Career Development 101: Communicate Effectively

When I was a kid I was actually pretty extroverted. However, after multiple instances of culture shock growing up I became increasingly introverted. It allowed me to be somewhat successful in science, and made me observant, reflective, and analytical. These are great traits to have in a business setting. However, they would also mean absolutely nothing I if I could not communicate and influence others externally.

This isn't a personality issue. Plenty of extroverts can't communicate effectively, and many introverts do it well. It all boils down to outcome. Here I will outline what I think are the basic building blocks of effective communication, and practical ways on improving them during your daily routines. As my readers know, practical advice is what I'm all about.

This is the 4th post in my series, Career Development 101, tailored specifically for professionals with MBAs, doing their MBA, or thinking of doing an MBA.

Start with active listening

I think there is still somewhat of a misconception about leadership. There's actually a dichotomy built within the very word, "leadership". When we think about leading, it's usually an image of a person taking a group of people somewhere, deciding the direction of the team, and looking undeterred. Some may even perceive the leader as being the loudest person in the room, or always taking charge.

Before business school, I actually thought that way as well. However, after I began interacting with more senior executives, I realized that the opposite was true. A good leader always enabled others to succeed, whether it is their team or their customers. In order to know how to motivate your team or help your customers, you have to learn their perspective too.

In business school, we were taught how to do active listening. Probably the best example of this was during Improv class. Active listening is essentially when someone is speaking to be fully aware and actually listen to what that person is saying. It sounds easy but is pretty hard to do. Oftentimes, you may find yourself thinking of a response while another person is talking, and not actually be listening.

It's essential to be able to listen actively so that you may tailor your approach to each individual person or situation. It is also critical during negotiations or big meetings where you want to move everyone forward toward a decision.

However, I think the biggest benefit for active listening is that it allows you to fully leverage the diverse perspectives and talent from your team. This kind of goes back to empowering others - it takes a lot of humbleness and thoughtfulness to do well, but it can elevate the entire team to new levels.

Think before speaking

At any stage during your career, you need to say the right stuff in order to be taken seriously and progress. This is especially the case during meetings when you have decision makers in the room and time is constrained. It's thus essential to use your head at all times.

As an introvert, a day of meetings can be somewhat exhausting. This is because I'm always thinking hard during meetings. I realized early on that what you say can change peoples' perceptions of your role and the value that you bring to a team. It is also critical for moving projects forward and obtaining alignment.

My goal when communicating always resolves around the same three things:

Stay on strategy

As a budding leader, you need to ensure that your team is constantly moving toward the strategic direction for your organization. This is especially important when diverse stakeholders are in the room and you need to be constantly monitoring the discussion and thinking about what to say and how to say it to ensure the team stays on point.

Be practical

Anytime a suggestion or idea is discussed, I always wonder if it is practical and can actually be achieved in the current political climate or resources situation. This is important, especially for ambitious, younger folks, who want to be taken seriously. Success in business isn't necessarily about who has the best ideas, but how it gets done. 

Lead to a decision

You never want to leave a discussion without an actionable outcome. In my head I'm always taking notes and outlining what the actionable next steps are for myself and others on the team. This is important as reinforcement is often needed and allows folks to be accountable and take ownership. To delegate effectively, you need to constantly be thinking and making sure that any decisions are on strategy and are also practical, as mentioned above.

Be direct and be simple

This is really an important skill that I find folks at the senior levels do very well, either verbally or in writing. People are easily distracted and are busy so it's critical to be able to get your message across quickly and effectively.

Sometimes I find myself babbling and I can tell that the person I'm talking to is losing interest. When I find this happening I pause and start over with a more direct and simple version. After an important conversation, I often evaluate myself and see if I communicated in the most simple and direct way. Could I have said more with less? Did my core message get across or was it lost?

I think the only way to do this is to observe and practice. When senior leaders are speaking, observe and take mental notes on how they are crafting their messages. When it is your turn to speak, see if you are keeping things simple and observe how other's respond. Are folks asking a lot of clarifying questions? Or is the conversation moving forward?

Final word on effective business communication

During the Fuqua MBA, communication is a required class and most folks find it useful. I went a little overboard my second year and took all offered communication electives. I think everyone would agree that communication is important, but it is important to put thoughts into action and deliberately improve in order to grow as a leader.

Communication skills are critical in meetings and in driving organizational efficiency. If you are able to listen well, think actively, and speak in a simple manner, your meetings will be effective and lead to actual outcomes. This becomes even more important when discussing complex or controversial topics, or with big teams and diverse stakeholders.

I strongly believe that communication skills should be treated less as a "soft" skill but more as an essential requirement. While it is true that everyone has a different communication style and effectiveness is difficult to measure, it is also something that can only be developed by the individual.

Think about it this way. If you are a good leader, you may be confident that you can train my team on your strategy and focus. But when you're not in the room, it is up to your team members' individual communication skills to lead and to execute effectively.

This is the 4th post in my series, Career Development 101, tailored specifically for professionals with MBAs, doing their MBA, or thinking of doing an MBA.


  1. Superb teaching for communication, very effective and simple.

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  3. Thank You for the article, Steven. I find it quite useful.

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  9. Effective communication is about conveying your message clearly and understandably while also actively listening to others. Here are some key principles to keep in mind:

    Clarity: Be clear and concise in your communication. Use simple language and avoid jargon or overly complex terms, especially when speaking to a diverse audience.
    Active Listening: Pay attention to what others are saying without interrupting. This shows respect and helps you understand their perspective better.
    Empathy: Try to understand the emotions behind the words. Empathizing with others fosters trust and connection.
    Body Language: Nonverbal cues like facial expressions, gestures, and posture can convey as much meaning as words. Be mindful of your own body language and be attentive to others'.
    Feedback: Encourage feedback from others and be open to constructive criticism. It helps improve communication and builds stronger relationships.
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