If you check any
job postings, you'll see that almost all positions from middle-entry
level and on up list excellent communication skills as a requirement.
Yet I have never
heard of anyone who has decided not to apply for a position because
he believed his communication skills were not good enough. Most people
equate their communication skills with breathing. They are alive; therefore,
they are good communicators.
But strong communication
skills are an acquired art. They must be learned, honed and conscientiously
According to the
dictionary, to communicate means "to transmit information, thought
or feeling so that it is satisfactorily received or understood."
Therefore, communication is a double-barreled word; it involves transmitting
as well as receiving skills. Under receiving skills we have listening
and reading. Under transmitting are speaking and writing.
People assume they
are good communicators because they have taken some writing courses
in school, can carry on a conversation and are able to read a newspaper.
They overlook the fact that the basis of all communication is listening,
and few people are professionally trained in this area.
as the basis
Poor listening skills
can create misunderstandings, a loss of ideas, clients, customers and
a lowering of morale.
Listening is an
extremely complex skill. It involves five steps: sensing, selecting,
interpreting, storing and responding. Each step must be carefully followed
before the next step can be executed. We have to be able to absorb both
the content (the words) and the context (the delivery) of the message
into our stream of consciousness. We have to focus on a specific portion
of the message and mix it with our experiences and knowledge to provide
a proper interpretation. Then, we have to store the information in the
correct area of our mind and prepare to respond.
To add to the complexity,
each of us has a listening preference. We may pay more attention to
messages that do one of the following:
skip to bottom-line information
provide technical details
deliver non-verbal clues
offer us a chance to criticize
When we get stuck
in our listening preference, we cannot climb the ladder to successful
communication. Smart communicators are aware of their natural listening
styles and know how to adapt their style to meet the specific needs
of the moment.
In a study completed
by the University of Minnesota and later repeated by Florida State University,
Michigan State University and Denver University, it was proved that
without training we operate-on a good day-at a 25 percent rate of our
How about asking
someone who knows you well how he or she would rate your listening ability?
The second communication
skill for successful business people in the receiving area is reading.
Research conducted during the Gulf War demonstrated that people who
received their updates only from radio and TV broadcasts were not as
knowledgeable about the situation as people who obtained their information
from the print media.
However, the "information
explosion" has produced too much to read and too little time to
accomplish it. As a result, knowing what to read and when to read has
become an essential skill. However, many people need to overcome faulty
reading habits, such as superficiality (skimming over important details),
slowness (reading with subvocal speech), rereading (backtracking) and
working in a poor environment (distractions).
How fast do you
read? Do you know when to read for an overview and when to read for
Let's look at the
transmitting side of communication-speech and writing. Speech is the
area where you are judged and instantly found interesting or wanting
by your listeners. If you speak well, people will think you are smart.
If you don't, you will be labeled stupid.
As with listening,
context and content both play a role. Research shows 90% of what people
remember about you has to do with the context: how you look, your body
language, carriage and the volume, tone and pitch of your voice.
In terms of the
content, be careful with the words you choose. Certain words can make
people feel uncomfortable and even build resistance. For example, the
phrase you should subconsciously irritates most people. A more diplomatic
way would be to say, I urge/encourage/suggest or I want...
Speakers are often
told to ask their listeners questions to ensure they are interpreting
the message correctly. However, questions beginning with why often put
people on the defensive. Instead of Why did you do that?, it would be
better to ask: What made you decide to take that approach?
Pay attention to
the fillers you use when talking. Some people add phrases to their speech
that discount their knowledge or predict failure. These are phrases
such as: I guess, I don't know, This may be stupid but..., I may have
missed something here but... Or, they leave weak messages on their voice
mail: I am sorry I am not in right now. A stronger message would state:
I appreciate your call. I will be back in my office at 2 o'clock. Please
leave a message.
When you speak do
you come across as an intimidator, a wimp or a confident professional?
ideas and events, provides information, requests action and persuades
people. Yet it is the most difficult of all the communication skills
because there is no immediate feedback. You do not have your audience's
body language or questions to determine whether they fully understand
your message and will take the appropriate action. In addition, your
readers do not have the context to aid them. They can't tell by your
spoken tone whether a comment is meant to be amusing or insulting/friendly
or condescending, and they make their own interpretation.
I have two other
concerns in relation to writing. One, although writing styles are constantly
changing with technology and the changing marketplace, many people are
using an outdated style. Two, the writing style taught in schools is
an all-purpose style and doesn't fit completely with the needs of today's
When was the last
time you checked the style and tone of your writing?
Whether you are
involved with manufacturing, service, the public or private sector,
communication is the cornerstone of every enterprise. Good communication
skills should not be listed as a job requirement and then forgotten.
They should be measured in every performance appraisal so they become
the goals of all managers and staff.
Lee Iacocca, in
his autobiography, claims a successful manager must be able to express
his thoughts clearly in both writing and in speaking and be able to
listen. How high can you rate yourself?