You might be intelligent but are you a good communicator?

I have come to the conclusion that there is no correlation between intelligence and communication skills.

This should hardly be a surprise when we know from our schooldays that some teachers, despite their academic qualifications, just could not get the information out of their heads and into ours.

It reaffirms the wisdom of using a professional communicator in preference to a subject expert with poor delivery.

Aristotle believed that effective communication depended on credibility, emotion and logic. Modern coaches say you need to be a good listener, articulate, expressive and fluent in body language.

I don’t disagree but, to my mind, the most fundamental qualities of a good communicator are a generous spirit, empathy, attentiveness and patience.

A generous spirit makes you want to share ideas and information with others. It motivates you to find a way to do this, regardless of obstacles and misunderstanding. Someone with a less open nature might not be so inclined to give the message the context it needs for the audience to absorb it. When I am learning new procedures, I always wonder: Why must we do this? What if we didn’t?  What comes before and after? Why doesn’t somebody else do it? Why doesn’t it come earlier or later in the process? Are there better ways of doing it? What’s the worst thing that could happen if I get it wrong? I try to address these questions when training someone else.

Empathy is essential to view the problem from the other person’s perspective. It helps you decide the best way to deliver your message. Should it be written, oral, a diagram or a chart? This in turn may determine the best medium to use: email, telephone, face-to-face? Is it best delivered to a group or individually? In a training room? In an informal setting?

You need to be versatile and capable of using different means of reaching people who prefer to digest their information in a variety of ways. I always used to write procedures for my staff to follow but one of them just would not read my, ahem, excellent instructions, which used to frustrate me no end. Eventually, I learned to show him what to do and watch him have a go himself and we never looked back. I should have followed Benjamin Franklin’s advice: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

In contrast, another manager told me that her team was thick because she had showed them how to do something SIX times and they still didn’t get it. If she did this the same way each time, did it not occur to her that the outcome would be the same? Isn’t that a definition of madness?

Being attentive helps you recognise when your message is being received and understood. More importantly, it tells you when your words of wisdom are falling on stony ground and it’s time to try something different.

Patience will prevent your frustration when you don’t succeed first time. You will appreciate that the other person’s failure to understand is your fault rather than theirs.

So, assuming that you are capable of organising your message and articulating it, aptitude is more important than intelligence when it comes to communication. This is good news to those of us who might not be the brightest, but the two combined will always be the ideal.

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One Response to You might be intelligent but are you a good communicator?

  1. Peter Wylie says:

    Top post, Andrew! Surveys often ask what single attribute Internal and Corporate Communicators must have in order to be successful: I always vote empathy; only if you see it from the other guy’s point of view will you find the appropriate language, tone and medium for them.

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