The Best Product Managers are Great Communicators

Interviewed by Oksana Reznichenko

coach-detail-filmstrip_0002_dinneen-grably-3Dinneen Grably graduated from Bridgewater State University with B.S. in Business Marketing and started her career as a press attaché and assistant director in communication for the Massachusetts Secretary of State at State House in Boston. She has a unique combination of business expertise and coaching proficiency, allowing her to relate coaching to real life situations.

She is an international coach, bringing together multinational teams for better collaboration through effective communication. Dinneen holds an MBA degree from Grenoble Graduate School of Business and have more than 20 years’ experience in the field of communications. At the moment Dinneen is a communication coach at The Speech Improvement Company (TSIC), headquartered in Framingham, MA. TSIC is helping people to improve their communication skills for more than 50 years.

BPMA: Dinneen, how have communication skills influenced your career and how have your perceptions of communication changed over time?

Dinneen Grably: At my first job at State House in Boston I was dealing with media and press.  I had to master my skills very quickly. I had to be clear, concise and confident in my messages to the media. Over the years, throughout my career, whether I was working for public relations, marketing, communication, training, teaching at the universities here and abroad, my communication skills not only made me work better but also helped me to be promoted, get the job, clients or new contracts. Certainly, being a good communicator allowed me to take my career to the next level. My communication skills grew with me: from starting my first job to today I have consistently learned and practiced, and received feedback for improvement.

There will always be room for improvement, which is the biggest take-away from my experience. No matter how proficient you are and no matter your experience level, or job level, whether or not you are in your comfort zone, there will be always be room for improvement. I have worked with people who did not have experience in communications and had to present in front of the public, as well as with CEOs and executives with experience on the world stage and in both cases we found opportunities for improvement.

BPMA: How is technology influencing how people learn to communicate better?

Dinneen Grably: My industry [speech coaching] is exploding. The internet changed the way we communicate but it has also made communication delivery more important. Think about it — today it is very easy for somebody to send a message across by posting video online, but is the message getting across in the way it was intended? Also technology changed a lot in the way we communicate, and now it is more important to be effective and communicate the right way.

Moreover, face-to-face communication has become more difficult and I find more and more people who are not comfortable in personal communications. They cannot deliver their messages in a clear and concise manner and in the way they want to deliver. Now it is a huge issue. I believe even children in schools should learn communication and public speaking skills.

Besides helping people to communicate effectively face-to-face, we also help people to deal with phone conversations when they cannot see the body language and voice, and tone gains so much meaning. In all forms of communication, in email, text messages, you really want to stand out to be seen, to be heard, to send your message across as you want.

BPMA: How can product managers benefit from improved communication skills?

Product managers have to communicate with many different people. People from finance, marketing, operations, sales, engineers. Often they have to deal with many people in different levels of the organization. They have to know how to communicate their objectives in different situations, justify team decisions. Mastering effective communication skills will increase their credibility and allow them to persuade others in their decisions.

BPMA: How can product managers improve their communication skills?

Dinneen Grably: First of all, at The Speech Improvement Company we say everything is communication. Whether you speak by the phone with a friend, or talking to your boss, or write email it is all communication. That is what we are doing all day – communicating verbally or non-verbally.

Some questions one needs to think about:  Am I tailoring the message based on the listener or audience? Am I delivering the right content? Am I providing too much or too little information? Am I articulating succinctly? Am I proactively managing, updating, and motivating stakeholders?

Becoming a better communicator means having more impact, getting more done, being better able to influence and motivate, having more confidence and being a more credible leader.

Not only that – being a better communicator will help you in your personal life. You’re better able to communicate with your spouse, children, friends, neighbors, community leaders, etc. It helps you to become a better leader, a better manager, a better colleague, a better friend or spouse.

In my free time, I’m on the Board of Directors of Gifford Cat Shelter in Brighton, which is one of the oldest animal shelter in the U.S.  In that role communication is essential, whether I’m speaking with our volunteers, potential donors, the community, government officials, business leaders, or potential adopters.  It’s very important that I get my message across in a clear, concise and confident way.  One of the reasons I was asked to be on the Board is because of my communication skills. Being a good communicator has also enabled me to do more good in the world by being a part of this non-profit organization.

BPMA: On the other side, which on your opinion would be key benefits for Senior Product Managers attending this workshop?

Dinneen Grably: As I said at the beginning there is always a room for improvement. I will tell you one secret from our workshop. Communication is not about you; it’s about the listener, the person or people you are communicating with. You have to really know your listener. Senior managers need to be able to communicate effectively with very junior level person, or the person who right from a college, or who is a millennial.

Another thing — in terms of generation, communication sounds very different. The way I communicate with a very senior executive would be different from the way to communicate with a millennial. So even though you are an experienced manager and communicator, are you communicating effectively with different types of people, different personalities, education levels?

There is always a room to improve and take it to the next level. For example, I am currently working with a someone who was invited to give a TED talk.  Even though he is an experienced speaker we are seeking the ways to improve.

Getting back to product managers, in addition to communication with many different people, they also have to deliver different messages, such as when demonstrating a product or closing a sales deal.  So there are so many scenarios and situations and you have to master communication to deliver your message in an effective way.

BPMA: Boston is one of the main technology hubs and attracts a lot of international talent. What are some of the challenges in communicating with multinational teams?

Dinneen Grably: Even though our headquarters is located here in Boston, we work with companies all over the world, and travel the globe. We deal with multi-national and cross-functional teams all the time. In today’s business environment, cross-functional and diverse teams are very common. Communication is a key to get your message across to the entire team. Through your written, verbal, and non-verbal body language, you really need to know how to be clear, concise and direct, how to justify your objective. And people need to improve their listening skills when working with foreign language speakers.

This interview has been edited and condensed for space constraints.


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