In this part I’m writing about my takeaways from a book “10 Skills for Effective Business Communication: Practical Strategies from the World’s Greatest Leaders” by Jessica Higgins, JD, MBA, BB.

My reason to read it

This is the third book I’ve picked about soft skills. My aim is to distill advice from multiple books to improve my skills. Getting different opinions should help me understand the most important actions I can take.

My key takeaways

It’s a third book about soft skills I’ve read in a short time. It becomes more difficult to share most important takeaways because there is an overlap with other books. I will try to highlight them even if I will write less about the point that I’ve written in other two posts.

Listen and ask open questions. Do not think what to say next, focus on the other person. This advice was highlighted in other two books, if three different people share the same thought they must be up to something. Don’t hijack, don’t cut others mid-sentence. Search for the Why. People have reasons why they say something, try to find it.

Body language. I will be honest, I’m never keen on body language advice, it mostly says something like “be more confident”. I’m not going to argue with it, but I wish we created opinions based on facts and not based on an appearance. As a Software Engineer I’ve met a lot of great people who are shy, yet they are worth listening to. The author advise to raise hands in a victory pose, or do a superhero pose before important meeting or a presentation. I think that can change how we feel when we have to be confident. I’ve heard about something similar before and I played with it a bit. The author shared that mimicking other persons’ body language can help with building a connection. I’ve noticed that we often do it without even noticing, have a look at a group of people talking together, from time to time you will see them standing in a similar way, it’s kind of contagious like a yawning. But it’s not only about your body language, you can notice when somebody is uncomfortable and you can make sure you help them, ask if everything is fine, give them space, suggest talking later.

Empathy, this is in every book and authors have different takes on it, how much you can actually put yourself in someone elses’ shoes. The author suggests looking at strangers, people we would not identify with and trying to understand why they act in a certain way. They advice using design thinking with focus on people and not tasks. Empathy goes back to understanding “why” behind the message. The book has few examples how to read people’s way of communicating based on sentences, so you can respond accordingly. The author has a negative opinion about empathy as a buzzword which is used by companies and how they try to create it. I feel like this topic could be its own set of books to read as I still don’t have a lot of actions after reading all these books in terms of empathy, it’s mostly way of communicating that I was able to gain more knowledge about.

Keep the communication simple. You don’t want to confuse people. If nobody is listening to you, it is your problem, not their. Something in your communication is not working. Writers for national newspapers have a rule to write at a fifth grade reading level. Give people only the things they need to know, don’t confused them with your language, the aim is not to look smart. I think it’s similar to the KISS principle. The chapter was focused more on advertisement and sharing what you can offer your customers, sharing a hero’s journey with readers, what problems your product solves for them. Emojis can be used in communication as they help express feelings, instead of a wall of text.

Networking, while I would like to apply it during dev conferences, I feel like the advice was more for business meetings and connecting with new potential clients. Learning something about them before you even approach them and making sure we build a deeper connection with a few people instead of talking quickly to everyone in the room.

How to give and receive criticism.

The author is against a compliment sandwich (I know it under a different, less diplomatic name) and I always found it funny as you can see through it. You want to tell a person exactly what made something great or what could be better. Without being specific and actionable a person will not be able to improve easily. Avoid sentences like “you always” or “you never”, this advice I’ve seen in another book too. Make your feedback depersonalized, you don’t want to criticise a person just a specific action.

When it comes to receiving feedback, you will have to accept that not everyone is interested in soft skills, try to see through their delivery method, they likely want to help you even if they word it in an upsetting way (unless they hate you). Try to not get angry or upset, try to not be defensive, don’t internalize. Ask for feedback that is specific and actionable e.g. “Can you give me action steps for the future?”. Request a Follow-up, you want to check the progress after few weeks or months, it shows that you care about their opinion and it makes it a joint commitment.

Assertiveness, the author shared few interesting ideas. Instead of asking a potential client if they would like to have a chat, you can say to have a chat and ask when they are available tomorrow. Saying “no” doesn’t have a negative impact, people respect you knowing your boundaries, not committing to too many things which would cause not delivering satisfying results. You don’t want to be a pushover. Based on the information gap theory, people will be more curious about something they can’t have. Make sure that you treat people with respect and assume good intent, don’t be mean. You can’t say no to everything, but as long as you stay true to yourself it will help you.

There are few more chapters which talk about different scenarios such as negotiation, conflict, public speaking. The last bit I want to mention is about respect for other genders. I’ve been in situations where women were overlooked or not heard, so I’m trying to not fall into these behaviour. The author mention words we use, if you wouldn’t say something to a person of the same gender, don’t say it to a person of a different gender. Don’t risk your career, seek a partner outside of work. Talk about inclusion at work.

Parting thoughts

It was a good read, but personally, I found two other books more useful in terms of actions I can take. It’s possible that after reading other books, it’s more difficult to find something new. This book addresses few other topics which are not mentioned in previous books, so I’m glad I’ve read it. In general if you are seeking more information about improving your soft skills, grab “10 Skills for Effective Business Communication: Practical Strategies from the World’s Greatest Leaders”.