Sir Richard Branson believes in the power of communication. Photographed in Los Angeles.
By Chris Westfall
Communication is the key to success in your career, and the soft skill of conversation is on clear display in any job interview. Sir Richard Branson says that ”Communication is the most important skill any leader can possess.” However, if you are uncomfortable with your communication skills, you’re not alone.
A survey published in Harvard Business Review says that over two thirds of managers (69%) are uncomfortable communicating with employees for any reason. People shy away from straight talk, according to the report, because of fear. Fear of making mistakes, or making someone upset, or making more tension in the workplace.
But what about making a difference? I guess brave leaders are the only ones who will speak up for that.
Here are the top communications challenges, according to the Harris Poll:
- Demonstrating vulnerability (reported by 20% of respondents)
- Praising team members for a job well done (20%)
- Being authentic when telling the “company line” (20%)
- Giving clear directions (19%)
- Giving credit to others for their ideas (16%)
- Speaking face to face rather than by email (16%)
Here are five ways to fight the discomfort that comes from interpersonal communications – and how you can replace discomfort with confidence:
1. Communication Skills: It Starts with Listening
Sir Richard Branson recognizes the importance of listening. “Nobody ever learned anything by hearing themselves speak. Listen – it makes you smarter.” As a leader, in a job interview, consider how you can listen before the conversation begins: that means doing your homework on the company, researching its customers and looking up key personnel on LinkedIn.
2. Communication Skills: What You Don’t Know Can Help You
Every book ever written always starts at the same place: a blank page. Diving into the unknown is the first step in the process of creating something new, whether it’s a new novel, a new conversation, or a new career. Every interview offers an opportunity for discovery. It’s not uncommon to feel like you are being put on the spot in a job interview. What would happen if you realized that you don’t have to have all the answers? Sometimes, when you release yourself from that obligation, the right answer is exactly what shows up!
3. Communication Skills: You Will Never Regret Being Kind
If you want to be the kind of leader that others follow, consider carefully how you handle the tough conversations. Always keep respect in the conversation. Dignity and decorum still matter, despite what you read on Twitter. When it comes to leading others, even in times of correction, crisis and confrontation, remember:
“Kind Words Can Be Short And Easy To Speak, But Their Echoes Are Truly Endless.” – Mother Theresa
4. Communication Skills: Recognition Goes A Long Way
Every human being has a superpower, and that is the superpower of observation. Saying what you see, and what you have experienced, is the best way to stay authentic in any conversation. What do you recognize in your interviewer, your team, your new employer? Your insights are the subject of the job interview: recognize that sharing your viewpoint is exactly what’s needed. What is it that you see that others don’t – or won’t – or can’t? That’s your leadership vision, and recognizing what others need to see can start off a powerful conversation.
5. Communication Skills: Vulnerability Isn’t Easy
It’s hard to talk about your mistakes and your weaknesses. But being brave and owning your mistakes go hand-in-hand, according to best-selling author and University of Houston professor, Brené Brown. In Rising Strong, she says, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” A brave leader is the one who sees the truth and shares the truth – even when the truth is difficult to face. Consider the impact of authenticity, in your next conversation. Are you telling people what they want to hear – or what they need to hear?
Eric Michael Leventhal said, “We are at our most powerful when we no longer need to feel powerful.” Trying to control the conversation – like trying to control how people think – is an exercise in futility. We all do it – we try to inject some kind of control into an uncertain outcome. There’s always going to be an element of the unknown in every personal interaction. The good news is: discomfort and uncertainty don’t have to go together. For leaders who wish to harness what Sir Kenneth Branson says is the number one soft skill, letting go of your need to control every outcome is the first step. While it’s true that no one can predict the future, everyone has the ability to create it – one conversation at at time.