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Communication: Our Downfall?

April 15, 2010

A few weeks ago, I wrote a short article on the importance of communication. It highlighted the growing challenges for the contracts and commercial community, as increasingly we need to work across cultures, languages and become expert in the use of new technologies that transform the way we communicate.

Communication skills are important in most jobs, but they are fundamental to the performance of ours. We must be able to work with others to assemble and interpret a range of (often conflicting) stakeholder views and inputs; we must be able to reconcile those views and propose solutions. And then we must communicate and manage the results – and increasingly also deal with continuing change to whatever was agreed.

Keeping stakeholders (internal and external) on board throughout the contracting life-cycle is a demanding job. Encouraging and supporting good communication is an absolute requirement. It is the only way we will manage risks; it is the only way that we can remain pro-active; it is the only way to maintain cooperation.

Our community is innately aware of the importance of good communication. IACCM‘s 2009 study on the ‘Most Admired Companies for Negotiation’ highlighted that the number one characteristic of the winners was – yes, you have guessed it – the quality of their communication. Timely, appropriate, clear, informative.

So it should be a cause for real concern that a more recent study suggests that poor communication skill is a key weakness in today’s contract management staff. This is especially pronounced for those in Procurement, where colleagues and suppliers feel there is a reluctance to provide information, there is a lack of empathy and understanding of broader business perspectives, there is an unwillingnesss to consider the impacts of communication techniques on outcomes and there is a tendency ‘to create barriers to open communication’.

These failures, where they exist, inevitably result in missed opportunities and reduced status. Such individuals and groups become defensive and increasingly uncommunicative. People often ask me ‘If there is one thing I should be doing to advance my career or function, what would it be?’ Based on these findings, the answer for many of us must be: ‘Improve your communication skills’.  We must become more proactive, better at selecting the medium for communication, more ready to listen, more prepared to facilitate discussion between others and more skilled at explaining positions and describing sources of value.

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