Even if you’re dead set on improving the effectiveness of your communication at work, it can sometimes be hard to know how much you’re improving. If you have this problem, you’re not alone. My coaching clients are generally quite clear about things they want to improve when they start working with me. For example, they might want to increase the trust that exists between them and their direct reports. Or they might want to communicate more concisely. Or they might want to become better presenters at work. All worthwhile pursuits, but how do you know if you’re moving the needle on your communication goal? There are 3 basic ways:
- Internal check-ins
- Objective measurements
- External feedback
Let’s take the example of someone wanting to communicate more concisely.
Internal check-ins are subjective measurements
Internal check-ins work well with items that involve the way you feel about something. If you have a goal of feeling like you’re being concise (compared to, say, feeling like you’re rambling when you speak), then you might make a point of checking in with yourself. I often propose to my clients a method of rating their feeling now on a scale of 1 to 10 and defining success as a higher rating.
You might determine you’d like to take your overall feeling of being concise from a level 3 to a level 8, and you might decide on a check-in frequency (e.g., every 3 weeks) to measure progress on that goal: “Three weeks ago I was at a 3, and this week I’m at a 4 or a 5.”
Look for something objective to measure
The check-in method can work, but it’s by definition subjective. If you want an objective measure, then you need to look for things to measure. To continue with the example of wanting to be more concise, let’s consider the markers of concise writing. Maybe you could measure how many words per sentence you’re using. Or how many lines your paragraphs have. Or maybe you could audit one of your written communications (e.g., an email message) and count how many times you used redundant language or repeated an idea that you had already fully expressed.
The key is to measure something that you (or anyone) can objectively observe. And as with an internal check-in, you should take a baseline measurement along some scale and define success as a future measurement along that scale. For example: “I want to reduce the frequency of redundant ideas in my emails from my current level of 4 redundant ideas per 1-page email to zero.”
If feedback found the gap, feedback can help you close it
The reality is that we often find out about opportunities to communicate more effectively from feedback we’ve gotten. Maybe it’s a 360-degree multi-rater assessment where different people tell you how well they think you’re doing in different areas. Or maybe someone gave you 1-on-1 direct feedback about something you currently do that, if left unaddressed, could limit your career progression. Whatever the case, if feedback from others provided insight into some aspect of communication you want to improve, then it’s very likely that feedback from others can also give you insight into whether or not you’re effectively improving it.
So why not reach out to some people who could provide an honest assessment of your progress along the way? Well, for one, it can be awkward to ask for that type of feedback, and there’s definitely an art to asking for it. But as a first step, start by enlisting allies. Think of champions you may have at work, and even in your non-work life, who’d love to help you improve and who also have opportunities to observe you.
Returning to the example of wanting to be more concise, maybe you have a friend or colleague who knows that you tend to tell stories that go on a little too long. Share your goal with them and ask them to observe you and provide feedback and suggestions. It might just be about awareness: “Hey, just tell me when I’m doing it, please. Let me finish my long story, but circle back with me to tell me that it went on too long.” Or if you enlist the help of someone who’s good at what you’re trying to do, you could ask them for specific advice: “Hey, that story I told over lunch, how would you tell it more concisely?”
These three ways of monitoring progress toward your communications goals work for non-communication goals as well. Any aspect of your own behavior that you’re trying to modify could benefit from a multi-pronged approach to knowing how successful you’re being in your efforts. Depending on your particular situation, consider what might be the right mix of internal check-ins, objective measurements, and other people’s feedback that would support you the most in achieving your goal.
Guillermo Villar is principal coach with Cambio Coaching. He helps high-achieving individuals and teams communicate with intention to get the business results they want. If you’re interested in working with Guillermo, sign up for a free meeting to explore how he can help.