Katerina Antonova is an expert in communications who also explores self-development. She is a co-founder and CEO of the international PR agency for tech startups Aeris PR and helps tech companies to find their voice through PR and marketing. Katerina lives between Moscow and Los Angeles. I had a chance to talk to her about effective communication in the modern world.
What does communication mean in the modern world, and why is it so important?
We communicate with people every day. Effective communication is a key to success in any sphere of life. When one does not know how to communicate well, he or she finds it difficult to get along with other people. When it comes to conflicts, they get emotional: they either get too aggressive or remain silent about the problem. This leads to deterioration of the quality of the person’s work, his mental state, and interpersonal relationships at work and at home. If you can communicate with other people, you have a clear mind and know exactly what you want. You are also a good psychologist and other people like you.
Some may think that the communicative skills, just like our ability to speak, are the skills we are born with. Unfortunately, the ability to produce sounds, put them into words, and put the words into sentences, does not guarantee effective communication.
Each of us has been going through a unique life experience, which has a great impact on how we see the world. If I say “a chair”, everybody will think of a different chair: a chair from an IKEA catalog, an office chair, or the iron throne from the “Game of Thrones” TV series. When we hear the phrase “good design”, we will also think of different things, just like the “convenient app” phrase will make us think of different apps.
There is a popular saying: “as the brief, so the creative”, which most accurately describes the consequences of communication problems. You can be a true pro at what you do, but the most ambitious projects today are the combination of teamwork, and the ability to come to agreements, a skill of presenting ideas in such a way that they are understood by teammates and investors, and also of accepting feedback. All of the above influences quality, speed, and cost of implementation of business tasks.
Communicative skills are the soft skills that companies highly value in their staff, although the leaders need them just as much. Knowing how to communicate with other people helps create a healthy atmosphere and improves the staff’s performance.
Please, describe an excellent communicator in 2020.
It goes without saying that the art of effective communication presupposes the existence of several key skills. First, it’s one’s ability to listen, genuine interest in the person he or she is talking to, and an ability to keep the conversation going whatever the topic is, even if it’s just small talk.
In the modern world of BLM and the diversity trend, what is very important is tolerance. We must accept other people for who they are. And we must not judge others by ourselves and our previous experience.
Honesty is highly important. Modern communicators speak about their feelings openly. They are always honest about something that concerns them or makes them doubt.
Furthermore, it’s crucial to understand where your and other people’s boundaries are and have a sense of delicacy.
What are the key principles of effective communication?
One of the key principles of effective communication is listening to other people and being an active listener.
It’s also vital to have a communication goal. During a conversation it’s better to bear that final goal in mind — it will help you to stay on track. Otherwise, you can speak for as long as two hours without even touching upon the subject in question.
Moreover, it’s necessary to make sure that you are understood correctly. Ask some clarifying questions and make sure that your conversation partner got your message. You can and you should do this a couple of times. Sometimes we think that everything is simple and clear, but quite often it’s not the case.
Listen not to respond. Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” has the term “emphatic listening”: you listen to the other person to understand him, and not to respond. When the other person speaks, be all ears and don’t try to respond even in your mind.
Can you apply these principles to both personal life and career, or there is a difference?
These key principles can be applied to both personal life and career because effective communication is equally important for these two spheres of our lives. For example, let’s take the second principle, which says that it’s essential to be understood correctly. In personal life, ambiguity and misinterpretation can lead to conflicts and deterioration in interpersonal relationships. These two will be topped with poor work and possible dismissals or lost opportunities for employment as for a career.
However, there are some differences in how these principles are applied to the different aspects of our lives. For instance, communication at work is more restrained. This makes it more difficult to be distracted and jump off the subject in question during communication. When a group of colleagues discusses the project that they work on, and for which they get paid, they are unlikely to switch to discussing sports, news, or weather.
What is the efficient way of communication in terms of creating a win-win situation for all the parties?
The most efficient way of communication is to be flexible. You should not give up all your ideas and interest to make other people feel better, and you should not be determined to insist on going your way no matter what. Flexibility means that you should be ready to cooperate, consider other people’s interests,s and maybe meet half-way, creating a win-win situation for all the parties.
Being a good communicator means always being good to everyone?
We are all different. We have different wishes, beliefs, and preferences. What is good for one will be beyond terrible for another. And this makes me believe that it’s impossible to be good for everyone. But it is possible to be a good communicator. So, what makes a good communicator? In my opinion, being a good communicator means to be able to notice other people’s interests, their peculiarities, and types of identities and to take it all into account during communication.
Stress and anxiety levels in the world are through the roof right now. How to communicate with family and colleagues in order to not ruin relationships?
Indeed, stress and anxiety levels are through the roof, especially now, when the world is ruled by uncertainty, working from home, lockdown, and pandemic.
The first thing that I can recommend is to think before saying. Yes, this principle is so simple, but only a few people really use it. Also, if you feel that you start to boil, try to track that feeling, keep it inside and say: “Yes, now I feel anger. This is an emotion and it does not own me.” Don’t suppress it! Notice it, take a deep breath and it will go away in a minute.
What do you recommend for a conflict resolution?
Firstly, you have to start loving yourself. Secondly, you have to finally see that there are over 7 billion people living in the world today and that we are all different. We’ve got different languages, backgrounds, and cultures, as well as different wishes and endeavors. You will never see your neighbor in your mirror because you are unique. And your neighbor will never look in his mirror to see you, because he is unique too, just like every single man on the planet Earth. Accept the fact that people around you will never be like you. And it’s actually great.
Dale Carnegie wrote that in order to win friends and influence people we should make others feel important. What are your thoughts?
I totally agree with Dale Carnegie here. People need to feel that you are genuinely interested in them, in their personalities: that you want to know how they are doing, how their families are, what concerns and problems they have et cetera. They like seeing that you care about them and not just want to give them some information or sell something. This is why people are so fond of Keanu Reeves. The man has made a fortune starring in many films, but what really made him stand out was the short phrase that he had said to his fan. And that was: “No, YOU are amazing!”
How to work with emotions during the important meetings or when something goes wrong?
It’s not so easy. I have felt such emotions myself. I recommend keeping in mind your final goal and just head toward it. Not to ignore the emotions, but to comfort your mind. Most often it just seems to us that everything is going awry, but, in fact, it’s all fine.
However, if everything is really going wrong, it’s better to admit it to yourself and speak it out. Say that you are worried and emphasize the work that you have done. Honesty and vulnerability often help you to win other people’s favor. But it’s vital not to cross that line when you start whining and complaining — it’s unprofessional.
How to stay calm and professional, when your client is rude, but you know that you are right?
It depends on how rude the client is. Judging from my experience, simple politeness and sympathy often improve clients’ mood, and they start to be polite and understanding. That happens because they see that you care about them, and they feel valuable. Sometimes it’s all a client wants.
Is it possible to ditch competition, if you are an excellent communicator?
It’s believed that nowadays soft skills are no less important than hard skills. Of course, there are still jobs and professions where it’s more important to have outstanding hard skills. But, let’s say there are two brilliant-minded neurobiologists: they both have excellent hard skills, but neurobiologist number one is also an excellent communicator, and neurobiologist number two can’t put two words together. Which one is more likely to win the position for which they are both applying? Even if the second candidate’s hard skills are a bit better, I think, any employer would prefer to hire candidate number one anyway.
We tend to choose the people, whom we like, and who, in our opinion, are interested in us, want to communicate with us, and are ready to help us solve our problem.