Communication - A Hard Skill Critical for Success

communication leadership Jul 28, 2020

Unknowingly, He began the day with a slow but steady march to demoralize his team. It began with a bit of arrogance as he poured his coffee; not looking back at the people who he knew were looking at him.  The way that he dismissed input in meetings and focused on the facts. He rarely smiled, a nod perhaps; it was hard to tell if he was pleased or displeased.

He sucked the energy out of a room.

His employees didn’t know how to read him. So, they talked about him. Disgruntled, demoralized employees love to talk.  

Then, everything changed. Business changed.

Reorganization was broad and swift. Bonuses, that had been consistently paid for years were not paid. Job responsibilities and titles were changed, there was a reduction in force.

There is no ‘last in, first out’ credo in the leadership ranks. The higher you go up the ladder, the decision to keep or cut ties with an employee is complicated. It has a great deal to do with leadership style, personality, culture fit, and the right people have to like you.  

As we talked, and he relayed his story to me he was concerned that his position might be eliminated. He wasn’t certain, but there had been signs all around him that he might be next to go. He did not want to lose his job. It was important to him. Recruiters have contacted him over the years, he was never interested or curious about opportunities elsewhere.

Secretly, he knew for quite some time that he wasn’t doing well at work. He knew that his lack of leadership skills hurt him, that he was not easy to work for. Like most people, he waited. He worked long hours, and he was a top performer. He did not want to believe he was at risk.

His goals were: 

Improve his leadership skills now.

Start looking for another job, just in case.

What Happened

His job was eliminated the following week.

Inside: Intelligent, kind, deep thinker.    

Outside: Jerk

 Losing the job was a wake-up call. Had he been more aware, he would have started focusing on his leadership skills earlier. It takes time to create a working atmosphere of trust and productivity. It takes time to build relationships. Now, the time was gone. It was important not to make the same mistake again.

He is not an arrogant person; he is an introvert. He cared about his team; he knew that he did not project himself to be friendly or warm.  His intentions were good. An outstanding engineer, honest and loyal, he is the type of person that the company couldn’t afford to lose. They lost him anyway. It is sad for both of them.  

He expressed his frustration: 

“I can start a conversation, within two minutes, I don’t know what to say to keep it going,” he said. He isn’t shy. Comfortable around people, he doesn’t know how to engage with another person.  

“I am impatient, I know what someone is going to say before they finish the sentence.  I know I should go through the motions of the conversation; I don’t have time.  

I don’t know how to connect up and down management.  How do I connect with my boss in a more meaningful way?

My peers are better in meetings, they are sharper with their answers. Faster, more confident.

I am under pressure. I need to get things done. I don’t have time for the relationships that I know I need to nurture.

He had faced this problem in the past 

The ability to communicate is a hard skill. Employers expect it no matter what your position within the company.  An engineer's ability to communicate is as important as the CEOs. 

One Small Step – Small Talk

This small talk exercise will help you in several ways:

1. You'll feel great

2. You'll begin to understand that the conversation is your responsibility, but not focused on you.

3. You'll be more likable. 

Talk to a stranger. Your goal should be 7 strangers a week. One per day.

There are a lot of them out there. There is no consequence. It's important to, practice, practice, practice. Learning small talk with people you already know doesn’t work. You need to go out in the world and practice in real-time with a human being that you don't know.  

1. Prepare for the conversation

Take out a sheet of paper and begin to write. Where do you meet strangers? The grocery store? Laundry? On the train? In the lobby? When your pizza is delivered?

  1. Prepare a few opening lines that pertain to your surroundings. Get creative and silly with it. For each encounter, be creative and think of a question. There are no right or wrong answers here, this is time to brainstorm.
  2.  Make a list of places that you normally encounter strangers.
    1. Grocery, Laundry, Commuting, Dry Cleaner, Convenience Store, etc.
  3. Create a question for each item on the list using the words below.
    1. Who
    2. What
    3. Where
    4. When
    5. Why
    6. How

2. Engage your brain.

This is the hard part. Decide to be in the conversation, not somewhere else inside your head. If you are wondering what to say next, you aren’t listening.


Respond to the person.

Stay on topic. How do you relate to this person? Did you hear anything that you have in common?  Relate a similar experience, stay on topic, and…

Ask another question.  Don’t forget to smile.

That’s all there is to it. Small talk.  It is thirty seconds of connection. This exercise is about focusing on the other person, not yourself. Small talk is not serious. No judging, lecturing, or droning on about yourself.

This simple exercise will help you connect. One stranger per day. Relax, smile, and practice. Start here, you will be surprised at what will happen to you in 7 days.  This is a skill that will take you everywhere, think of the many situations at work when 30 seconds of small talk could have helped.


Barbara Goldman is a high-performance leadership coach who specializes in helping leaders navigate the politics of change.

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