What Effective Communication Skills Really Means

Most Product Management roles request that an applicant have good written and verbal communication skills. And while some folks know their product and have great ideas, they can still struggle with being heard for a number of reasons.

The below are where I’ve observed challenges and some tactics to overcome:

Clarity

If you find yourself saying “why doesn’t so and so read my email!?” you may not be communicating as clearly as you think you are. It’s time to examine if you are:

  • Sending emails too quickly that are too short because you assume everyone else knows / is as close to your product priorities.
  • Sending emails that are too long and difficult to parse because you are passionate about your product and think everyone should be, too.

A fun story about clarity in written communication comes from my college job. My boss at the time did not read or reply to super long emails. This trained me to be short and to the point, which I continue to try to use when I craft messages now.

I recommend avoiding long paragraphs and instead breaking up ideas into bullet points wherever possible. Also, carefully or selectively bolding certain phrases can help you focus your reader on what you want to ultimately convey.

Integrity

Integrity is really about being able to earn the trust of the folks you are communicating with (whether it’s in writing or in person). For instance, if I’m meeting with folks from a different department and want to work with them, I may need to make a good faith effort to learn a bit about their challenges so we can have a more productive conversation about how to overcome those as we work together.

And, this should go without saying but doesn’t hurt to repeat: never ever put something in writing that you would not be comfortable sharing with a wide audience (your boss, their boss, your closest family member, etc). I am always very careful to craft my words so that, if my message is forwarded, there’s no way that anyone can misconstrue my point of view. Even when voicing frustrations, I recommend putting the words on paper and then refining until something that is honest, direct and objective pours out. Takes a lot of time, but it’s possible!

Persuasion

Finally, to be effective in communications you have to have an output in mind with every missive you send. This is where many folks fail when it comes to their ability to really get their message across. It’s not enough to send a lot of messages or send long messages. At the end of the day, your communication needs to start driving action.

When you send an email, think about what you want the recipient to do with this information. Have you even asked that question? You’d be surprised how many email “asks” don’t actually include a simple question mark because perhaps folks are using flowery, corporate speak and not really getting to their point.

I advise all my folks that whether it’s an email or meeting, go in with a gameplan: what am I trying to get out of this conversation? Am I trying to get someone to make a decision? Do I simply need to inform folks on something? Am I consulting people and so need lots of input?

By having a gameplan, you can know what success looks like and therefore try different tactics if you aren’t getting to what you need out of the interaction.

I could go into way more detail (especially on the persuasion piece) but wanted to focus and hopefully clearly communicate a few tactical ways to do that better as a PM!

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