I'm lucky enough to meet a lot of people who are smart about communication. And a week or so ago, I was asked to be a guest speaker at a Harvard Extension School course on Organizational Behavior, whose instructor is Ashley Prisant Lesko, Ph.D. The topic of the session, of course, was communication.
The students were all experienced managers who had enrolled in the course to build their skills and their credentials. And, as is often the case, these managers had as much to teach about communication as they had to learn.
So I've curated their best suggestions to share with you. Here are 31 useful suggestions for improving key aspects of communication:
What are the best ways to communicate with your team members?
1. Deliver the big topics but allow your team to figure out the details and have a meeting or a scrum--a quick daily check-in to discuss priorities.
2. I implemented a scrum on my team to shorten our meetings. It eliminates a lot of written status reporting. But it has to be time-boxed so it doesn't go on too long.
3. It depends on the person you are communicating with.
4. I use email or WhatsApp for simple topics, but phone or face to face for dealing with more complicated issues.
5. Face to face is always the best--but sometimes that's not possible. So in that case I prefer calls, then instant messaging (IM), then email.
6. Many of my team members work from home, but we try to make sure we're all in the office at least once a week so we can meet in person.
7. My last boss had a great way to run meetings, so I've adopted that practice. First we go quickly around the table and everyone talks about what they are up to. Then two presenters each give a 15-minute more in-depth presentation about an aspect of their work.
What advice do you give team members to help them communicate more effectively?
8. "Tell it to me in a tweet" is a good way to keep people concise.
9. A director in a different department has a five-minute hourglass on her desk that she flips over when someone walks in for an unscheduled discussion. She's really good at asking the question you're building up to, and once the agenda of a meeting has been met she'll end the meeting immediately.
10. I have a co-worker who is notorious for over-communicating. Our team says he likes to bloviate so we direct him by (1) making clear boundaries of time limits and (2) ask him to do more due diligence and make only necessary engagements.
11. I had a staff member who, when I started working with her, wrote emails that made no sense. She was not good at giving context, so she would send me unsolicited emails with information in it that I didn't understand what it was or why she thought I needed it. It took a lot of coaching to get her better at that.
How do work on developing your communication skills?
12. I seek out client feedback.
13. I always ask if I can improve on how I communicate.
14. I ask the CEO and VPs for very candid feedback.
15. I get feedback from my manager about how I manage meetings; that is helpful.
16. I always schedule feedback sessions with my peers and boss. I suggest we meet out of the office in a neutral place where the person can feel free to express his/her candid perspective.
What's your advice about how to make meetings more effective?
17. We have a rule: if you don't talk, you shouldn't be in a meeting! In other words, everyone is there to participate.
18. To counteract meetings that go on too long, we assign a team leader who's in charge of keeping things moving.
19. I focus on the quality of the meeting, so I make sure each meeting has a purpose and that we always use an agenda.
20. I speak up and say let's focus on what we are here to talk about and discuss the other details later.
21. Our meetings are like scrums where people tick through what they know within a few minutes and we go around the room to hit different departments.
What about email? Any suggestions?
22. Sometimes I want a paper trail of what I've said to someone, so I use email for documentation.
23. I always prefer a face-to-face meeting or a call, followed by an email that answers, "This is what I think we discussed; did I get this right?"
24. I use Slack (a collaboration platform) instead of email. In our team, Slack help us a lot share documents, graphic designs while allowing everyone to tune into social networks like Twitter.
25. We also use Slack to augment email. Slack sets up different project channels to encourage focus, and allows immediate feedback. The downside is that recordkeeping is harder, so we use emails for that.
26. Emails can be misinterpreted. So it's important to agree upon action steps and to understand who is accountable.
27. I work a lot on IM but often find myself saying let's go to email so can go back to it to remind myself.
Any other advice?
28. It's important to understand the other person's emotional state and how he/she responds.
29. If you have a high Emotional Quotient (EQ), you can definitely be more responsive to different styles so you communicate more effectively based on the situation.
30. For me, using EQ means being attuned to body language and being present/in the moment.
31. A mentor taught me about managing the "monkeys on your back". The idea is that everyone is trying to shift tasks (monkeys) to someone else. As a manager, your job is to delegate a monkey, but your team member may try to hand it back. My mentor suggested replying with "How do you think X should be handled?" If the team member doesn't have an answer, he/she gets sent back out to find a few solutions. Now my team members know that they should come up with a solution before bringing me the problem.