How Data Scientists Can Improve Communications Skills

By   /  September 24, 2013  /  No Comments

communication 2 x 300by Stephanie Faris

Big Data may be the industry everyone’s talking about right now, but for Data Scientists, success in the field goes beyond having skill with numbers. In fact, businesses are looking for the whole package in employees, desiring workers who can interact with business partners and colleagues in order to strategize and discuss results freely.

As in every field, “soft skills” are important in a data professional. Data Scientists must be able to fit into the corporate culture, interacting in business meetings, and contributing ideas that can help the company move forward. Without effective communication skills, Data Scientists could be mistakenly perceived as not being team players, damaging the careers of even the most talented analysts. Here are a few tips that can help Data Scientists avoid committing career faux pas without realizing it.

Practice Active Listening

If you’ve ever been told you’re a great listener, this is one area where that skill could come in handy. In business, as in everyday life, listening means truly hearing and assimilating what the other person says, rather than thinking about what you will say next.

Active listening is the art of repeating back what the other person said as you heard it. You can add statements like, “Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying” if you want to make it seem more natural. Active listening also involves asking questions to engage the other person and show that you’re truly interested in hearing that person’s thoughts on an issue.

Practice listening the next time you’re in a conversation with a friend or family member. You’ll be amazed how much it improves the other person’s perception of you with minimal effort on your part.

Understand the Business

An important part of productively communicating with your co-workers is fully understanding their own priorities as they fit into the overall mission statement of your employer. The marketing department, for instance, might be concerned about gaining more exposure for a new product, while finance is interested in keeping the budget low. Keeping these differing priorities in mind can help when you’re tasked with working on a project together.

If your company doesn’t provide information about its goals and objectives, ask questions. Communicate with members of various teams to determine what their own ongoing issues are and remember those issues when you work together. This can help stave off conflict and prove yourself as a staff member who is interested in working with other teams to help move the company forward.

Hone Your Presentation Skills

Even if you’re never called upon to demonstrate your work to a crowd of thousands, you’ll eventually find yourself tasked with showing your work to someone. Perhaps it’s a boss, perhaps it’s the CEO of the company, but if you’re prepared to demonstrate the fruits of your labor with confidence, you’ll make a lasting impression on others.

If you’re only marginally familiar with PowerPoint, take a little time to learn Microsoft’s presentation software. By learning to communicate your concepts visually, you’ll have taken an important first step in learning to present them to an audience. The process of putting together your slideshow will also help you organize your thoughts and better understand the work you’re doing.

Practice Business Writing

The widespread use of text messaging has led many workers to take shortcuts in their daily correspondence. But slang has no place in the office. Keep e-mails professional, well-worded, and properly punctuated to avoid being seen in a negative light. If your written communication skills are lacking, consider taking a refresher grammar course or asking a colleague to proofread your e-mails before they go out.

Learn Co-Workers’ Names

When you use someone’s first name in conversation, it commands attention, showing that you’ve taken the time to get to know who the person is. If you work in a large organization, take discreet notes to remember co-workers’ names, especially your superiors. Use respectful terms to senior executives at the company, referring to them by last name rather than first and stating, “Yes, sir” and “Yes ma’am” when answering questions.

Most importantly, get to know your co-workers, taking an interest in what they’re working on and any personal interests they bring up. One of the worst things you can do as a team member is to isolate yourself from the rest of the staff. It makes you seem as though you have no interest in being a part of the greater organization and can eventually spell career suicide.

Stop to Think

Don’t feel as though you always have to deliver an immediate response to verbal and written communications. A hasty response can create a situation you can’t take back. This is especially true if you’ve received a communication that elicits an immediate negative reaction. Remember, cooler heads prevail. Feel free to ask the other person if you can have a little extra time to think about the issue at hand and carefully rehearse your own response before officially sending it.

The same advice goes for your reaction to a piece of gossip or a negative statement from a co-worker. As tempting as it may be to join in so that you’ll fit into the corporate culture, engaging in such talk can be extremely detrimental to your future with the company. Even if your superiors don’t overhear the conversation, word could get back to them, leading management to assume that you are a troublemaker.

Save Crucial Communications

E-mail has given workers the ability to preserve written evidence of communications in order to cover them in the event of an issue. Save all important communication in your e-mail archives. If there is a case where you must use it, be as gracious as possible, asking if perhaps there is a misunderstanding as you present proof that you did/did not do what someone is accusing.

Practice Being Open

Believe it or not, if you’re persistently on your cell phone, checking e-mail or responding to text messages, you may be sending the wrong message to co-workers. Burying your face in your phone as you walk from your cubicle to the restroom blocks any possibility of communication between you and other employees. The sales team lead may want to talk to you about pulling some data for him, but every time he passes you, it seems you’re in the middle of something.

Another way to remain open is to leave your comfort zone occasionally. Instead of eating lunch with the rest of the data team each day, consider inviting someone from accounts or procurement to lunch to get a perspective on a different area of the office. You may find a new ally in someone who never had any idea what you do every day.

Most importantly, watch your body language. Maintaining an unapproachable posture sends the message that you aren’t open to speaking to people outside of your team. Crossing your arms over your chest is a no-no, as is walking with your head bowed, staring straight down at the ground. Even if it’s hard for you, force yourself to look other people in the eye and smile. You’ll seem open to speaking to others, which will help you professionally.

Conclusion

Effective communication skills are important for everyone in an organization, from the CEO to the summer interns. As a data professional, speaking to those who work in other departments can help open up opportunities that will ensure your career longevity within an organization. By opening up to others, you can share the basics about the work you do, potentially starting a line of communication about using Big Data to improve operations in human resources, accounting, sales, and other areas of the organization.

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