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How to Make Your Communication Skills Better
Sean: You mentioned that communication and leadership are also part of the book, “The Career Toolkit,” by the way if you’re listening to this and you haven’t even opened that Amazon link on your website, please do that now. “The Career Toolkit” by Mark Herschberg, we’re also going to have that in the show notes, just go to leadershipstack.com.
Look for the episode with Mark Herschberg, and we’re going to have the link there. So leadership and communication, communication is so underrated these days. And I heard a quote saying that the biggest mistake in communication is the assumption that it already happened. How do you improve your communication skills?
How would you measure it – that if you’re leading someone, “oh, this guy or this girl, he or she is improving,” how do you measure that?
Mark: The quote you gave is from George Bernard Shaw, which is the opening quote to my chapter on communication.
Mark: I have seen that time and time again. Now, communication is a massive field. You could read 12 different books on communication that talk about completely different things, and they are all relevant because it can mean so many things. It could be on standing up and doing formal public speaking. It could be communicating through body language. It could be how we communicate through the choice of words.
It could be what I talk about in my book. It could be many different things. I don’t think there’s a clear metric where you can say here, here’s the metric and I’m a 4.2. And how do I move up to a 4.4? But you can look and say for whatever aspect you’re going to work on, you can certainly get some, maybe holistic feedback, maybe some qualitative feedback.
So for example, we know with public speaking, that if you have to do, and you’re not good at. Well, you can start by practicing. You can watch yourself on video and see habits. Oh, I like that. I don’t like that. You can watch great public speakers. What can I learn from his or her technique? You can have friends watch you and say, can you give me feedback? What am I doing that’s good, that’s not so good.
Any tips for how to change it, and we can do this. And by the way, public speaking is not just standing at the podium. Public speaking right now, is a form of public speaking, even though it’s the two of us, I’m doing a little bit of public speaking. Interviews are a form of public speaking.
We actually do public speaking much more than we think, but if it’s another aspect as well, it’s getting that feedback. It’s looking at whatever you’re trying to address and getting feedback from others and being self-reflective and then recognizing what you want to change and creating a program to change it.
Sean: One of the things that you’re right in saying is that communication is so broad, there are just so many books written about it.
There are so many podcasts that talk about it and, they talk about different things and it’s all relevant, you’re completely right. Now, there is this complexity, and there’s this broadness that people just failed to grasp. I mean, communication is so important in all aspects, in all levels of the corporate ladder, the startup, the enterprise. It’s so important, but it’s so broad.
How do we simplify it and say, this is what you need to do, apart from watching yourself? Cause like not a lot of people will do that, Mark. We both know that not a lot of people would go ahead and record a certain video where they spoke publicly or they did an interview and then watch it again and take notes about themselves. Here’s where I can improve.
What are the other more simple things that you would suggest for people to do to improve their communication? And is there like, a step-by-step way to do it?
Mark: There is, and I’m going to give you a narrow approach and a broad approach. In the narrow approach, there’s a whole bunch of different things you can do, but let’s look at this from a different perspective.
Imagine it’s January 1st, you have all these new year’s resolutions. You say I’m going to start waking up early. I’m going to go to the gym. I’m going to quit smoking. I’m going to eat better. I’m going to watch less TV. All great goals. And if you try to do all of them, you will fail by the end of the week.
Instead, what do you do? You say I am going to try to quit smoking. That’s it. I’m still going to sleep in. I’m going to eat junk food. I’m going to watch TV. I’m going to be really frustrated and annoyed when I quit smoking. But I’m going to focus just on that and that’s all I’m going to do. And it’s really tough in January, February, March, by April, or May, you now haven’t smoked in months.
You don’t have to use your full attention just to not smoke. And it suddenly becomes more of a habit. At that point, you say issue number two, I want to wake up earlier, right? We’re only going to focus on one thing at a time. So while, communication – really all these skills are very broad, focus on one thing for weeks or months until it becomes a habit.
There’s this rubric that you can use. There are four stages of learning and the lowest stage is called being unconsciously unknowing. Then you become. Consciously unknowing. I realize I don’t know this. I realized I’m not good enough at this. Then you go to, I am consciously starting to know, okay, I have this skill I’m working on it and I have to really focus on it.
It’s just, it takes a lot of mental effort. At a certain point, you get to unconsciously. “Oh, I can just do this. No problem.” Think about driving a car. At two, you didn’t even know. You didn’t know how to drive a car. At age seven, you said, okay. I know, I don’t know how to drive a car. At age 16 or 17, you were driving the car, but “okay, don’t talk to me. I got really focused on the road, right? I remember. I gotta do the turn and where’s the, where’s the certain pedal – you’re really focused. As an adult just go yeah, I’m driving right? Turn on the radio, talk to your kids because you don’t need all the attention. And that’s really how we go through all this behavior.
So focus on that one thing and move through the levels until you get to unconsciously knowing where you say, “Now it’s a habit and I can focus the rest of my mental capacity on the next item.”
