Career growth of a programmer has a very direct correlation to their skill level. Therefor, improving your skill over time is going to be the primary driver of your career trajectory. Having said that, there is a secondary but extremely important aspect to it and that is effective communication skills.
The Art of communication is the language of leadership — James Humes, Presidential Speech Writer
A common misconception is that by improving your communication skills you are essentially trying to “sell” yourself. This couldn’t be far from the truth. As a matter of fact, most renowned artists and creators in the world are top notch communicators and presenters. Both talent and presentation are required for achieving success. That is why communication skills play a huge part in job growth as well as job search.
What is Effective Communication
It is important to note that being talkative, social, or an extrovert does not necessary mean the same thing as being an effective communicator. Even though speaking is a big part of it, communication involves a lot more than just talking.
Effective Communication involves active listening, understanding the body language of your audience, and having the verbal tools to clearly and accurately explain ideas and concepts. At the same time, being shy or not having the courage to standup in front of a room full of people, or being unable to explain your ideas on a white board is going to be detremental.
Why Does It Matter
Leadership and career growth has a lot to do with taking more responsibility. If you portray yourself as a weak and nervous person, just imagine how comfortable your superiors will feel about handing over more responsibility to you? You need to show confidence and command through effective communication.
Be mindful, a person who talks way too much or talks over others, not paying attention to the listener (even in a one on one situation), and not allowing others to fully express themselves is considered a poor communicator and is a major detriment to their own success.
How to Improve Your Communication Skills
Here are some ideas on how to become an effective communicator. I understand that not everyone is built the same way and some of these tips may not work you. In the comments section below you can share tips that worked for you and others may also find it useful.
Understand Yourself Better
Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom — Aristotle
This is the most important part of the process. You may be surprised how little you actually know about yourself. Specially compared to how much clarity we have about others. I recommend using tools such as 16 Personalities to build a deeper understanding of yourself. Just remember that as humans we can always change and improve. And, there is tons material available to help guide us.
Improve your Public Speaking Ability
Most of us are not natural born public speakers, it takes effort and practice to develop this skill. But help is available. Amazon.com has a whole section dedicated to public speaking success. I recommend starting with Talk like Ted, the 9 public speaking secrets of world’s top minds.
Understand Body Language
Dr. Watson, You see, but you do not observe — Sherlock Holmes
Body language has to be most underrated and unappreciated tool for communication. In his book What Every Body is Saying, Ex FBI Agent Joe Navarro explains with images how body language works. Its an essential tool for communication and success.
Learn to Negotiate
Everything in life is a negotiation, mostly its a negotiation with ourselves — Naveed Khan
Learning to negotiate effectively without turning your counterparts into your enemies has more value than we often realize. In his book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss shares some really great tips on this topic. No wonder this book was in the Amazon top charts for both Communication Skills and Business Negotiation. Its a must read.
Master the Art of Small Talk
You don’t need to be a big chatter to be welcome and make others feel welcome in a casual conversation. But often the impact these encounters leave behind is far greater than we realize. In her book How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships author Leil Lowndes covers almost all aspects of these conversations and their impact and then some more. This book is a modern version of the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I highly recommend reading both of them if you haven’t already.
Attend and Present at Meet-ups and Conferences
Often times the best way to learn something is to do it yourself or see someone else do it. Attending conferences and meet-ups that are related to your interest area has two benefits. One, you are learning about the subject matter and Two, you are learning and improving about public speaking. A lot of them are actually free to attend or setup. As a bonus, I find that simply attending these works as a motivational tool for myself.
Effective communication is definitely a skill that you can learn and improve over time. There are vast number of books and material available for you to learn from. I have mentioned some of them above. But none of it will matter if you don’t participate and avoid putting yourself in a situation where you have to communicate effectively.
If you are not a natural speaker like me, you will find this to be hard. But based on my experience rest assured that it is worth the effort.