The Art of Productive Communication

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

You reach a milestone when your manuscript is finally “perfect.” You are now ready to talk to agents and editors about your sure bestseller. Then it dawns on you. Whoa,” you say. “I am going to have to TALK to these people.” Yes you are. You’re going to need to develop the art of productive communication that will serve to project you as a professional. You’ll need these skills throughout your career.

Don’t invest the hard work and long hours to get your manuscript publication-ready and forget to address the impression you will create of yourself, the author. You are a vital part of your whole professional package. And this doesn’t apply only to your first impression. After you succeed in getting an agent and then a contract, you’re going to need these skills in communicating professionally with your editor…and the marketing team…and the sales team…and in interviews and speaking engagements.

I’m not a communications expert, but I’ve been in the business world a long time and have observed and learned a few necessary skills. Here are several key areas you can develop that foster productive communication in professional settings:

Resiliency. One of my clients recently received a rejection of her manuscript. Her book had been under consideration for quite a while. The acquisitions editor was excited about it. An editor even gave her several tips for improving her manuscript in advance of a contract. My client followed her advice and I re-submitted the revised version. However, in the end the editorial team didn’t catch the vision for it. Disappointing for sure. But because of her years of business experience operating her successful marketing firm, she didn’t give in to discouragement. She trusts God’s plan and barely batted an eye. Resiliency.

Keep your emotions in check. Don’t let your emotions rule your words or your subtle—or not so subtle—attitude. Always PRAY before you speak, asking God to give you a balanced, realistic perspective when you’re unsure of yourself or sense your emotions rising to the surface. It might be in the form of a two-second plea in the middle of a meeting with an editor at a conference or a phone conversation with your editor about your book’s cover design. That’s OK. God will supply the answer if you are open to hearing his quiet voice guiding you.

Confidence. Continue to learn about the business side of publishing by following this blog, visiting publisher websites, and reading books on publishing to learn common terms used in the industry. You’ll be equipped to better understand what is being taught at writers conferences and discussed in your meetings with agents and editors. You will be self-assured in how to respond in the moment and present yourself as a professional.

Authors sometimes feel they have no say when it comes to decisions their publisher makes about their book. Remind yourself that the publisher has already invested in you and wants your book to be a success as much as you do. Speak up when you feel it’s necessary, but not until you have objectively thought through the issue from the publisher’s perspective. Having done that you can confidently express your views in a team player frame of mind. And part of being a professional is knowing when to bring in your agent to deal with the issue so that your author-publisher relationship is not bruised.

One of the reasons I’ve watched the Anne of Green Gables videos many times is I love to observe the civil dialogue between the characters. They can be forthright—even critical with each other—without any apparent malice or attempt to goad, belittle the other person, or puff up themselves. Relationships are not harmed. Of course this is fiction, but watch one of the videos sometime. There are positive communication skills being exhibited.

Grace. Extending grace is a key element. Last night in our couples Bible study, a friend shared an unfortunate personal experience in which another Christian had communicated poorly to him that he wasn’t chosen for a job. It was apparent the friend was still hurting from the experience. Yet I was amazed as the friend described the forthright but grace-filled manner in which he conducted himself in his follow-up meeting with the other Christian. I’m sure God was pleased with our friend. We should consider grace a non-negotiable as we conduct ourselves in our professional lives.

What communication skills can you add to the list? Describe a successful professional conversation you’ve had. What made it successful? What did you learn from a not so successful conversation in a professional setting?

44 Responses

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  1. Lisa says:

    I love this, thank you. (Anne of Green Gable is the absolute best, so many lessons!) I think it’s so important to read this blog and others by industry professionals. I have learned so, so much by doing so.

    I always try to listen with a really open heart. Listening first really shapes and prepares the words I might say in response. Also if something is bothering me, I think its important to be honest and open. There are gentle and kind ways to speak concerns that are beneficial for all.

  2. In line with Keeping Your Emotions in Check, I consider patience an extremely valuable communication skill. It is SO easy to jump into a conversation when opinions clash, but listening to the other person’s point from start to finish shows professionalism and mutual respect – and we ALL deserve those. I’m a newspaper reporter, specifically, politics, (I hear sympathetic groaning), so I’m sure you can imagine the amount of times patience came into play over the last 12 months. 🙂

  3. Mary Keeley says:

    Excellent point, Kathryn. Add PATIENCE to the list everyone. And yes, mutual respect is the unspoken thread through all areas of communication skills.

    You must have had an interesting 2012 reporting political news.

  4. Jeanne T says:

    Mary, what a great post. Effective communication is essential in all areas of life, but especially in professional relationships. I love Anne of Green Gables. I’m going to have to watch them again to study their ways of talking with one another. 🙂 One of my all time favorite movies and book series.

