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Building the communication skills you need

5 min read


Do you aspire to lead a team, an organization, a corporation? Have you thought about the communication skills you will need?

Leaders who move organizations in powerful directions connect with people and build a shared vision of the future. Being a strong communicator can significantly enhance your chances of success. Whether it’s one-on-one, with your leadership team, business or global enterprise, people need to believe in you and your message before they’ll follow you. Good communications can help. At the same time, by developing communication skills, you are building a career asset that will set you apart.

A rare number of people are born great communicators. Many others have worked to develop their skills and strengths. After years of working with some truly effective communicators, here are the core capabilities I recommend every leader develop. I’ve also include some quick tips for you.

Foundational communication skills

These skills are observable, easily learned and they form the foundation for effective communication. Whether you’re in a large group or small setting, these skills are necessary. When applied consistently and in concert, you give the organization clear, consistent information that provides clarity with your personal touch. Doing this well builds trust and can minimize confusion and anxiety.

  1. Public speaking: Effectively sharing your message with many people is a requirement of leadership. When you speak confidently in front of large groups, you will communicate more often and more effectively. Your confidence increases your employees’ belief in you and your message. If you want to go far, this is a must. Tip: A trusted coach can help you improve this skill in a short period of time.
  2. Clear and concise messages: Providing a compelling business case and call to action is what employees need. What is the change, how does it impact me, what can I do, how does it help the company? Answering these questions in an easy-to-understand manner will allow employees to assess the situation and place themselves in the picture. Your messages need to be thought out, concise, and consistent over time. Observe highly effective communicators in your organization or in the business world: they are always on message. Tip: Watch former President Bill Clinton’s masterful messaging from his speech at the 2012 Democratic Convention. 
  3. Communication planning: Executing a plan can be simple. Identify the audiences most important to your goals, then develop a simple spreadsheet with frequency, messages, communication channels and what matters most to each audience. This will keep you consistent and on track. Use this as a checklist and live by it. Tip: For a starting point, use this downloadable basic template.

People communication skills

This is harder to define but essential to create connection through two-way communication. The following attributes build trust and openness. Abide by the “no surprises” rule and you are halfway there. Talk with employees, ask for their thoughts, genuinely listen and be honest, and you’re the rest of the way.

  1. Honesty and transparency: Tell people the truth, in a way they can understand. Tell them in a timely manner so they can plan accordingly. They will respect you for it. Tip: Read a book like “Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson, et al., for suggestions on having candid conversations.
  1. Rapport: Listen. Shake people’s hands, look them in the eye. Talk with them as human beings. Meet them where they are; go to their cubes, their spot on the assembly line. Show you care by not only addressing what you want to say, but also by listening to what they want to tell you. Use everyday language and get to the heart of the message. Appreciate and recognize people’s contributions. Don’t try to fake it; they’ll know. Tip: Reach out and listen to people with views counter to your own. You don’t have to agree, but practice listening and acknowledging their viewpoint.
  2. Feedback: Ask for feedback. Find out how people are hearing your message. Ask for advice on how you can communicate better. Expect your teams to communicate proactively, identify how they can improve. Help them build the skill sets, too. Tips: Ask the question, “What’s one thing you’d like to learn more about from me?”

Invest in your success and that of your team by focusing on these management and people skills. You may be hired for what you know, but you’ll be promoted for your ability to influence people and successfully lead others. By communicating consistently, effectively and honestly, you gain trust and respect. This is how the best leaders I know move their organizations and careers forward.

Gretchen Rosswurm is the vice president of global corporate communications and corporate social responsibility at Celanese, a global chemical company in Dallas. Throughout her career, she has advised leaders on communication strategies to enhance employee engagement and improve business results. In her spare time, she enjoys writing short fiction and watching her son play baseball. Follow her on Twitter @GRosswurm.