidates for a particular position—or when touting or developing your own skills when you’re job hunting or seeking a promotion. By doing so, you will be more effectively communicating what you mean by communicating.

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