According to a research conducted by Carnegie Institute of Technology, only 15% of your success is determined by your technical knowledge. The rest 85% is determined by your ability to communicate, negotiate and lead. Whether it is about appearing for an interview or attending a top-level meeting, soft skills are what you need to excel.
Some people make the mistake of thinking that if their work is good, they should be automatically liked by their manager. When this does not happen, they get frustrated and give in to negative thoughts. It’s an approach that doesn’t yield dividends in the long run.
In an interview with The Hindu, Ronnie Screwvala (co-founder of upGrad among many other things) said, “Communication is a severely underrated skill, especially in this digital remote work era. Most people assume that communication is tethered on oratory skills or command of the language. Actually, it is so many things, including listening, absorbing and knowing when to stop. If you acquire the art of communicating through storytelling, you will be able to influence and impact people by shaping their minds. Stories help us connect with the audience and foster empathy. Storytelling is a lifelong skill that ought to be honed.”
A good way to develop storytelling skills is to practice it as much as possible. It’s true that some people are blessed with the gift of the gab and can spin yarns easily. Others may have to work harder for it. Telling the same story to different friends, reading fiction, writing a journal and practicing in front of the mirror are all good ways to build narrative fluency.
Another underrated skill that some people ignore is the art of listening. In his book How To Win Friends and Influence People (one of the most well-read works on communication), Dale Carnegie said, “The chronic kicker, even the most violent critic, will frequently soften and be subdued in the presence of a patient, sympathetic listener— a listener who will be silent while the irate fault-finder dilates like a king cobra and spews the poison out of his system.” Not cutting someone mid-sentence, having patience and paying close attention are all factors that’ll make you a better listener.
As times change, communication methods evolve. Not many of us were comfortable having meetings on Zoom or Google Meet earlier, but the pandemic has changed that. Our communication skills need to adapt and evolve with time like everything. It’s important to gauge the communication guidelines (they’re rarely written down and you’re expected to grasp them with experience) in every office. Some managers may appreciate honesty while some others may not respond positively to it. You can’t afford a ‘one size fits all’ approach and need to arrive at a method with trial and error.
A few years ago, Jeff Bezos had disallowed Microsoft Powerpoint presentations in Amazon. “We don’t do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of “study hall.” Not surprisingly, the quality of these memos varies widely. Some have the clarity of angels singing. They are brilliant and thoughtful and set up the meeting for high-quality discussion. Sometimes they come in at the other end of the spectrum,” he said in a letter to Amazon’s shareholders.
In India, there’s not much training given to students when it comes to public speaking, storytelling and listening. This creates challenges for them as effective communication skills are one of the first things people see while hiring. Not having a great grasp over English is another problem that Indians face.
In such cases, it is crucial to not let your self-esteem suffer too much. We understand that it’s a hard mountain to climb, but people have overcome greater obstacles. Instead of feeling discouraged and wasting your time, you should be inspired and learning new things.