Whether you regularly speak in public and write online, or you mostly express yourself over email, being a good communicator is part of every single job description. But how can you really know if it’s something you’re good at?Here are 17 questions that can help you identify whether you’re awesome at communicating—or a bit rusty. (And don’t worry if it’s the latter, there are simple ways to improve each of these skills.)
1. Do you have a message?
People are bombarded with information every day. Make sure you know what it is you want to communicate—this could be as broad as your brand or as specific as the main point in one email. (And remember, if you can’t boil your message down in a sentence, chances are, it’s not clear.)
2. Do you use stories?
Stories are a great way to connect with people on an emotional level—and they make you more memorable. Try and find a story that reinforces your message.
3. Do you use numbers?
If telling a story doesn’t seem quite right, consider using data. It’s a powerful way to reinforce your message or argument. And think about different ways to make those statistics stick in the minds of the people you’re speaking to.
4. Do you use active voice?
Active voice puts you at the center of the action. It’s clearer—and more impressive. Consider the difference between “The crisis was solved by me earlier this morning when a solution came to me,” and “I solved the crisis by coming up with a solution.”
5. Do you use jargon?
Let’s be clear: There are some terms that everyone in the workplace uses to simplify things—like if you refer to certain meetings or tasks with abbreviations. By all means, keep doing this. However, jargon risks alienating, or at least annoying, people. So, save “low hanging fruit” for apple-picking.
6. What about clichés?
You read that something is “the new black,” “the secret sauce,” or “one in a million.” Rolling your eyes? That’s what happens when someone uses a cliché. We’re so used to seeing and hearing these they don’t have any impact.
7. Are you very wordy?
Sure, details and context can be helpful. But if your emails and presentations are full of extraneous words and facts, your main points can get lost in the shuffle. Everyone appreciates clear, crisp communication, so if something you’ve put together feels likes it’s running long, take the time to see what you might cut.
8. Or, are you overly brief?
It’s also possible to overcompensate and veer too far to the other extreme. Particularly if you’re replying to a recruiter, client, or someone very senior, take the time to write full sentences and include proper salutations and sign-offs. It’s probably not a good time for a one-word or one-line response.
9. Do you consider your overall format?
If you’re crafting something comprehensive, you’ll want to think through how you can make it skimable. Maybe bullet points will work, or you could give each paragraph a heading? That way readers can scan your email or thought-leadership post and find the section that’s most relevant to them. There are loads of different ways to format articles. Numbered lists (like this one!) often work well. Use blogs and websites you find particularly easy to navigate as inspiration.
10. Do you proofread?
If you’ve already spent a lot of time writing something, it’s tempting to hit publish straight away and be done with it. But you’ll get a whole new perspective if you let it rest. Time’s always short, but if at all possible give a draft 24 hours to rest and then re-read it. (Not possible? Even 30 minutes can make a difference.)
11. Do you ask for feedback?
I cringe when I look back at some of the things I’ve written in the past. My writing’s improved because I’ve had some fantastic mentors who’ve taken the time to give me feedback. If you want to improve, ask for feedback from someone whose work you admire.
12. Are you direct?
Especially if you’re broaching a tricky topic—and it’s all the more tempting to beat around the bush—your best bet is to straightforward. Don’t expect people to guess what’s going on in your head. Be polite, but be clear and honest.
13. Do you think about which channel to use?
Should you use a tweet, an email, a phone call, a Facebook post, a blog or a keynote speech to deliver your message? Your decision will be based on who you are and whom you’re talking to. For difficult messages, I always prefer speaking to someone on the phone or face-to-face over email.
14. Do you vary your style by medium?
In the same way that you speak to your colleagues differently to how you speak to your parents, what’s appropriate on Twitter might not be OK in an email to your CEO. If you’re unsure whether you’ve got the tone right, check in with a trusted colleague, before you hit send.
15. Do you take time to get to know who you’re connecting with?
There’s no point in opening your mouth or putting fingers to keyboard unless you know a bit about who’s on the other end. Taking the time to get to know your audience is critical to being a good communicator.
16. Did you study up on what matters to him or her?
Google Alerts are a great way to make sure you’re always up to date with what’s going on for the people you’re in touch with. Have a customer who’s obsessed with productivity hacks? Make sure you’ve got a Google Alert set up and then you can shoot him the best articles or know you’ll have a conversation starter the next time you meet up.
17. Do you keep in touch on a regular basis?
Truth: It’s a lot less awkward to ask for an invite, an intro, or a recommendation if you’re not reaching out for the first time in months (or years) to do it. Once you know who the other person is and what he or she cares about, keep the connection warm.And this isn’t just for one-on-one relationships: Consistent communication through engaging with followers on social media or through regular blogging or sending out a newsletter reinforces the fact that you care.
Strong communication skills will help you as you climb the ladder in your career. So, pat yourself on the back for all of the ones you’ve got down, and schedule some time to work on any areas for improvement.