How to Become a Brilliant Communicator

Communication gaffes happen. Do you live in fear of making a mistake when communicating via email? Via telephone?

You’re not alone.

In this afternoon’s breakout session with Andrew Krzmarzick, director of community engagement at GovLoop, Next Generation of Government Training Summit attendees learned how to work past fear of miscommunication in four key areas.

1. When Informal Isn’t Normal – Tips for Email

Young workers are blamed for the increasing prevalence of poor grammar in the workplace. While this has created a new norm of informality, Krzmarzick cautioned against taking an informal tone in emails.

  • Always default to a formal tone, particularly with people you don’t know.
  • Remember that everything you send could be seen by anyone, so be careful using emoticons or ambiguous tone.
  • Use signature blocks and include your telephone number, for the purpose of easy follow-up.

When sending emails, think like a marketer.

  • Pay attention to the subject line.
  • Err on the side of brevity, using bullets when appropriate.
  • Summarize any attachments included.

Take a break from email.

  • To increase productivity, only check your inbox at set intervals.
  • Schedule emails to be sent later.

2. When Voicemail Isn’t Enough – Tips for Telephone

Surveys have found that people tend to use the phone for activities such as texting or surfing the web rather than making and receiving calls. However, phone calls are still a relevant communication tool in the workplace. Know how to conduct the conversation to optimize productivity.

Be prepared before the call.

  • Have a notepad ready to keep track of the conversation.
  • Have an agenda. Provide participants with the agenda ahead of time.
  • Set a time limit for the call.

Start the call with a personal connection.

  • Don’t start with business.
  • Ask how the other person’s day is going.
  • Engage in a brief conversation outside of the main topic of the call.

Remain engaged during the call.

  • Use oral cues to let the other person know you are listening.
  • Focus – don’t multitask.
  • If the call is running long, don’t be afraid to ask if it can be continued another time or over email.
  • If you receive a call when you are busy with another task, ask to schedule for another time. Be sure to stick to this time.

End the call with a summary.

  • Repeat action items and deadlines.
  • Keep the goodbye short and sweet.

3. When Talk is Tough – Tips for Feedback

Giving recognition for a job well done can be a powerful motivator. Know how and when to give feedback, as well as how to react to feedback from others.

People have a desire to improve so don’t hesitate when you have input to offer.

  • Be specific. What did you like about the person’s performance? What didn’t you like?
  • Choose the correct setting. Avoid the impersonal forums of email or chat. Give feedback in person when possible.
  • If appropriate, give feedback in a public setting.
  • Send a hand-written note. It takes extra time, but will therefore be more meaningful.

We tend to resist feedback, but learning how to graciously accept compliments or critiques can help improve our job performance.

  • Say thank you.
  • Actively listen, rather than getting defensive.
  • Ask questions to better understand the specifics of the conversation.
  • Take action on the feedback. Don’t blow off the conversation. Give it serious consideration and do something about it.
  • Be mindful of the fact that the only person you can change is you.
  • Make it easy for others to give feedback. Create a tip box. Hold office hours. Provide incentives to feedback providers.

4. When Life is Too Short – Tips for Meetings

Have you ever felt that your time would have been better spent at your desk, rather than in a meeting?

Be mindful of your coworkers’ time by preparing ahead of time.

  • Begin and end on time. Be prepared and arrive early.
  • Send out an agenda beforehand, with time guidelines for each section. Have a time keeper to be sure the meeting moves along.
  • Take a break if meetings are scheduled for the entire day.
  • Don’t schedule meetings during the most productive hours of the day (mornings).
  • It’s okay to cancel if you think the meeting is unnecessary.

Remain actively engaged either when conducting or attending a meeting.

  • Don’t answer calls or texts.
  • Encourage discussion and questions.
  • Make presentations visually interesting.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Andrew Krzmarzick

Thanks for summarizing my session, Kara! What were the 3 things that you circled and decided to implement? 🙂

Kara Dunford

Thanks, Andy! I decided to implement a signature block, emails that include a summary/action items following phone calls, and specific questions to help me follow through on feedback. Great session!

Samantha Holquist

While I always include a signature block, even when using a mobile phone, I always delete the “sent from mobile” tagline. I am definitely going to add that back in just in case I make a few spelling errors while on the run and responding to messages. I also like the idea of having meetings at the end of the day, as I normally end up getting more distracted from work during that time anyways.

Joe Flood

It’s really frustrating to get lengthy emails that include all sorts of preamble and govspeak, the type that you need to decipher to figure out. Readers won’t do that. People scan their email for the main points.

A good tip is to have an “executive summary” at the start of the email, summarizing why you’re writing and what you need the recipient to do. You can even say, “I am writing you to…” In the first sentence of the email, let them the reader know what they need to do, whether it’s to review something, sign-up for a course or just as an FYI.

We all spend so much time in email. No need to make it painful.