Measuring communication skills

Previously I talked about how to measure seemingly intangible things. The trick, roughly, is to be able to articulate what differences we witness in the real world if the seemingly-intangible thing happens.

The other day I was discussing with someone communication skills in meetings, and how we might not only improve that, but also measure it. That is, what evidence could we look at to show others that communication in a meeting has improved. This seemed like a good example with which to explore measuring intangibles.

For me, one of the differences between good and poor communication skills—at least in the regular meeting that my colleague and I were discussing—is how long it takes us to reach a conclusion. Usually the participants reach a conclusion, but sometimes they seem to talk in circles before they get there.

So a potential way to measure any improvement is simply to ask after each agenda item: Do we think we could have reached a conclusion quicker? We can track individual responses or a collective group response.

Another way might be to ask the group before each agenda item: How long do you think it should take us to reach a conclusion? Then we can see how well expectations match reality.

Meetings with people contributing poorly can also have the effect of the listeners getting bored or agitated. The meeting convenor may be needed to prompt people to keep to the point.

So a third way to measure communication effectiveness is to politely ask each contributor, before they speak, to be brief, and then see how many times they need to be reminded of this before finishing their point.

You might be able to think of other ways to measure communication skills in a meeting. Different kinds of meetings, and measuring for different reasons, may have different scales of measure.

And there is no doubt that all that the three measures outlined above are imperfect. Certainly they rely on people’s judgement and may be a bit subjective. But that’s not necessarily a fatal flaw. The important thing is that our measurement is sufficient for our purpose. And if our purpose is to track a noticeable improvement then that may be all that’s needed.

Photo by Niall Kennedy

2 thoughts on “Measuring communication skills

  1. A critical facet of effective meetings is the ability to identify information needed to support a given decision, disbanding and reforming _only when_ that information has been gathered. I’ve experienced many, many meetings where the majority of time was spent in pontification and opining when some actual data would have facilitated a deeper and (in my view at least) more useful engagement.

  2. I agree with you entirely. I do find myself asking things like “When you say ‘lots of…’, what does that mean, exactly?” and “What have you seen or heard to make you say they’re not very interested?”

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