    I think gracious speech is probably one of the most important aspects of communication. Finding a gracious way to handle even tense situations does so much to diffuse strong emotions.

    The other thing I am working on is listening and keeping quiet–not interrupting, but also not being quick to speak when my first thought is to speak rashly. Silence sometimes is the best way to respond. An “I’ll think about that” give me the time I need to collect myself and really consider the words being spoken, and the intent behind them, and then to make a calm response.

    Thanks, Mary!

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Jeanne, yes LISTENING. Add that to the list too. And an “I’ll think about that and get back you” response is a useful tool at those times we’re fired up or confused as to how to respond. When speaking one-on-one with a person, watch out for those silent responses, though. They can be interpreted in ways you don’t intend.

      • Jeanne T says:

        Good point on the silences in a one-on-one conversation. I’ve been on the other end of those and my mind always takes them and runs in the wrong direction. 🙂

  5. Sarah Thomas says:

    I’d add–slow down. I’m one of those people who always like to have my hand in the air first with the answer on the tip of my tongue. But the FIRST answer isn’t always the best one. Earlier this week my supervisor asked me a question and I answered off-the-cuff. It was an accurate answer, but there was a more in-depth explanation that more fully explained things. Thankfully, he allows do-overs.

  6. Mary Keeley says:

    Thanks, Sarah. Slow down goes along with the pray and think before you speak. So important.

  7. I absolutely love this, Mary. It’s long been a myth that writers can hide away in their writing caves and even be surly, so long as they can write. Maybe that was true at one point, but obviously people prefer to work with other professionals who deal graciously with others.

    One struggle I know I have is making a confrontation when I something rubs me the wrong way. Perhaps this comes with the confidence piece, but in general, I just hate conflict. However, I know that to have a healthy relationship, misunderstandings need to be brought to light. And THAT is where the grace comes in. 🙂

  8. Productive or effective communication is a skill that can be learned with practice. Granted some people are more naturally inclined, but one of the best places to acquire these skills is at home.

    When our children were growing up we had “family meetings” once a week. Our children learned to express their thoughts, ideas, and feelings within a set of guidelines. And to ask questions. I used this technique quite successfully in my Kindergarten and Second grade classrooms also.

    All of your points are crucial for a professional meaningful dialogue. One essential piece for me has been asking for clarification, if I’m not sure what the person meant. It’s so easy to assume someone interprets a concept in the same way I do. (This is REALLY essential in a marriage!LOL)

    Thanks Mary for a great post.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Regular family meetings. What an excellent way to help your children learn productive communication skills early, Kathryn. And thanks for the reminder that asking for clarification is a good tool to use, especially when we aren’t sure what the other person’s intent was.

  9. Jill Kemerer says:

    Years ago, I was an electrical engineer for a consulting firm. I had to talk with project managers from many different companies. One thing I learned pretty quickly–find out as much as possible BEFORE a meeting, come PREPARED with pertinent questions, and take notes throughout the meeting.

    Some of my questions would be answered through regular conversation.

    A mistake I made early on was asking my immediate superior every question I had.

    He was an impatient man and quite rude, but he taught me the importance of doing my research. And, I’m happy to say, that after three years of working with him, he did eventually thaw to me a little bit. I learned valuable skills by keeping my mouth shut around him!

    Only ask the most-needed-to-know questions!

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Thanks, Jill. Great point. When the agenda items for a scheduled meeting–or meeting with an agent or editor at a writers conference–are known, we will look less than professional if we aren’t prepared with intelligent comments or questions.

  10. Lori says:

    I agree with everything that everyone else said espcecially Jill with being PREPARED. However, I would like to add my own. I think it is important, especially when interviewing with a potential employer, to be genuinely INTERESTED or ENTHUSED with about what the company does or produces.

    • Leah E Good says:

      Prepared is what immediately came to my mind too. Being prepared goes a long way towards seeming (and being) professional and not wasting other people’s time. I attended a writing conference last year and was shocked when a lot of writers told me they planned to pitch their book but didn’t know which editors they wanted to pitch to yet.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Absolutely, Lori. Or in a meeting with an editor at a writers conference, or in an introductory meeting with a new publisher, authors will present themselves as professionals if they show knowledge about the publishing house and can comment intelligently about recent books they have published.

  11. Jenny Leo says:

    Aha, I KNEW that watching Anne of Green Gables over and over was somehow good for me! 😉 Have you ever watched Lark Rise to Candleford (a British series that airs sometimes on PBS)? I love it for much the same reason–I love how certain characters use great care in choosing their words. Even when they’re angry or upset they make their point much more clearly through words than if they ranted and raved. Good stuff!

