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Why Communication Skills Are an Essential Part of Building Your Architecture Career

Updated: Jun 24, 2021

Something that seems so obvious is that excellent communication skills are essential. As a teacher, I rely on excellent communication skills. When a student misunderstands something, I must change the way I explain something, so they better understand. I must continuously adapt depending on the situation. I'm continually using strategies to assess my students understanding to help them make progress. I also consistently reflect on the ways I can be a better communicator for them.

Equally, as a landscape architect when I'm communicating with my clients, I find myself consistently asking them to clarify things. I need to know if what they have said is what I have understood. If I don't check for understanding, a misunderstanding can lead to hours of rework and me feeling frustrated. What is even more complicated is we don't just talk through the languages we speak, we communicate through the ways we act. 

When it comes to design, you're trying to communicate an idea that isn't always easy to explain. I see this time and time again when a client tells me one thing, and I execute it differently. I think I have understood, but the client didn't picture it like that in their mind. As a designer, you're trying to interpret and make assumptions about what people want all the time.

Here is an example from an initial meeting I had with a residential landscape design client a few years ago. It was a little more complicated than just miscommunication, but where I went wrong was I made too many assumptions about the client's needs.

I didn't ask them enough questions, and I was too proud to ask them because I was afraid they would think I wasn't good at my job. In the end, it worked out, and my client was happy because I improve my communication with them. I grew a lot from that experience. I learnt that the key to excellent communication is to be open and honest. Not all communication is going to be perfect, but we can always try to keep improving.

You need to manage people's expectations all the time. Sometimes you need to adapt the way you explain something to someone depending on who they are. Your clients or even collaborating professionals aren't always going to know the technical terms you use or designer buzz words. You have to be creative and flexible in the way you explain something. I always enjoy my conversations with engineers. I'll say "I want you to do this, but I don't know how to explain it to you." I recognise how important it is to be able to communicate something with someone who can help you get the job done.

Why are excellent communication skills necessary in the architecture industry? 

1. Excellent communication skills can make you stand out. Something I learned very early on in my professional career is that excellent communication helps you to create strong relationships with your colleagues, your managers, your clients and other professions with whom you collaborate. When you pay close attention to what you say, and more importantly, how you say it, it makes an impact. Being mindful of how you communicate in all of your meetings, phone calls, emails, and conversations will affect what type of professional you hope to be. Excellent communication can be the difference between happy clients and disappointed clients and how you feel about your job performance. It's something I thought about regularly early on in my career. I learnt to clarify what people were saying to see if I understood them correctly. Checking something for understanding is especially important when you're working to a deadline and under pressure. Excellent communication can be the difference between finishing something on time or delivering it late. I realised early on that honing communication skills was essential, and this realisation came while working in my native language. Now that I'm learning French while also trying to build a professional career, I understand the challenges associated with trying to create a life in your second language. However, don't confuse excellent communication with perfect communication. Far too often, I work with students who are afraid to even speak in a meeting or are so scared to clarify they have understood because they fear making a grammar mistake. I know it is challenging, but it can you become better with daily improvements and small wins. 

2. Communication is in everything you do. It's your relationships with people; it's your reputation. Excellent communication is about more than just being able to speak with your colleagues and clients. It's about your character and how you treat people. Excellent communication means being able to talk with your project teams even during a stressful period. It means being resilient in client meetings that don't always go to plan. It means making the phone calls you don't necessarily feel comfortable doing. It means knowing how to take on feedback with an open, positive mindset. It means taking the time to build positive relationships with your co-workers. It means empowering the people you work with so they feel valued and part of the team. It takes courage, but there is no shame in admitting when you haven't understood something, and you need help from the people around you. If English is your second language, do you know that people are more concerned about the way you act than the grammar errors you make? The people around you want you to succeed, and when you commit to improving your communication, people will see how dedicated you are, they won't be keeping a tally of how many times you pronounced a word wrong.

3. Excellent communication can lead to bigger and better opportunities. Good communication skills enable you to gain the trust of your colleagues and managers. Building trust leads them to give you more opportunities and responsibilities, such as leading client meetings or leading bigger project teams. Working in the architecture profession might not seem like a typical "sales" business, but at the end of the day, you're trying to sell your skills to set you apart from everyone else. It's frustrating when you know you have excellent technical skills, but pool communication skills are holding you back. As designers, we need to sell our talent and expertise to persuade clients to buy into the service we are offering them. If your manager trusts you and you can win clients and sell work, you will become a valuable team member. It also works oppositely. If you do not communicate well with your project team or your managers, excellent opportunities could pass by you. Poor communication can hold you back; on the other hand, excellent communication can push you forward to places you never thought you could be.

Above all, it's important to feel proud of the small wins you have as you progress and refine your communication skills. 

You dedicated yourself to improving your communication skills because you want the opportunities you deserve.

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