Soft Skills for Business Analysts: Communication

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. - George Bernard Shaw

Communication skills are indispensable to launching and maintaining a successful business analysis career. Business Analysts apply communication skills at every point: when the project is launched, when eliciting requirements, when liaising with stakeholders and of course, when validating the final solution. In fact, most of what we do relies on effective communication.

Here are 7 central tenets of effective communication:

  1. Communicate the Right Way. A communication medium is not designed to be a one-size-fits-all means of passing your message across. Communication may be written or verbal – the approach you adopt should depend on the content/volume of your message, stakeholder preference, the degree of confidentiality associated with the information and other relevant factors. For example, changes to scope are best communicated in writing so that they can be tracked easily. Placing phone calls or leaving voice messages as a way of communicating change would not be the best option in this scenario. So, before you place that call, consider whether an email, a presentation or a hard copy of your communication would not be a more appropriate way to deliver your message. 
  2. Understand the Different Learning Styles. To ensure that communication is effective, communication should be adapted to suit the different learning styles of stakeholders. BABOK identifies 3 categories of learners as visual (learns by seeing - gains insight from illustrations, charts, diagrams, videos, pictures and the like), auditory (learns best through oral communication or by hearing) and kinesthetic (learns by doing).
  3. Be Clear on the Objectives of Your Communication. Before you send out that email or newsletter, ask yourself, what message do I want the reader to take away? Is there any particular action I would like the reader to take after receiving my message? Be clear on the objectives of your communication and state clearly what you expect from recipients. Don't expect them to guess what you want by filling in the blanks. Your message may get lost in the process of translation.
  4. Follow Up. Communication cannot be regarded as successful if the recipients did not get your message clearly (due to noise) or if they heard you, but did not understand you. Effective communication goes beyond delivering the message to ensuring that recipients understand what you have said. For example, it's wise to follow-up on your emails when necessary, with a phone call or a meeting to discuss any questions or concerns that may have been triggered by your mail.
  5. Keep it Simple & Correct. Use simple language and avoid jargon to ensure that people understand what you are saying and are carried along. In preparing documents, stick to proper use of grammar and style, simple vocabulary and words that convey the intended meaning.
  6. Engage but Listen. Communication is not a one-way street where one person reels out their opinion. Effective communication involves speaking as well as a willingness to listen actively to the other party. Active listening shows the next person that you're engrossed in the conversation, so ask questions, provide feedback and ensure that your body language indicates you are in tune with the conversation.
  7. Provide the Right Level of Detail. There's no one definition of the right level of detail – it all depends on the context, purpose of your communication and your audience. Are you preparing a 30-page training document for imparting as much knowledge as possible or a 10-page slide that introduces a concept? The right level of detail is represented by "just enough" information that is required to achieve the objectives of your communication.

Effective communication ensures that information is provided in the right format, at the right level of detail, at the right time, to the right stakeholders, leading to the right results. Practise applying these tips when communicating with stakeholders.

Picture Attribution: “Woman Using Smart Phone” by patrisyu/