How to build habits that make you a wonderful communicator

How to build habits that make you a wonderful communicator was originally published on Intern From Home.

In our last post, we talked about why it’s important to follow up with the person who introduced you to someone else (after your call with the person you were introduced to). There was a common theme throughout that post: the need for prompt communication. In today’s post, we’re going to talk all about efficient communication and how you can become a wonderful communicator.

The great thing about communication is that it’s not something people are either born with or without. Communication is a skill that everyone can learn. In today’s post, we want to help you learn that skill. You excited? Here we go…

The interesting tradeoffs about communication

Tradeoff #1: If you’re a great communicator, it is heavily valued by professionals and potential employers. If you’re a poor communicator, it is looked down upon by professionals and potential employers.

In other words, being a great communicator can set you apart from other people. But on the flip side, being a poor communicator does not mean you’re viewed like other candidates… being a poor communicator does disadvantage you. Why? Well, no one wants to work with someone who can’t communicate in the workplace.

Tradeoff #2: Most people are either a great communicator or a poor communicator. And there isn’t usually much of a middle ground.

While at first that may sound odd, this will probably be clear by the end of the post. What separates the great communicators from the poor communicators is the process by which they handle their communications. Most great communicators have a system for how they handle their communications (whether they formally call it/think of it as a system or not). Most poor communicators don’t have a system. In today’s post, we want to teach you how to build a system… because we want you to be a great communication.

So what do we mean when we say you’re a great communicator

  • Timeliness: It means that you respond promptly to messages (emails, LinkedIn messages, etc.), ideally within 12 hours

  • Conciseness: It means that you clearly and concisely convey your thoughts… you are succinct

    • Simply put: you use as few words as possible to get your message across

When you’re networking and/or looking for an internship, communication is vital.

Okay, you’ve convinced me to become a great communicator. How can I actually do that? 

As mentioned earlier, becoming a great communicator comes from having a system in place. So, we want to help you build that system. To do so, we’re providing a list of questions that you should be thinking about as you create your communications plan.

  • How often will I focus on communications?

    • You need to determine how many times per day you will check your communications (ie: email). We recommend twice per day (during the workweek, Monday-Friday) at a minimum.

    • For most industries, it is not expected that you are as prompt in communications over the weekend (ie: from Friday evening through Sunday night). While it is still advised to check your email and other messages throughout the weekend, it does not necessarily have to happen as promptly as during the workweek.

  • What specific times of day will I work on my communications?

    • While it’s helpful to know how many times per day you want to check your communications, it’s important to know when you’re going to do that. Are you going to do it every day after breakfast and also after dinner? Or before lunch and at 9pm each night? The times are up to you.

    • Saying “my schedule varies every day so I’ll do it when I have time” rarely works, especially for students. Why? Simply put, we forget things, and if a task (like checking communications) isn’t built into a specific time on our daily schedule, it usually doesn’t happen.

  • Where will I do my communications?

    • While it is most important to pick the specific time when you will do your communications, it is also helpful to have an idea of where you will do your communications. As an example, if you do your communications first thing every morning, maybe it’s from the kitchen after eating breakfast.

    • Thinking about the “where” you will do your communications can help you visualize yourself doing it… which in turn makes it more likely that you will actually end up doing then.

  • On what platforms will I be checking communications?

    • For most people, email is the most important platform for communication. This may be the only platform you need to be checking, however it varies for person to person. If you’re doing quite a bit of outreach for informational interviews, then checking LinkedIn will be important. You should do your best to determine which platforms you’ll be focused on checking, whether it be just email, email and LinkedIn, or a different combination.

  • How will I handle communications that require a longer response time?

    • While some messages you get will be easy to respond (ie: confirming a time for a Zoom call), some messages may not be as easy to respond to. They may ask you deeper questions where you need to think for some time. Or, there may be lots of questions which will require quite a bit of writing. In any event, it is really important to have a plan for when/how you’re going to respond to these messages that may take some more time to respond to.