  12. Thank you for this list, Mary. You’ve listed some things that the “experts” would not say, yet these things are so important. “Always PRAY before you speak,” is excellent advice. It is particularly important when you begin to feel emotional.

    One thing I would add to the list is something I’ve been trying to work on: reminding myself that it’s not about me. If I’m having a business discussion, then it’s about a business issue. I don’t need to get defensive and I don’t have to win (read: things don’t always have to be the way I want them).

    This “it’s not about me” attitude works in other interpersonal communication as well. It’s important to stay focused on the issue and what the other person is trying to communicate to me. Is there a problem? What is the problem and how can we resolve it?

    Of course, the only way I can do this successfully is through prayer and God’s grace.

    Blessings! Have a wonderful weekend. 🙂

    • Mary Keeley says:

      “It’s not about me.” Christine, thanks for adding another good tool to our communicator tool box. Reminding ourselves of that in the moment will surely help to calm emotions.

  13. Jan Thompson says:

    “Always PRAY before you speak, asking God to give you a balanced, realistic perspective…”

    Thank you. Excellent advice! I think that even in working on my WIP, I need to pray before I write, so that I don’t waste time later on trying to edit ad nauseam. God gives us wisdom if we ask for it. Speaking for myself, I need all the wisdom I can get as a yet-to-be-published writer (“unpublished” sounds permanent)… which is why I keep reading your blogs!


  14. Darby Kern says:

    Listening will always be the best communication skill.

  15. Sue Harrison says:

    I SO VERY MUCH needed to read that blog post today, Mary. Thank you for helping me decide to lift my chin and continue on toward my goals with a smile and, I pray, the right questions at the right time!

  16. Always great to read of other Anne of Green Gables fans. This post is so wonderful, Mary. There are so many helpful traits mentioned in your post and these responses. I would have added listening if Lisa hadn’t already. If we aren’t ready to listen, then we aren’t really able to hear what others are saying.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      …and I would add, we aren’t really able to respond thoughtfully and productively. Yes, through the group effort we’re creating a great list of important communication traits today.

  17. Great thoughts, especially about grace being a nonnegotiable in every communication. Grace is a hallmark of a stellar reputation. Thanks for the reminder.

  18. Thank you for another thought provoking post, Mary. I worked at a historic site for many years, first as a tour guide and then as the assistant site manager, and I learned more about the etiquette of communication there than anywhere else. For the most part, people were on vacation and having the time of their lives. But, there were visitor who could find nothing positive to say and I often had to use all of the skills listed above to ensure that the others on the tour had a good time, despite the naysayers. What I learned was that sometimes we are wrong, or misunderstood, and we need to extend grace to ourselves and have the humility to admit we were wrong and to try and look at a situation from the other person’s perspective.

  19. Ann Bracken says:

    My great-grandfather always said, ‘It costs you nothing to be kind.’ I think that is a good attitude to bring to any communication. Trying to see the other side’s POV makes everyone feel better.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      So true, Ann. Your great-grandfather was very wise. Quick definition of productive communication: honest, forthright words wrapped in an attitude of kindness by both parties.

  20. Oh Mary,

    This was so well-spoken. Really. I’ve learned the hard way to sleep on things before I hit ‘send,’ to pray, like you said, about things, and sometimes, to simply step away and back down. Silence doesn’t always mean weakness, does it?


    • Mary Keeley says:

      Thanks, Becky. And thanks for sharing your wise advice. I agree sometimes silence is the only productive way to communicate. And I’ve found in those instances it usually takes strong self-discipline and self-control. Blessings to you, Becky.

  21. Maybe I shouldn’t say a word. I JUST got in from an awful, AWFUL hockey game where the referee gave our kids 28 minutes of penalties. The game itself was technically 39 minutes of play.
    There *may* have been someone in the stands yelling “what is the problem?” in perfect Spanish. And yes, the ref was from the same town as the other team. Which got maaaaaaaaaybe 5 penalty minutes. Huh. Weird, eh?

    As for effective communication, one hard and fast rule I stress to the newbies on the mission teams do is understand that even if you say something in English and the people with whom you are speaking do not understand your English words, the odds are your tone is fluent and you’ll insult someone rather easily if your tone is condescending.

    But, admittedly, maybe the lousy ref understood my Spanish…oops, THE Spanish speaking person, just fine.

  22. So enjoyed this post!

  23. Miranda says:

    It’s amazing how it’s so easy to forget the other half of submitting a mansucript – communicating! Thanks Mary, for reminding me of this. My favorites were Resilience and Grace. Indeed, grace should be non-negotiable.

    Well done. 🙂

  24. Thank you, Mary, for providing excellent advice and guidance. There are a great many life lessons in Anne of Green Gables. I think the most important for me is simple gratitude.