Sharpen Your Communication Skills

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Explain why good communication is essential for the business analyst.
  • List the four types of communication that help you attain better project outcomes.

Communication as an Essential Tool

“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.” —Brian Tracy, Motivational Public Speaker and Author

In reality, business analysts are invaluable to an enterprise project because they help improve overall productivity and drive the final outcome simply by communicating effectively. 

For a BA, good communication is essential. You apply your communication skills at every juncture: project kickoff, requirements elicitation, liaisons with stakeholders, and delivery of the final solution. 

Most importantly, you need to: 

  • Communicate the stakeholder’s needs to the project team.
  • Ensure that, at the conclusion of the project, those needs have been met.
  • Break down the barriers to communication—such as time, attention, expectation, or language—that can occur between stakeholders and developers.

Tips for Engaging Stakeholders to Achieve Project Goals

There are various methods for engaging your stakeholders, and in this unit we look at a few essential approaches and tips. For additional methods, check out the Resources section at the end of the unit.

Communicate by Making It a Conversation

Ask questions and listen to the answers. Create a conversational tone. You don’t want to make your stakeholders feel like they are being cornered.

Share How You Can Help

Showing how you can help allows your stakeholder to see your value as a business analyst. The more value they see, the easier it is to carry out the other parts of your job.

Get Commitment for Next Steps

You want your stakeholders engaged, but you don’t want them to feel like they will be sucked into endless questions every time they meet with you. Acknowledge their time in a respectful manner. By explaining the next steps and the need for their commitment, you are demonstrating your commitment as well; you are creating a solid foundation for your relationship.

Develop Relationships

People work together more easily and effectively if there is trust. Trust grows from developing relationships. Spend some time developing relationships and you will see a big return on the investment.

Remember, We’re All Human

Keep in mind that humans can be irrational, unreasonable, inconsistent, or unpredictable. There are human feelings involved, and agendas may not always line up. If you feel tension, try seeking the root cause of a stakeholder’s behavior, and then assess if there are ways to change the dynamic so you can maintain a productive relationship. Try to always be understanding.

Communication Comes in All Forms

Communication is an art form that encompasses listening, reading, comprehending, processing, and transferring information. It can be difficult at times but is ever so important in a project. 

Here are some tips to help you develop the communication methods available to you, so you can attain better project outcomes. 

Verbal Communication

You use verbal communication to convey ideas, facts, and opinions. This is done during one-on-one conversations, meetings, presentations, and conferences. It’s important because it helps you to elicit and clarify information in a timely manner. 

Here are some tips to help you improve this type of communication.

Tip

Clarification

Speak clearly and loudly.

Enunciate your words and speak loud enough so everyone can hear you. 

Choose your words carefully.

Your words are a reflection of you. Use words that show your professionalism and intelligence. Also use words that are appropriate by anyone’s standards. 

Use an appropriate tone.

Your tone, or the sound of your voice, says a lot about what you’re saying and how you feel. Make sure the tone of your voice matches the words and the sentiment you want to express.

Consider your audience.

Keep your audience in mind when you are speaking. A formal audience should prompt a more formal dialog. You might talk less formally if you are quite familiar with the participants.

Respond appropriately.

Think before you speak. Formulate your thoughts before you respond. This helps prevent the possibility of responding offensively.

Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication is communication without using words or sounds. Instead, it involves the use of body language, gestures, and facial expressions to convey information to others. Verbal communication, reviewed above, is important, but it comprises only a small part of communication. Most communication is nonverbal (research has indicated upwards of 93%). Understanding and paying close attention to nonverbal cues can help you know what someone is truly saying, and ensure that you communicate the message that you intend, as well.  

Here are just a few areas to focus on to improve your nonverbal communication.

Area

Rationale

Eye contact

Maintain eye contact, but avoid staring. Meeting someone’s gaze is important because it shows that you are interested in them and that you are focused on them. 

Personal space

Pay attention to your proximity to others. Look for signs that the distance between you and others is adequate. Adjust accordingly. Be aware that different cultures view proximity in various ways.

Posture and movement

Be aware of your posture. Slouching can be interpreted as disinterest. Also, your body movements are important. Too much movement, like swinging your leg, may make others uncomfortable.

Openness of body

Avoid crossing your arms over your body. Others may interpret this as defensive. Keep your body in an open position; this suggests that you are open to listening.

Written Communication

Writing is an important form of communication for business analysts. BAs provide a written record of information for reference to keep people and groups in sync. Business analysts share information extensively, through written documents, emails, chats, blogs, memos, and requirements. 

In the workplace, when more than one person is involved, always write professionally and use complete sentences and proper grammar and punctuation.

Here are a few pointers that can help you be a better writer.

Step

Explanation

Be clear and concise.

The key is to be understood. Be as straightforward as possible and factual. 

Don’t rely on tone.

When writing, maintain a professional tone. Attempting to communicate with sarcasm, jokes, or even excitement can be taken in a negative way depending on the audience. Instead, be clear, concise, and straightforward. If you want to add some personality, do that in your follow-up verbal communications.

Take time to review your written communications.

We are all rushed at times, and inevitably we introduce mistakes into our writing. Some errors can be costly. To avoid those, reread your written correspondences before sending them. Try taking a break before you review what you’ve written; you may find a better way to convey something. For important communications or those you will send to a large number of people, ask a trusted colleague to review it as well.

Keep a file of writing you find effective for reference.

Develop a consistent writing style. Find an email, document, or pamphlet that represents the style you are going for and use it as a model when writing. At some point, you won’t need the reference any longer; you will have absorbed the style.

Visual Communication

Visual communication is the act of using visual media like charts, graphs, images, and sketches to convey information. Most people are visual learners, so this method is often helpful. You might use visuals for a presentation to draw in your audience or for a document to show data effectively.

Here are a couple of tips to help you communicate better visually.

Step

Explanation

Consider your audience.

Include visuals that are relevant to your audience and their level of understanding. You want your visual to clarify, not complicate. 

Consider the meaning you are trying to convey.

The idea of using a visual is to convey meaning in a clarifying way. Make sure the visuals you use are related to the topic at hand and they provide an easier way to consume the information.

As you’ve seen, business analysts have a myriad of responsibilities, and one of the most important is effective communication. Effective communication in all its forms can be the difference between success and failure in a project. In short, business analysts must be good communicators.

Resources