In the project management world, you often hear the saying “project management is 90% communication.” Learning professionals also spend most of their time communicating — so you could say that learning is 100% communication as well. As learning professionals, whether you are a training manager, learning technologist, instructional designer, content developer or facilitator, you are communicating with different types of stakeholders to achieve learning goals. The communication can be as part of the initial training request, the work to get content from subject matter experts (SMEs), within the training team developing the solution, or as part of live discussion within a classroom setting. Communication is the core of helping others learn.
Learning professionals can leverage the following communication tips to better work with stakeholders to develop, deliver and support learning to support professionals in any industry.
ICYMI, It Could Yield More Ice: Use Words Not Acronyms to Confirm Meaning
Like your stakeholders, your industry is packed with acronyms. And what those acronyms or terms mean to you as a learning professional could be quite different for your stakeholder. For example, in a consultation or design document, you may use the acronym “IC.” To you and your learning and development (L&D) co-workers, you know you are referring to “individual contributor,” but to your medical business client (and project stakeholder) “IC” means “intensive care.” Or, if you say “IC” to your stakeholder in the finance team, to them it means “investment committee.” The same two letters, “IC,” and the meaning can be vastly different — individual contributor, intensive care or investment committee.
When you are communicating with your stakeholders, don’t assume that they know your industry as well as you do. Because you know that “ILT” means instructor-led training, that does not mean your stakeholders know that. “ILT” may even have a different meaning for them. Avoid learning industry-specific acronyms so that your communications are clear and understood as intended.
Do Not Bury the Lead: Make the Ask Easy to Find
Learning professionals love learning! We love to think about it, talk about it and write about it. In fact, you are likely reading this article as part of your own efforts to be a continuous learner because you can’t get enough of the topic. Because we love learning, we often fall into the temptation to give our stakeholders all the reasons and research behind our recommendations. And sadly, that does not always help our case.
Be upfront, clear and precise in the “ask” of your stakeholders so they don’t have to wade through lots of information to guess.
When you are communicating to your stakeholders in writing, do not put the call to action or the key point in the depths of paragraphs explaining all of your reasons, research and best practices. Don’t make your stakeholder have to work to find the point of your communication, because likely they will miss it and you’ll have to try again, or worse, they will start to ignore your communications.
And when you are talking with stakeholders, keep that same approach in mind. While you may find all the learning theory and reasons super exciting, likely the training you are talking with them about is one item on your stakeholders’ exceedingly lengthy list of priorities. Don’t “bury the lead” and make it hard for your stakeholder to know what you need from them to help them reach their goals.
Good Communicators Are Good Listeners: Can You Hear Me Now?
While the earlier tips are focused on you as the person communicating to the stakeholder, that’s only one side a true exchange of information. Always be sure to use your active listening skills when working with stakeholders. Being a learning professional means also being a good consultant who is always listening for important insights. Your stakeholder communication skills tool-kit should include the ability to:
- Ask probing questions in a respectful manner.
- Give space for the stakeholder to answer your questions.
- Acknowledge the gift of candid replies.
Being an active listener includes creating an environment in which your stakeholders can be safely candid and open to innovative ideas.
Listening in a physical meeting room does look different than listening in that virtual room. And yet, your body language is important in both, and remember that eye contact is a powerful tool. Additionally, part of being a good listener is reflecting back what you have heard. After meetings in any format, send a written follow-up to help confirm that what you heard is what the stakeholder intended as the message and there is agreement in the understanding.
Good Communication Is Good for You, For Your Stakeholder, and The Business
The phrase “good communication” is not just about quantity. You will not build trust with stakeholders by the volume of emails you send them. However, you will foster a productive collaboration with your stakeholders when you purposefully are:
- Mindful of acronyms that will have different meanings to different stakeholders.
- Putting key information at the front and center of all communications.
- Actively listening to your stakeholders and frequently confirming shared understanding.
Learning comes from communication. As you continue to hone and deepen your learning skill portfolio, be sure to keep communication skills as a priority. A good communicator is a more effective learning professional who brings value to the stakeholders and the business.