Steady Hand

Good communication skills are critical for product managers, as they constantly communicate with stakeholders across their company and beyond. Communicating with enterprise customers is exciting, but take the wrong turn and you step into a minefield. Beyond the obvious – listen more than you speak, be engaging, and stay positive – product managers are often called upon to deliver roadmap information. Doing this right is an art in itself.

What separates good communicators from bad ones? Characterizing bad communicators is easy: they act like pundits who dish out a blended brew of facts and opinions (or worse) while only pretending to be listening. Good communicators, on the other hand, have more subtle qualities.

Customers need you to have a good understanding of their needs and offer trustworthy information about how your product or service can solve their problems. To do this well, you must start by listening intently. As you synthesize their input into your roadmap, you should give them clearly articulated information about what’s coming down the pike and when, and what’s being pushed out and why. There’s room for marketing fluff, strategic hand-waving, opinionated punditry, and salesy over-promising, but it shouldn’t come from product management. Customers expect you to be a knowledgeable and responsible adult with a deep understanding of the subject matter.

Honesty is better than sugar-coated bullshit. Customers want to hear the facts from a calm and composed product leader. Being able to do this well is positively correlated with effective product management in general. A good product manager can leverage customer trust to make sure that the company offers products that customers actually want to buy, while at the same time making the products more sticky, up-sellable, supportable, adaptable, distinguishable, and technologically achievable.

Good communication skills extend beyond mere communication. They are a reflection of highly developed management and people skills. While speech impairments, accents, physical appearance, age, and other extraneous factors make it challenging for some people to identify good communicators, it’s certainly worth the effort. A good communicator can always handle –  indeed seek – feedback from anyone regardless of their position or title. Not only can they take it in, they are skilled in turning it into product and process improvements, and ultimately business growth.