If we truly want to elevate our people and help them achieve all they can achieve, we must help them be better communicators.
When you talk with and observe as many people in the A/E business as we have over the years, one thing becomes abundantly clear. That is that architects and engineers who are good communicators really stand out, and they are usually very successful in their careers.
Those who have these outstanding communication skills use them all day long every day, and things go better in pretty much every way. They sell more work, they have happier clients, they enjoy better relationships with their peers and all others in the organization, their projects are more profitable, and they are happier themselves. It’s especially critical now that there is so much less face-to-face because of COVID-19.
So what can we do to improve the communication skills of all of our people? The answer lies in training and coaching. It takes a serious one-on-one effort to make a difference and really help people improve their ability to communicate effectively.
Here are some things you can do:
- Individual coaching. Managers and mentors need to coach their people through a variety of means. Some of these may include editing their writing before something goes out, explaining any changes that need to be made and why. Giving them feedback immediately after meetings and presentations and making suggestions on how something could have been better communicated verbally quickly after it happens. And all of this needs to be done in a helpful way versus a condescending and critical way so the employee isn’t turned off – not easy by any means but essential if you really want to help your people succeed.
- Group classroom training. I remember years ago we held in-house seminars at Carter & Burgess where we explained certain writing concepts to all of our people. We gave them lists of words and phrases to avoid. We gave them alternative ways to write or say something. We gave them examples of bad writing to correct. We gave them tools such as the “Gunning Fog Index“ to help them calculate the grade level of their writing. I’m not going to say it was a panacea for all writing woes but I can say it was helpful to some people because they not only told me so, they demonstrated it.
- Example setting. You have to start at the top and make sure your principals are all effective communicators. Because if they aren’t setting a good example, then no amount of training is likely to help. They have to know and demonstrate effective communication skills daily. It’s essential. And so many times we have seen the principals are the worst examples. It just isn’t acceptable.
- Understanding timing. It’s not just what you say and how you say it, but also WHEN you say it. People need to understand the importance of timing because great information that is delivered at the wrong time can create all kinds of problems. Sometimes sooner is better and the speed means everything. Other times it is best to hold back and deliver a message at a time when everyone has cooled off from the heat of a battle, or when the receiver is most likely to be able to better process and understand the information. Timing of communication is rarely discussed and it needs to be a big part of this.
- Understanding your audience. You need empathy to be a truly effective communicator. People need to try to put themselves in the other guy’s (or gal’s) shoes to anticipate their likely reaction to whatever message the communicator is planning to deliver or send. Get your people to try to consider how something is likely to be received or understood. This is especially important when communicating with people who may be from another country or culture that is different from ours.
There is plenty we can all do to help make our people better communicators. Let’s face it, most people don’t learn all they should about this subject in school. There’s much more time spent on design and technical training, and little time left over for subjects such as communication. Yet if we truly want to elevate our people and help them achieve all they can achieve, we must help them be better communicators using every tool and in every way we can.
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.