Communication is a Data Analyst’s Most Important Soft Skill

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Communication is the most important skill an employee can have, regardless of their job title.

The call center or member service representative needs this skill when interacting with members, whether they are providing an available balance or explaining financial terminology in a friendly way to someone who might be new to managing their personal funds. The sales representative needs to communicate well in order to persuade a client (or potential client) to trust their company with a new service or product. The CEO needs to have communication skills in order to share their plan with their board and all members of their organization and make sure everyone is on the same page.

However, in an analyst—or any job that has to work with complex information—having strong communication skills is absolutely necessary and can mean the difference between an analyst who is seen for their work, and one who remains the invisible cog of an organization.

Merging two worlds

One of the primary functions of an analyst’s job is to look at copious amounts of complex information and distill it into legible slices of counsel that anyone at any level within and outside the organization can understand. Analysts are often the translators between programming and marketers, executives, and clients. We are seen as the bridge between two separate worlds.

One is a world of complex terminology, intricate technology, and hundreds of thousands of rows of numbers that on their own, have little meaning. The other is a world of creatives, call center representatives, executives, and managers who are asking us questions about how to track what their teams or members are doing, where it’s all tracked, and what it all means. We are consistently asked to join these worlds together and do so quickly while communicating it all in a way that someone could walk away with a basic understanding in less than one minute of time.

It is a big ask for a single member of any organization, but an analyst with strong communication skills is going to shine in this aspect because they can take an original data set, make sense of it, and communicate it clearly to everyone else, regardless of who they are.

If you have an analyst at your organization who can understand the complicated information they work with daily, but cannot explain it to you or any other member of your organization, then you have an analyst who can only do part of the job. It does not mean that analyst is doomed to fail, but that this is the area of their job description where there is some work to do. Bad communication from an analyst could mean the difference between solidifying a solid data process, purchasing the wrong technology, or someone keeping or losing their job.

If you can write it, you can communicate it

Communication from your analyst comes in multiple forms: client training and internal training, verbal communication in meetings, and most importantly, in their writing.

As an analyst, my biggest tasks each week involve looking at a large set of data, simplifying it, and describing it in everyday language. Not only do I have to describe the findings in a common language, but I also have to describe how I found the data, how I studied it, and how it is naturally processed or exists without overcomplicating my message.

I don’t just work with one team or one level in the organization, either. I work with multiple teams across all levels of the company and their clients, explaining how the technology behind the data they see works and impacts other data they might see when they start asking more questions.

There is another half to this communication skillset as an analyst that’s extremely tricky and often involves a little mind reading. Analysts will commonly receive requests from people who do not understand the data or the technology they are requesting, so it’s our job to translate the idea of what they want into a tangible request we can process.

I most often receive requests asking for my team to “make a report better,” or “find all members who qualify for our skip-a-pay offer.” I now must walk that other person through the ins and outs of what they are asking for until I get to the heart of what they want, and ensure that what I create meets that standard or idea. In essence, my translations from technical to simple also work backward, and the latter process is often more difficult.

Strategies for building communication skills

Developing proper communication skills can come with time and experience, like anything else. While some individuals will struggle with this more often and feel like what they are saying is constantly lost in translation, practice will bring progress for most.

The number one way I have found success in developing my own communication skills as an analyst is via writing and re-writing what I am explaining. I will write out what I want to say in the most technical way I can think of, then rewrite it in a simpler way. Then I will rewrite it again and again until I feel like anyone from my co-worker to my nine-year-old could understand what I am describing.

The other strategy to use when trying to develop stronger communication skills is to talk with someone or attempt to train someone in a different role from yourself. Try to meet with someone who has never seen what you are working with, or at the very least, does not work with the technology you are explaining on a regular basis.

Whether the communication is verbal or written, an analyst’s ability to do their job well relies heavily on being able to get their point across clearly and easily. Without communication skills, an analyst is relying on other teams and clients to be able to understand complex information as is, with little to no explanation. Developing communication skills can take time but is an essential function of the overall daily work an analyst performs.

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