Communication is a superpower. As you advance in your career, you are not limited by technical expertise, but by your ability to influence other people.
You might think, “I’m bad at talking to people.” That might be true today, but you can improve your communication skills. Good communication can be learned just as much as Big O runtime analysis.
Many people think it’s weird to intentionally practice good communication. Those people are jamokes and you should ignore their recommendations. You’re not a jamoke. You want to be respected by your peers. You want people to feel confident that you have the ability to make things happen. By doing good work and communicating its value well, you become a trusted engineer that people like to work with.
Without further ado, here are eight good communication habits that you can practice early in your career.
I put this first because I think many people struggle with this. Everyone wants to talk, and no one wants to listen.
When you let other people talk, they are more than happy to give you information. When you stop talking and let the other person explain themselves, you can more accurately solve their problem.
I can’t count the number of times when someone (let’s call him James) said, “It’s easy, just do XYZ,” and proceeded to detail a long solution. Meanwhile, the other person wanted to interrupt James because James was solving the wrong problem.
#2 Better to over communicate than under communicate
Working hard is important. But it’s even more important to work on the right thing. If you’re unsure of what you’re supposed to do, try saying, “You want to do XYZ. Is that right?”
#3 Express genuine appreciation for a coworker’s specific action
When you notice someone do something cool, compliment them.
One of the best compliments I received was an offhand comment. A senior engineer came to my desk to ask about a class that I wrote. I showed him, and he remarked “That’s a clean API.” He made me feel confident that I had designed the class well.
#4 Be concise
Imagine a coworker casually asks, “Is the bug fixed?” You have two ways to respond:
“You know, I was, umm, working on the database issue, and the mobile client is having a little trouble connecting to the server, and, umm, I’m talking with the backend team, and I think it’s going to be alright, umm yeah, I’ve just gotta check with them later, and yeah, I think it’s just one of those things where I just gotta put more work into it because of the protocol. So…”
“Not yet. The fix will be ready tomorrow.”
Managers especially appreciate brevity. They have a lot going on, and they can only handle the bird’s eye view of the situation.
#5 Learn other people’s names
This is pretty obvious. People love it when you remember their names.
#6 Don’t give unprompted explanations
If someone asks why, tell them. If they don’t ask, you might not need to say. You sound less credible when you constantly justify your actions and questions.
Your friends already trust you. Your manager mostly cares about the end result. Your enemies will never believe you. (Hopefully you have no enemies at work. If you do, maybe it’s time to find a new job.)
#7 Build trust by following through with your promises
Trust is an underacknowledged trait in engineering. Have you ever said, “I don’t trust him, but I’m going to give him an important feature anyway?” No!
Building trust takes time. You can get started by promising to do small, easy things. It can be as simple as saying, “I’ll send an email right after this meeting.” Make a note for yourself and do it. Do one small thing every day, and soon, people will think, “You always get things done. I trust you to handle a big project.”
#8 Eliminate complaints
If you complain a lot, people will think of you as a negative person. They’ll be less willing to share ideas with you, less likely to have lunch with you, and less likely to want to be around you at all.
You can be realistic and bear bad news without raining on everyone’s parade. Who would you want to work with? Someone who shoots down every idea, or someone who takes a realistic view of each situation?
When possible, you want to make other people feel good. Because when you make people feel good, they like you.
When people like you, they trust you.
When they trust you, they want to work with you.
And as you advance your career, you’ll realize that working with others is truly the best way to multiply your impact.