The greatest problem of communication is the illusion it has been accomplished
-- George Bernard Shaw
Everyone spends an average of 80% each day communicating, regardless of their position in an organization. "Not hardly!" you reply. Think about it! We communicate with customers, managers and employees on the telephone, via e-mail, in person and in written form. Our body language communicates how we feel or think about a situation or an individual even when we do not utter a word. The average manager or administrator spends a minimum of 60% of each workday listening to customers and staff. That totals 24 hours in the 40 hour work week.
There is no other single interpersonal skill as important to group dynamics, team development or customer service as the ability to communicate effectively. Communications is a learned skill. As children, we spend between 8 to 12 years learning to read and write. The average business person, uses both of these skills 20-25% on any given day. Existing American educational systems however, only provide for one to two years of speaking skills. Very few American schools make any attempt to teach students how to listen. In the business world, we use both skills 70-75% of the time.
Have you ever learned a new sport? Initially you were probably very frustrated. You struggled to swing the bat or club in rhythm as you tried to make your hands work in coordination with your eyes, shoulders and feet. You knew that in order to ultimately succeed, you had to learn the basics. The same principle is true in effective communication. You have to know and practice the basics daily. It will create your solid foundation for even greater business and personal success.
The following suggestions are important communication basics for any successful business person. Failure to use any one of them and your message may not to hit the mark.
Clearly own your messages by using "I" statements. Be sure to include statements such as "I need...", "I want..." or "I feel..." A staff member will clearly understand "I need you to complete this assignment..." far better than "Just give me what you've got done."
Be specific. Make your message complete. Tell an employee your expectations. Explain how a task must be completed, unless the project allows the individual to finish the task creatively. Writing your job performance expectations in a clear and concise memorandum also clearly defines your specific message. Do not expect others to guess or anticipate what you need or want. A receptionist will understand a job's performance expectations with the directive, "I need you to answer the phone within three rings and state this is the XYZ Company, Susan speaking."
Make your verbal and nonverbal messages congruent. Do not smile if you really feel angry! The receiver may incorrectly interpret your message. Body language is a major portion of any message we send. If we are happy and have a cross look on our face, no one will ever know exactly what we mean.
Be redundant. Present your message in more than one format. If someone is not understanding your message, think of a new way to present the information. People are either visual, auditory or kinesthetic communicators. They will give you major clues with the words they use.
You will reach a potential client faster if you use the words they mentally tune into most comfortably. For example a visual person will respond to "Can you see yourself completing the application," or "What does the ideal job look like to you?"
The auditory communicator will hear you best with statements such as "Tell me what it's like to complete a 10 page application form," or "What does it sound like in your ideal office?"
The kinesthetic communicator will respond to your inquiries verbally formulated as follows: "What kind of feeling do you get when you've completed a lengthy application?" or "What does the job feel like?"
Ask for feedback. How was your message received? Double-check all communications you send. Ask the listener to repeat your message in his own words. A simple "Tell me in your own words what you think I said," will provide you with valuable information. You will know immediately if the message was received correctly. This is particularly important when you are gathering information for legal transactions or when you are counseling an employee.
Present single ideas. One idea is easier to follow then several presented at once. State a series of thoughts on one topic in a logical sequence. Make the information you present, easy to understand and follow. For example, you might discuss each aspect of a job assignment separately. "You will need to complete the process before you can continue with the next step. Stages of the process include..." This statement clearly focuses on the assignment and all of the stages required to complete the necessary tasks. At each stage of the discussion, you can ask for the employee to acknowledge that they understand all the necessary steps.
Avoid judgment. Provide feedback without evaluation or judgement. People will avoid providing important information if they believe their message will be judged or evaluated unfairly. A potential client may never return if they feel you are judging them unfavorably.
Listen attentively and ask questions for clarity. Avoid jumping to conclusions until you have all the facts. A positive versus a negative statement may just endear you to an individual. "You can really save money with this product" is far better than "You may find this product inferior and not a good fit for you."
There are numerous important communication skills that successful professional people must possess. Before anyone can be an effective communicator however, they have to get back to the basics and practice over and over again.