The one skill that trumps them all

I’m a software nerd so you and I both know the stereotype. I’m sitting at my desk right now pushing my glasses up my nose, typing on my Macbook, listening to Rush, drinking Mt. Dew, eating Fritos and chatting with my best friend (also single) using my ear-covering headset as I play World of Warcraft on my second screen. And above all, my communication skills must suck. It comes with the awkwardness of being a nerd.

I’ll admit, some of that is true. But there is one part that of the stereotype that I won’t settle for.

Any nerd that settles for having bad communication skills is one that I can’t relate to. I’ve been there. I was that awkward kid that wouldn’t make eye contact, let alone crack a smile when talking to a stranger. I went away to college and struggled with my communication skills for nearly my entire college career. I had my first in-person job interview when I was a junior in college. About 2 1/2 minutes into the interview, I realized I was drastically underprepared.

Every question seemed to cause extract more sweat from my pores and make me wish even harder that the interview would just end. Forget the job — just let me out of here. We both knew that I was never getting the job, but the barrage of questions wouldn’t stop. It continued for nearly two hours.

Something wasn’t adding up. I had better grades and understanding of the material than nearly everyone in my classes. I had the passion to be a great engineer. I had a work ethic handed down from my father and grandfather that was unrivaled on campus. All-nighters? Not a problem. Whatever it took to succeed, I was there.

But during that interview, none of those facts mattered even a little bit because my communication skills sucked.

Communication skills can make a mediocre practitioner great or a great practitioner mediocre.

I went back to my dorm room that day, but not before stopping at Borders Books and Music (RIP) on the way. I bought a book called “Sweaty Palms” on the topic of being interviewed. That was the first of several communication books that I read over the next 3 years. In addition, I forced myself into uncomfortable situations. I took interviews anywhere I could get them, even if I didn’t want the job. I answered the phone when it rang, even if I didn’t recognize the number. I talked to strangers in the cafe.

The point of this entire article is that communication skills can make or break you. As Gary Vaynerchuk mentions often, self-awareness is critical because without it, I wouldn’t have recognized my communication issues. You don’t need self-awareness on this one, because I’m giving you a wake-up call. If you evaluate your communication skills and realize you are anywhere below a seven, you need to do something about it.

Here’s what I would recommend:

  1. Find a good book to read on the topic. Here are a few ideas to get started. Option 1. Option 2. Option 3. Option 4.
  2. Put yourself into uncomfortable situations. As Tim Ferris has said, “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” If you truly want to grow, stretch yourself. No one is going to do it for you.
  3. Evaluate your performance in every uncomfortable situation. Conversations with your mom don’t count. The conversations you don’t want to have are the ones that matter. How well are you getting your point across? How well are you listening? How is your eye contact? Your volume? Your body language? It all matters.

I don’t care where you’re going, enhancing your communication skills will get you there faster.

By all means, hone your craft, but make sure you can communicate that expertise or it’s all for naught.

[Just for the record…]

[I am typing on my Macbook (Air to be exact). I’m drinking a Coke, but I normally only drink water (I’m visiting family, give me a break). I haven’t eaten Fritos regularly since college. I can’t stand Rush. I’m more of a Staind, classical, Maroon 5, Casting Crowns kinda guy. I have never, nor will I ever wear one of those stupid headsets. Same goes for World of Warcraft. And, to top it off I am married to a beautiful woman and we have four amazing kids. Also, I’ve played sports (baseball, ice hockey, mixed martial arts, etc.) my entire life.]

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This post was written by Josh Layhue

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