ABCs of Communication Skills by Tracie Marquardt

The ABCs You Were Never Taught at School

  • A scientist who loves research but hates presenting his results to management because speaking in public is out of his comfort zone.
  • An American project manager living in Germany who has realized the hard way that working internationally means that shifts in style, tone and language are required when communicating across cultures.
  • An auditor struggling during international audit missions because he is perceived as being very direct and sometimes demanding, putting off audit clients and even causing escalations.

These are three of the people I met at a recent networking event, where attendees were asked about the challenges they face in their professional lives. Every story I heard was unique, but there was a common thread: A gap in communication competence and comfort.

So while it was a great networking event, I felt there was something missing from the discussion: WHY are these successful international professionals experiencing these challenges?

What’s missing might be those things most of us never learned at school. I call them the ABCs of communication success: Assertiveness, Behaviour and Competence. So let’s get back to the basics:

A: Assertiveness

Being assertive means you are confident in expressing your thoughts and ideas while respecting those of others. You can stand up for yourself without being aggressive. It’s the best way to communicate to ensure your messages are heard and acted on.

If you are overly passive, people may use you as a doormat if you aren’t careful. You might take on too much work or not give your opinion in a meeting… and your opinion might just be the voice of reason that carries a great idea forward.

The good news: You CAN learn to be assertive rather than aggressive or passive.

B: Behaviour

Your behaviour, or your response to someone else’s behaviour, can make or break your success. There’s good news here, too: You are free to CHOOSE your behaviour, and you are free to choose how you REACT to someone else’s behaviour.

Helping others, avoiding overly emotional reactions, and avoiding overtly competitive behaviour when it’s not appropriate in the situation – these will help you communicate effectively. Doing the opposite can prevent you from being successful.

C: Competence

When I was at university, there wasn’t any guidance on HOW to communicate well. And I never knew what I was missing until I started working in the real world.

Writing an action-oriented report, delivering a dynamic presentation, facilitating meetings, motivating a team to success – these are all skills we need to master. And if you’re like me, a little practice goes along way.

A Strategy to Strengthen Your Communication Skills

If you are not sure why your messages aren’t being appreciated or acted on, or why you are constantly having issues with clients and colleagues, it’s time to find out.

  1. Make your own observations about where YOU feel you aren’t succeeding or communicating well.
  2. Ask for feedback from your boss, colleagues, clients and other business associates.
  3. Analyze all of the feedback together, looking for patterns, repeated observations or common situations.
  4. Prioritize the communication skills you want to tackle first, so you get further, faster.
  5. Identify resources to help you fill the gap, including books, workshops, and finding a mentor.
  6. Take advantage of every opportunity to practice: Volunteer to run meetings, ask to lead a project group, offer to give the monthly departmental presentation, write the next report due to the Board, etc.
  7. Keep a journal of communication goals, successes and challenges. Track what works, what doesn’t, and write down your ideas of how to change it next time.

The scientist, the project manager and the auditor are all educated, intelligent and considered successful by their peers. By identifying their communication skills gaps and executing a plan to fill them, they can reach their ultimate potential. And you can, too!

Which of these ABCs do you need to work on? Let me know in the comments below.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication


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Tracie Marquardt

I've been living outside of my home country for over 20 years. I've lived in 3 countries and 10 cities. Falling in love with Paris is what led me to Europe (and I go back often). I think Germany is an amazing country, and a great hub from which to travel to the rest of Europe. I started my own business in the Heidelberg region in 2013. My mission is helping international professionals communicate their key messages clearly and concisely in English. I believe that language and culture are huge factors in the success of our communication, and must be taken into account when we interact with and build relationships with others. By networking together from around the world, we are able to build bridges, add value to each others lives, and I hope, contribute to each others success in life, no matter how that success is defined. So let's get started!