The Only Two Skills That Matter: Clarity of Communications and Empathy

I meant to write a post describing how I build presentations, but I realized that I can’t do that without writing this one first.

I had the honor of working with Drue Reeves when I was at Burton and Gartner. Drue was my chief of research and as an agenda manager we worked closely in shaping what and how our teams would research. More importantly we got to define the kind of analysts we hired. We talked about all the kinds of skills an analyst should have. We’d list out all sorts of technical certifications, evidence of experience, and the like. But in the end, that list always reduced down to two things. If you have them, you can be successful in all your endeavors. The two most important skills someone needs to be successful in what they do are:

  • Clarity in communications
  • Empathy

Radical clarity

To make oneself understood and understandable regardless of the situation. Clarity that transcends generations, languages, sets of belief, and knowledge. That is what is required. And that is a far cry from the typical “strong communication skills” b.s. you see on a lot of resumes.

The trick to communicating clearly is realizing that it’s not about the prettiness or exactness of what you say. It’s all in understanding what will be absorbed by and resonate with the other: the person across from you, the audience, the reader, etc. Strip all of the superfluous bits and layers away and get down to that genuine message that you want the other to keep with them.

To do that requires empathy.

Genuinely giving a shit

There is no way to communicate with an audience (or even just another person) unless you actually care about them. You have to care about their wellbeing. You have to be invested in their success. Even when they don’t want to hear your heretical opinion. Even when they have competing ideas. Especially then.

If you start phoning it in, it you just give a stock answer or deliver the same old deck in the same old format, the audience knows and they know that you’ve checked out and are no longer interested in their success. Even if you hold a universal truth and wondrous innovation, the audience will not care because you don’t either.

Clarity and empathy. These aren’t skills you take classes in. Sure, you can refine techniques through training. But you actually get better that these things by simply trying to do them. Just like giving presentations. I’ll tackle that one next…


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