The 1 Tip to Improve Your Communication Skills at Work

Why don't they teach this stuff in college? Maybe I went to the wrong college 🥲


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Importance of Communication Skills

“Bottom Line Up Front” (BLUF) now goes by many other names: the Top-down Communication Method, or the Pyramid principle.

However, the core concept is the same:

It’s a style of communication that prioritizes the results and outcomes over the process or steps you took to get there.

Why is this style of communication so sought after in a work environment?

Employers have consistently rated effective communication as the number 1 soft skill they look for in their employees because, when there is a breakdown in communications, often efficiency, morale, and objectives can all suffer.

But forget about those “official” employer surveys for a second, and think back to the last time you worked with a colleague who provided you with the exact information you needed with just enough background for you to act upon.

The reason you appreciate this teammate of yours is very simple:

  • They have proven they are respectful of your time by providing you with only relevant information while leaving out all the fluff

A Realistic Example

There’s a popular question often asked in the middle of consulting case interviews where the interviewer interrupts your analysis and says something like:

Our senior partner just walked into the room and asks how the project is going, what do you say?

The idea, of course, is to see how well you can summarize all the information you have gathered so far and present them in an efficient way.

Yes it is easy for us to dismiss this scenario because it’s not very likely to happen, so here is a more realistic and common situation instead:

  • Let’s say you’re the marketing manager responsible for the iMac portion of a recent Apple product launch event. Your director pings you while she is in a meeting with other senior stakeholders, and she needs a quick status update

Here are two examples of how you can respond:

Hi Isabel, so we ran into some shipping issues and I had to get approval to pay an additional $10,000 for overnight Fedex, and that took a while to sort out. I was also told by the Airtags team that they needed to go before us so there was nothing I could do about that. But I think overall the creative agency is on track, now that we received the blue iMacs, so you can review the final draft of the video by April 1st.

Now contrast this with Example 2:

Hi Isabel, overall, we're currently on schedule to have the final draft of the video for your review by April 1st.

A few important updates:

First - Our shipping cost increased by $10,000 because we had to overnight the blue iMacs (or they would have been late)

Second - Our slot got pushed back behind the Airtags announcement. I would need your help to escalate this issue if we want our original slot back, I'm drafting an email for you right now

Finally - After you review the final draft of the video we can submit to the PR team for distribution

Breaking these two examples down, we can see that first example is very process oriented, you first did this, then that happened, then you had to fix that, oh and finally, here’s the result.

Whereas example 2 adheres more to the “Bottom Line Up Front” principle by prioritizing the 1 thing that the director cares most about. Yes, there was still additional context, but in that meeting if your director only had a few seconds to skim your reply and respond to Tim Cook, she would be able to confidently say “The final draft of the iMac video can be reviewed by April 1st.”

How You Can Practice

So, how can you develop this style of results-driven communication? Well practice makes perfect and there is 1 method you can incorporate immediately into your daily lives:

That method is - Active listening

The next time you ask your teammate or colleague about a project they’re working on, listen to how they present it to you, and then summarize using the bottom line up front principle.

Lets the example below, a real life scenario between me and Elon Musk 😎:

And the great thing about Active Listening is that you can practice by flipping it around. If someone asks you, “hey how’s your day going?” instead of saying:

I had back to back meetings this morning, and I had a big presentation this afternoon. I was so busy preparing for that I didn’t get to eat lunch, and oh yea I didn’t get much sleep last night because I was so nervous about the presentation.

Take a second, gather your thoughts, and reply with something like:

I’m having a pretty rough day.

First, I had back to back meetings this morning and a big presentation this afternoon.

Second, I didn’t get to eat lunch because I was so busy.

And finally, I didn’t get much sleep last night because I was anxious about today.

So yea, I’m looking forward to the weekend already.

Does this exercise sound ridiculous? Probably 🤷‍♂️. But is it what management consultants and project managers do on a daily basis? In my experience, yea 👍.

It might start off a bit awkward, but like anything else, the more you practice, the more natural this will feel. By adopting this bottom line up front style of communication at work, you by default are showing that you respect your colleagues time, and consciously or unconsciously, they will appreciate you for it.

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