Business Analysis Guidebook/Communication Skills
By nature of the job, business analysts spend a great deal of time interacting with users, clients, management and developers. A project’s success depend upon the business analyst clearly communicating details like project requirements, requested changes and testing results. Hence for a business analyst articulate language skills and outstanding written communication abilities are the key to success. In case there are disagreements or conflicts, effective communication can be again used for solving such issues.
Understanding the communication type, will help in having a better understanding of communication skills. There are many classifications of communication, based on communication channels, purpose and group size.
Types of communication based on the communication channels used:
- Oral Communication
- Written Communication
- Speaker: clothing, hairstyle, neatness, use of cosmetics
- Surrounding: room size, lighting, decorations, furnishings
- Body Language: facial expressions, gestures, postures
Types of Communication based on Purpose and Style:
- Formal Communication: Presentations, documents, discussions, surveys
- Informal Communication: Notes, discussions, conversations
Types of Communication based on the size of the audience:
- Interpersonal communication
- Intrapersonal communication
- Small-group communication
- Public communication
No matter what the communication type is, there are few general communication principles business analyst needs to keep in mind. A few things to keep your eyes on while practicing the fine art of communication are:
1. Make the message easy to comprehend
Simplify, simplify, simplify. Communicate what you need to say in as few words as possible. Some of your readers or listeners may be able to understand a complex software textbook but fact is every one of them can understand a newspaper head line, so try to eliminate jargons and abbreviations
2. Tailor the message to the audience
BABOK states that a sign of strong writing skills is the “ability to adjust the style of writing for the needs of the audience.” Software developers may not need to be sold on the awesomeness of the new product, but a customer who’s providing early feedback or is part of a virtual focus group will.
3. Active Listening
Although people think that they are listing when another person talks, actually they are spending time planning what to say next. It is important to listen to what the other person says and then come up with what you want to say. Also Repeating back what you understand the speaker to be saying, and verbalizing what you interpret from that gives the speaker a chance to clarify, and eliminates assumptions.
4. Stay positive and friendly
If you’re tired or frustrated, try not to show it. It will make people less inclined to help you, or listen to you. For every audience, stay positive—whether presenting a problem or a solution.
5. Stay Focused
Very often a discussion or an argument strays away from the topic, so it is important for a business analyst to remain focused to keep the stakeholders in track of the end goal
6. Understanding Others Point of Views
In most of the communications, we want ourselves heard and understood. We talk a lot on our point of view and try to get the buying of who are listening. If you want them to hear you, you need to hear them and understand their point of view too.
7. Empathy When Criticizing
It is really important to listen to the other person's pain and difficulties and respond with empathy.
8. Taking Ownership Taking personal responsibility is strength. When it comes to effective communication, admitting what you did wrong is respected and required. This behavior shows maturity and sets an example.
9. Compromise if Necessary
Communication is not about winning. It's about getting things done. For the objective of getting things done, you may have to compromise in the process.
10. Take a Time-Out if Necessary
Sometimes, you need to take a break in the middle of the discussion. If the communication is intensive, there can be ineffective communication pattern surfaced. Once you notice such patterns, you need to take a break and then continue.
11. Ask for Help
Sometimes, you might have difficulties communicate certain things to certain parties. This could be due to an issue related respect or something else. In such cases, seek help from others. Your manager will be one of the best persons to help you with.
Acquiring Communicating Skills
Soft skills like communication skills are not easy to learn and are acquired overtime. But being conscious about them will slowly take you to the level you want to be in communication. If we develop a process to communication skills, we can build a methodology for ourselves. And if we have a methodology, we can master it fairly quick. So let’s now look at one of the process model/tool, which is commonly accepted in the sociology field. This process is based on the sender /receiver concept. Communication is the process whereby we attempt to transmit our thoughts, ideas, wishes, or emotions to a specific audience. The goal of communication is the acceptance of the sender's message by the receiver.
S.M.C.R. - SENDER-MESSAGE-CHANNEL-RECEIVER Model
The sender (or source in the S.M.C.R. model) is the transmitter of the message. There are four factors which influence the sender in any communication he/she transmits:
- Communications skills
There are five verbal communication skills which determine our ability to transmit and receive messages. Two are sending skills: speaking and writing. Two are receiving skills: listening and reading. The fifth is important to both sending and receiving: thought or reasoning. The extent of the development of these skills helps determine our ability to communicate verbally. The effectiveness of our communications is also determined by our ability with nonverbal communications skills. A stern look of disapproval from the group leader readily communicates to the group member receiving the look that something he/she said or did was not well taken.
Attitude Attitude influence our communication in three ways:
- Attitude toward ourselves: If we have a favorable self-attitude, the receivers will note our self-confidence. If we have an unfavorable self-attitude, the receivers will note our uneasiness. However, if our favorable self-attitude is too strong, we tend to become brash and overbearing, and our communication loses much of its effect with the receiver.
- Attitude toward subject matter: if a business analyst does not approve for a requirement he/she will miss to see the positives it will bring to the project
- Attitude toward/from the receiver: Our messages are likely to be very different when communicating the same content to someone we like, to someone we dislike, to someone in a higher position than ours, in the same position, or in a lower position.
Subject matter knowledge has a bearing on our ability to communicate effectively about a subject. It is important for a business analyst to have domain knowledge.
Our culture also influences our communication style. It is important for a business analyst to be aware and sensitive about audience cultural background.
In the S.M.C.R. Model, the message is what the sender attempts to transmit to his/her specified receivers. Every message has at least two major aspects:
The content of the message includes the assertions, arguments, appeals, and themes that the sender transmits to the receivers. For instance, for business analyst message content may contain arguments in favor of a decision supported by feasibility analysis and results of the survey.
The treatment of the message is the arrangement or ordering of the content by the sender. The receiver is likely to be more receptive to the message, if the sender talks about the supporting documents prior to presenting the decision.
Social Scientists recognize two types of channels:
- Sensory channels
- Institutionalized channels
Sensory channels are based on the five senses of sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Institutionalized channels include face-to-face conversation, printed materials, and the electronic media.
We use the institutionalized means to transmit most of our messages. Each institutionalized medium requires one or more of the sensory channels to carry the message from the sender to the receiver. For instance, when we use face-to-face conversation, we make use of sight (gestures, expressions) and sound (voice tones)
Social Scientists have generally found that the receiver's attention is more likely to be gained if the sender uses a combination of institutionalized means using two or more sensory channels. For example, if you make a prototype of the proposed solution along with description the stakeholders will find it easy to make a decision
Receivers The receiver in the S.M.C.R. model must attend to, interpret, and respond to the transmitted message. The goal of communication is reached when the receiver accepts the sender's message. For being a good receiver, you need to have two means:
Receivers are more inclined to accept messages which are sent by sender using the above mentioned techniques
Feedback is the sender's way of determining the effectiveness of his/her message. During feedback the direction of the communication process is reversed. Here the original receiver goes through the same process as did the original sender and the same factors influence him as they did the sender. Feedback provides a method of eliminating miss-communication. It is most effective in face-to-face conversation where feedback is instantaneous. Feedbacks ensure that different tasks and processes remain aligned with the project goal. Also a BA acquires business approval and sign -off from stakeholders via feedbacks.
With these sets of communication principles and tool in your pocket, as a business analyst you are ready to develop a communication plan for any project which outlines what must be communicated, to which stakeholders, at what time and in what format. Happy sharing!