Of all the skills that a product manager needs to develop I believe that communication is the most important. Consider the raw amount of communicating that any product manager needs to accomplish on a regular basis: listening to customers, interviewing support staff, talking to channel partners, evangelizing to sales teams, updating senior executives and board members, tuning-in to market trends … it is overwhelming.
The importance of communication in the role of product manager cannot be over stressed. Product management touches every single part of an organization and its customers. Product managers are expected to be the “go to” person for a product – the product visionary and leader. In many respects effective communication is key to leading and persuading. Here are three things which may help you to improve your communication skills.
Listen to understand, then speak to be understood (ref. The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey, 1989); listening is a learned skill – it takes a lot of work and practise. Getting to the point where you no longer listen to respond is a long hard road. Depending on the situation, you may find it helps to get in the “listening zone” and clear your head of any noise that may keep you from really hearing and understanding what someone is trying to tell you. Make a conscious decision to listen with an open mind, without judgement or biases.
Speak with confidence. Be concise and clear in what you have to say – use vocal variety and make eye contact to engage your audience. Write down what you want to communicate and practise out loud. A great way to improve your spoken communication skill is to join a Toastmasters club. Toastmasters is a great learning organization and the best place to learn how to be an engaging speaker and tell compelling stories.
Get a critic and make changes in the way that you communicate. As part of your continuous improvement as a communicator you should have someone on your team who will provide a constructive critique of your performance in formal or informal communications. Make sure that you both understand what needs to be achieved and de-brief afterward to get their notes on how you did. If you needed to find out something from a customer, do a checkpoint to make sure you heard the same thing. If you were communicating a product idea, your critic should be honest but constructive with feedback that will get you to the next level. Accountability to another person is often what drives us to make real change in the way we do things.