Communications: The Number One Skill That Must Adapt When Transitioning from Academia to Business

Academia develops the highest level of knowledge competence when you earn the PhD and become a Subject Matter Expert. You have spent many years building and demonstrating your expertise.  You are expected to keep your knowledge current and advance as a “thought leader” in the field. You publish highly technical articles and are asked to make presentations to mostly technical audiences. From a communications point of view, you reinforce your communication habits as an Expert in the field. Your automatic way of communicating is to demonstrate your technical expertise. Yes, you have the right answers to questions. Yes, you will make your expertise known with your unsolicited feedback and recommendations.  This is how our Academic Institutions maintain the highest level of knowledge competence for the next generation. And it works!

So, what happens when we transition to a different environment than Academia, say a business operation? Yes, you must have the technical knowledge to provide your expertise and, so do the other many professionals on your team who also have expertise to communicate: experts in manufacturing, marketing, finance, distribution, leadership, patents, continuous improvement and more… You now have a communication challenge that you have not practiced, reinforced, or mastered.  First, you must develop relationships with professionals in fields that may be totally foreign to your work experience; and you must relate your technical answers in a manner that is relevant and meaningful to these other fields of expertise.

There is good news in all of this: the most powerful skill you have also mastered while completing a PhD is the process of how to learn, learn quickly, and integrate the learning.  Think of your personal expertise as a PhD in a technical field as composed of two dimensions: the process of how you learned that technical knowledge, and the knowledge or content itself that you acquired, integrated, and mastered.  Your success in transitioning to almost any job outside of Academia is to resurrect your capacity to learn.  How will you learn to build relationships with a wide variety of professionals and how will you learn to express your technical responses to be relevant in their technical domain? This communication challenge is met with your learning by asking questions; open ended questions that provide you the information to understand their technical context within which your technical answer must be relevant to be valued.

The number one skill that must adapt when transitioning from Academia to Business is to stop answering questions from your own personal experience and perspective.  Remember, you are now working in a team environment that is focused on a team goal. Your new team relationships will span many different professional realms each with their own expertise domain.  Bring back your learning talent, your ability to ask great questions, your respect for learning from other people’s professional experiences.  Asking questions can give you both the insight needed to frame your technically relevant response and at the same time reinforces your respect, trust, and preference for a professional relationship.  Bring back those learning communication habits by asking open ended questions and your transition to a business team culture can begin.

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