So that’s a narrow approach. Let’s talk about the broad approach. For all of these skills, communication, leadership, networking negotiation. These are subtle complex skills. It’s different than how we usually learn. In school, the teacher would say, this is a quadratic equation. Here’s a formula memorize it. Here’s how to apply it. And a week later on the test, you say, “okay, I’m going to write down the formula and apply it, very easy.” You know, when to use it, you know how to use it.
There’s no formula for leadership. There’s no three steps and magically you’re a master communicator. It really is going to depend on this situation versus that one. It’s really hard. So the way we want to learn these skills, all of the skills I talk about in the book, the way we teach them at MIT, the way they’re taught in top business schools, is to use peer learning.
What you want to do if you’re in a company, you can set this up with your coworkers or ideally get HR to set it up for you. If you’re on your own, get peers, get whether friends of yours create a local meetup group, find some professional organization or part of, and just create these groups and say, we are going to – every week or every other week we’re going to get together. We’re all going to read something or learn something and then discuss it.
So you could, for example, take my book and there’s a free download on the website, how to set this up and how to chop up the book and say, we’re going to read these 10 pages and discuss it. We’re going to talk about leadership. And in that discussion, I’m going to say, “yeah, I had this really complex situation. I wasn’t sure how to do it. And you’re gonna say, well, here’s how I would’ve approached it.”
Or you’re going to share a situation you did well or poorly. And I’m going to learn from that. We’re all going to learn from each other. And if you don’t want to buy my book, you don’t have to, because you can also use the same discussion group to read from other books to read free articles, online videos, listen to a great podcast like this one every week and discuss this.
What matters is that discussion, you just need a common source you’ve all engaged with, and then have that discussion. And that’s going to both keep these things top of mind, but also going to help you learn them in the complex, subtle ways in which we really apply them.
Sean: Really good stuff. Mark. What would you say – and I’m down to my last couple of questions. What would you say will be the top three, I’d say the top three biggest mistakes in communication? And I know I was horrible at it when I started, but I couldn’t really tell you, oh, this is the worst problem. When I was a leader, early on, and this is the first communication problem they have. But what will be the biggest, most common problems and communication that you see today in leadership?
And how do you get over that? How do you overcome it?
Mark: First is not knowing your audience. Who is your audience? Whether it’s you and I speaking one-on-one, what do I know about you? Or whether I’m speaking to a large room of people, who are they? Why are they here? Where are they hoping to get out of it?
So knowing your audience, knowing their context, knowing their needs. Second, is actually once I know that, communicating in the right style in a way that is receptive. I would never go to France and just start going on the streets and speaking English and expecting everyone to know it. They might know it. They’re surely not going to be receptive to it. Right.
I should try to speak French. I should communicate in the style that works for that audience. This is what we all have to do. It might not be a different language, but there are communication styles. And that’s why I really focus on in the book, is understanding your audience, how to communicate in that style.
Even when you’re doing that, the third thing is just the conciseness of communication. It’s recognizing what’s pertinent information, what’s extraneous, and a lot of people don’t know how to really focus on the important.
Sean: Hey, Mark. If people want to get in touch, where’s the best place for them to get in touch with you?
Mark: You can go to my website, thecareertoolkitbook.com. There you can see where to buy the book, including the ebook at Amazon, and other places. You can follow me on social media or again, get in touch with me. You can download the free app. The app has lots of great tips from the book and it’s available in the Apple and Android stores.
And each day what’s going to do is pop up like a daily affirmation. It’s going to pop up one of the tips to give you those reminders, or if you’re a say about to go into a negotiation, Open up flip through those negotiation tips to get that quick refresher, completely free. You can also get that from the app page on the website, and then there’s a resources page and has some free downloads for how you can create these peer learning groups that we talked about.
There’s also a whole bunch of other links to free resources online, as well as other books I recommend all of this can be found on the website – thecareertoolkitbook.com.
Sean: For those of you listening, we’re going to have all those links in the show notes. Again, look for Mark Herschberg on leadershipstack.com.
Scroll down a little bit. You’re going to see those links easy for you to click them and just download the app. And it is amazing that his book has an app. Can you imagine that? And my book has no apps. It’s not even an app on the app store, so go ahead and download that.
Mark. If there’s one piece of advice, tip, anything that you can tell people who today are on the wrong side of the stick when it comes to the pandemic, what would you tell them?
Mark: Vaccines work. Science works. Believe in science. There are tens of thousands of scientists and doctors. This is not a conspiracy. They have dedicated their lives to helping others. The fact that you and I can have this conversation is because science and engineering created the internet, created lighting, created electric signals, and use them in a way that we can communicate.
Science has led us to this point. Science will take us further. Trust and believe in science.
Sean: Really good stuff. Hey Mark, thank you so much for being here on the show. Thank you for giving us your wisdom and we are better for it.
Mark: Thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure.