LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner just appeared on CNBC's Squawk Box to reveal surprising new research about the state of job skills in the U.S. He talked about gaps in computer software development skills, which I'd expect (trying to keep pace with technological change is no small feat). But the No. 1 "skill gap," according to Weiner, surprised me. 

Communication skills.

As Weiner put it, "Not surprisingly, there continues to be an imbalance with regards to software engineering. But somewhat surprisingly, interpersonal skills is where we're seeing the biggest imbalance. Communications is the No. 1 skill gap."

He went on to give examples of jobs where this skill is essential, including account management, sales, and project management. The list could go on and on.

On second thought, the fact that we're lacking in basic communications skills more than any other skill in the U.S. doesn't surprise me at all.

Think of the number of hours you waste in meetings where the illusion of communication is taking place, where poor managers inept at listening are burning up your time, or where rambling co-workers "unsell" a selling point before your very eyes.

Looks like we've all got work to do. Let's start with these keys to being a great communicator:

Really listen--without drifting.

Communication doesn't break down only because the sender is doing a poor job sending. It has just as much to do with the receiver not receiving. Good listening is primarily a choice. If it matters enough, you'll stay focused on what's being said, not on what you want to say next. 

Practice the WAIT principle if it helps (ask yourself, "Why Am I Talking?" instead of listening). To prevent drifting off in a communication-heavy meeting, scribble this down on the top of your meeting agenda: "What has my attention right now?" If it isn't what's being said, redirect your attention.

Exude confidence.

There's an old leadership adage that says, "An organization is never more confident than its leader." Truer words were never spoken.

How confidently a leader communicates correlates with how far he or she will advance. A study by the University of Melbourne showed there's a correlation between advancement at work and self-confidence levels, even those dating back as early as primary school.

So be confident and show it.

Be a non-verbal ninja.

So much of our communication is unspoken. It's critical to be tuned into non-verbal communication--which you can practice. I use this reminder to keep non-verbal cues top of mind and avoid letting poor non-verbal skills FESTER:

  • Facial expressions--watch for them.
  • Eye contact--maintain it (without being creepy).
  • Space--keep the appropriate amount between you and others.
  • Tones--listen carefully for the tone in someone's voice.
  • Expressive motions--be alert for cues like fist pounding or fingers excitedly wagging.
  • Real frame of mind--as seen in their posture.

Make "clear and concise" your mantra.

When I was doing research for my first book, Make It Matter, a survey of over 1,000 executives revealed the No. 1 problem in communication is a lack of clarity and precision. I offer another acronym to help you cut to the chase and keep your communications SHARP:

  • Start by thinking, not talking. "I think out loud" is the enemy of clear and concise.
  • Hone in on the main idea quickly. Don't wander, or they'll wonder what your point is.
  • Add details sparingly. Don't over-explain. Give just as much context as is necessary.
  • Relate to the audience. Think through who you are talking to and why, and tailor your approach accordingly.
  • Prepare. "Winging it" and clarity are like the snake and the mongoose (mortal enemies).

Start from a place of respect.

University of Michigan organizational expert Jane Dutton says 90 percent of workers polled claim workplace incivility is a problem. So showing respect in your communications will make you stand out, believe it or not.

And it will help feed a culture of high-performance. Says Dutton, "When co-workers engage each other respectfully, they create a sense of social dignity that confirms self-worth and reaffirms competence. Respectful engagement empowers and energizes, giving individuals a heightened sense of their abilities."

While effective communication may be the biggest skill gap among employees, following these tips will help you reverse the trend.

Published on: Apr 23, 2018