Communication and competence in a business context
Finding a balance between talking too much and talking too little
If you take a stroll through my Twitter feed, you'll notice that I often emphasize the significance of soft skills in the business world.
It's curious that many people tend to focus solely on perfecting their hard skills, completely overlooking the need to sharpen their soft skills as well.
I believe this happens because the former are easier to quantify, and improvements in those areas yield more visible results. People love making rapid progress and seeing immediate outcomes, so they prioritize enhancing these tangible abilities over others.
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Let me clarify: differentiated abilities that give you a competitive edge over your peers are crucial in a business setting. Being good, really good, at what you do is essential to avoid being replaced by someone better.
However, I argue that these skills alone won't protect you or make you irresistible.
The skills that count
The ability to "read the room," understand the power dynamics when meeting new clients, persuasively convey your ideas to achieve your goals, and quickly build rapport with strangers is invaluable.
After all, being talented is useless if no one knows about it: it becomes a waste of your abilities.
As an example, let's talk about how young consultants approach communication.
In a recent tweet, I shared some advice for young consultants just starting out:
When you're young, your communication skills may be underdeveloped, particularly in a business context.
Without prior exposure to certain situations, you lack the receptors to understand how you should behave in this new environment. It's not about intelligence or perspicacity; it's simply a matter of unfamiliarity with the game.
In my 20 years as a management consultant at various seniority levels, I've observed that young consultants typically fall into two communication skill maturity categories:
Some talk too little. By remaining too quiet, they fail to showcase their knowledge and competencies effectively. At times, this could be misinterpreted as a weakness: “this guy doesn't speak, I wonder why he's even in the room”, “what value is she adding? She's just sitting there and nodding”. You are perhaps a top performer, but that information is not readily available to people around you - because you are not sharing it.
Some talk too much. On the other end of the spectrum, some young consultants are too direct and they say more than they should. Their impulsive reactions can lead to saying things they don't truly mean or projecting an undesirable persona in front of their audience. Despite possessing excellent hard skills, their impulsiveness hinders their ability to make a favorable impression.
Both extremes present communication problems, and the range of outcomes across this spectrum is wide. The key is to find a balanced position within this range.
Do the work: you can improve
Measuring your effectiveness as a communicator is challenging, making it difficult to know where to start or how to improve.
Without tangible reference points, you might find yourself spinning in a vicious cycle, resigning to the belief that “this is just my personality, and I can't change it”.
Do not believe your own BS. Communication skills can be developed and honed. Though quantifying them might be tricky, they play a vital role in your career.
Doing an outstanding job at your subject matter is essential: having differentiated hard skills that are sought after by the market is necessary, but if the ones responsible for rewarding your efforts are not aware of, or persuaded by, your performance, it might not matter.
Whether it's your corporate boss or a prospect in your solopreneur gig, the ability to illustrate, advertise and transfer your knowledge effectively to him or her is paramount.
Otherwise, someone as good as you, but with greater charm, will steal your client.
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