    • It’s really important to not let the response drag on. When you know you have to give a longer response, you might likely not be excited about writing it. But, it needs to happen, and usually it’s better to send it sooner than later. 

    • If you know it will take you a couple of days to respond to the message, then it can be helpful to send a quick message that says: “Thanks for the message. I wanted to let you know that I’ve received it and will be responding in more detail soon.” This note signals to the other person that you received and value their message, along with setting a fair expectation of when they might expect to receive a response from you. 

  • How will I avoid reading messages and forgetting about them?

    • Especially with emails, it’s really easy to read a message when you’re on the go and forget to respond. And then a week later, you realize you forgot to respond. Or worse, the other person follows up with you asking if you received their message / why you didn’t respond. You want to avoid these situations.

    • For some people, they have a habit of marking messages as unread (even if they have read it) until they’ve responded. This can be very effective. Others prefer to put their emails into folders after they’ve responded to them. So, when they look at their inbox, they know that anything still there is something they need to respond to. You should choose which tactic works best for you to ensure that you don’t read messages and forget to respond. 

  • What will I do if my schedule is really full one day?

    • We get it. When you’re a student, you have a lot going on and sometimes you might have classes/activities all day. So, what will you do on those days where the times you usually work on your communications are full?

    • For many people, a great interim solution in this case is to do a quick communications scan (just five minutes should be fine) once or twice during the day. You can respond immediately to any urgent communications, and for those that require a longer answer, you can dedicate a longer-than-usual time the next day to respond.

Making your communication plan actionable

It’s one thing to think about a plan in your head. It’s another thing to actually put it into practice. So, our suggestion is to create your plan right now and to put it into writing. We suggest using the template below and being as specific as possible in your answers to each question. Your answers don’t need to be more than 1-2 sentences for each question. The most important part is that you come up with a plan and you put it into writing.

Communication plan for [YOUR NAME]
Date: [ADD DATE]

  • How often will I focus on communications?

    • Plan:

  • What specific times of day will I work on my communications?

    • Plan:

  • Where will I do my communications?

    • Plan:

  • How will I handle communications that require a longer response time?

    • Plan:

  • How will I avoid reading messages and forgetting about them?

    • Plan:

  • What will I do if my schedule is really full one day?

    • Plan:

Your communication plan can (and very likely will) evolve over time… that’s totally okay!

It’s important to remember that your communication plan is for the here and now. It is expected that it will change over time as things in your life change. For example, you may have a new class schedule which means that you need to check your messages at different times of the day than before. Or, if you start ramping up recruiting for an internship, you may realize that you need to increase the number of times per day you’re checking your email. These are all normal and appropriate adjustments. 

You should feel no shame in needing to change your communication plan. The most important thing is to identify that it’s time to change and then to adjust your plan then… without waiting too long.

Putting communication into perspective: how to balance communicating with other work

In general, being over-communicative (ie: responding to messages faster) is usually almost always better than being under-communicative (ie: taking too long to respond to messages). With this in mind, constant communication can get in the way of getting deep work done. We are not advocating for you to constantly be checking your email every five minutes while going through the recruiting process. In fact, we do not advise this as it can be very unproductive. Rather, what we suggest is building your plan according to the template above and then to stick to it.

Feeling inspired to become a great communicator? We hope so! The great thing about all the lessons we shared in this post is that they’re not merely applicable to the recruiting process– they’re valuable in all aspects of life, from academics to personal relationships to your job. Working on these skills today will serve you well throughout different walks of life.

Did you enjoy this guide? You’re in for a treat: this is just one of dozens of guides created for students about how to handle the recruiting (aka: getting an internship/job) process. To see all of the other guides, subscribe to Intern From Home’s newsletter (it’s completely free!) where we talk about all things from using LinkedIn to preparing for an interview to making the most of your role.

By Intern From Home
Helping students from 600+ colleges learn about how to find and get an internship/job, use LinkedIn, prepare for interviews, write a cover letter/resume, make the most of their role, and more.