Communication skills for business leadership and success
Communication skills are an important factor in business decisions and a driver of successful business outcomes. It’s not surprising, then, that good communication often tops the list of skills employers look for, no matter the job or industry. How well you communicate affects everything, from small interactions with coworkers to the closing of large deals. And it’s a critical skill area for leaders.
In the tech industry, when we think about skill development, better communication probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, but in fact it’s crucial to everything we do in IBM IT infrastructure to help clients conquer demanding workloads and achieve success in their domains. IBM is a company built around the core values of dedication to every client’s success, innovation that matters — for our company and for the world, and trust and personal responsibility in all relationships. Good communication is at the heart of those values, and it’s needed at every level of our business.
Leadership is about human interaction, and that’s why communication is key. We work with human beings and look to mobilize a group of people together to collectively accomplish a mission or task. In everyday professional interactions — from meetings to sales opportunities to client technical engagements — stakeholders come together with different priorities, needs and interests. Good communication can help us take all those varied interests into account and make decisions that best serve our collective goals. We succeed when we listen well, offer valuable insights and make space for all voices to be heard.
Top communication skills for leaders
Be authentic. When a leader communicates with a team, it’s crucial to build conditions of trust. Building trust can bring an organization together and help teams move forward together. The conditions of trust are grounded in communication — be respectful, selfless, empathetic and clear. Provide a sense of purpose, fight for your people and do all of this with high ethical standards.
Listen more than you talk. Listening is a valuable skill to practice with colleagues and business associates as well as in personal relationships. Reflective listening refers to the ability to listen to someone and then reflect back that person’s point of view. It helps confirm what has been said and correct any miscommunications. In any situation where you’re trying to achieve shared goals, this kind of purposeful listening can facilitate mutual understanding and better outcomes.
Speak with purpose and add value to conversations. When it’s your turn to speak, offer thoughtful, prepared, well-organized, concise verbal communications. We’ve all been in meetings where some individuals talked too much or spoke without really adding value. Everyone can contribute to more thoughtful exchanges by thinking ahead, coming to meetings prepared and speaking only when we have something of value to add.
Make room for diverse voices. It’s well established that diversity boosts innovation and financial results. Throughout its history, IBM has been committed to including diverse voices at the table and has been recognized for its leadership in accelerating progress for women in the workplace, for example. (The team I lead is likewise committed to advancing gender equality.) Effective communication in a business requires making space for all voices to be heard — not just those with the most power.
The business payoff
Better communication produces more thoughtful insights into our pressing challenges, which in turn leads to better product engineering, strong technical engagements and more satisfied clients. When we apply these communication skills in interactions with customers, we no longer have to rely on data alone and can instead enable shared value creation that benefits everyone.
IBM IT infrastructure provides the foundation for many of the world’s largest companies, from top global banks to supercomputing centers for research. IBM servers, storage and software are designed to help these organizations conquer challenging workloads and extend the value of their existing investments. We empower clients by understanding their needs and serving as trusted advisors — and that begins and ends with effective communication. This is how we lead.
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