Category: Communication Skills

Effective Questioning Techniques in Business Communication

The development of research in business studies and business communication has brought about a lot of new facts and interesting aspects if human behavior. Most of these related to various aspects of customer interaction. On the basis of these studies business communication has developed a process of verbal interaction while doing business or sales. Most business and sales personnel undergo a training of this process and most of the soft skill training include it in their curriculum as well. Open ended and close ended questions form an integral part of these business communications.

The use of these techniques is not just limited to the area of business communication, today almost all surveyors and research questionnaires depend on this form of questioning to generate a more reliable data for their use. The main reason behind this is that these two forms if combined together provide a funnel effect and help reach a desired solution or data rather more easily. A close ended question can be defined as one which can be answered in a single word, this word can be a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or any other word. For e.g. questions like ‘how old are you?’ or ‘which grade are you in?’ or ‘Do u like football?’ all can be answered in a single word, hence they are called close ended questions.

These kinds of questions have many uses like opening a conversation or understanding a point more clearly or to generate a concrete response etc.

On the other hand open ended questions intentionally seek longer and more descriptive answers. With such questions the respondent is required to think and ponder over the answer and then convey his or her feelings or opinions or needs. In business communication this is a process of further knowing a person’s needs, requirements or problems etc. for e.g. questions like ‘what are you looking for?’ or ‘why is that so important to you?’ or ‘what is it that you require?’ etc require an elaborate answer to be convey a message clearly, hence these are called open ended questions. Such questions are used to lead a conversation especially during a business communication towards identifying the needs and problems to which one has a solution. It is quite an effective tool in this regard.

So whereas the close ended questions generate quick responses, the open ended questions are the ones that lead towards a solution or a deal. The close ended questions usually leave incomplete remarks which demand an unrestrained and free response that is in turn created by the trust developed with open ended questions.

Soft skill training of various categories and different segments emphasizes on the need to club these two together for a good general conversation. It also helps in leaving a good first impression at someone you have just met. Also such a combination makes sure that no one party is completely overshadowing the other or controlling the conversation, rather it enables to develop a healthy and a mutually interesting dialogue that is satisfactory for both the persons involved. Along with this it also leads to a smooth business interaction that is in the end very yielding. So mastering the art of using these questions can be the best thing a budding sales executive learns. More so because it is something not taught at business schools.

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Importance of Body Language Skills in Communication

Good communication forms the basis of any successful relationship both in the personal as well as professional domains. But it would be wrong to say that this communication is only done using words. In fact humans have a very strong non verbal communication pattern, and many experts believe that we majorly use our body as means to convey some message or to communicate. Such communications include body language, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, posture and even voice modulation. Soft skill training usually emphasize on the ability to understand and utilize this aspect of human behavior to convey messages and express thoughts. Not only this, but it also helps in navigating difficult situations and develop healthier relationships.

More often than not the body language of a person and other non verbal messages help understand the persona and differentiate between what is true and what is not because such communication seldom lies. So if any time one happens to witness a person whose body language does not endorse what he verbally says then the other person is forced to choose between believing one of the two communications and usually people end up believing the non verbal one. This is a universal truth. Soft skill trainings try to drill home this point and encourage the trainees to be more receptive towards such interaction and understand it.

Apart from body language, facial expressions, posture and gestures form an integral part of these non verbal interactions. A careful understanding of these is also required because such behaviors change from culture to culture as well. Often what is considered to be a welcome gesture in one culture is taken as an offence in the other. For e.g. standing or talking at close distances is a practice very fondly followed in some countries like that of Latin America, whereas in countries of the north America or Europe people will not be comfortable with this at all, they prefer to keep a distance. So it is always advisable to have some knowledge of non verbal behavior in other cultures as well especially for those who are in constant interaction with people of those cultures.

Usually body movements or posture gives an idea about the state of the mind of the person whether he or she is relaxed or tensed or impatient or irritated or thoughtful etc. Similarly the eyes convey a lot of messages regarding attraction or affection or animosity, hostility or love or hatred etc. The touch can also be a great indicator of the other person’s feelings. For e.g. consider a hand shake, a firm handshake shows interest whereas a slack one signifies laziness or that the person is disinterested.

A warm hug or patronizing pats on the head all have their own significance in their realm of Communication. The voice is also a great non verbal indicator although it is related to words but in a totally different way. Part from listening to what we speak people also read our voices, i.e. they reassure the meaning of the words with the tone. A voice can be sarcastic, angry, affectionate or confident. All these are various ways in which a person communicates.

So understanding the non-verbal communication pattern helps in making a person a better communicator and a better manager all at the same time. When we say better manager, we mean a manager of people, time, resources and everything else that matters. It is also interesting to study and learn, quite unlike anything boring.

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Communicating With Empathy

Empathy is one of the most complex emotions that you can feel. In fact, in a lot of cases, empathy exists just in the manner of speaking. Although it is a highly talked about feeling, how many can actually put themselves in another person’s shoe and imagine what the other person is going through? Often, in an attempt to be empathetic, people end up being sympathetic. However, if you genuinely want to make a difference to a person’s life, especially when he undergoes emotional trauma, you need to show empathy.

Soft skill training can be very helpful in giving you that extra push towards understanding others more deeply.

What exactly is empathy?

Empathy is defined differently by different people. The most concise definition is to go through, albeit virtually, the same pain, trauma or emotion that the other person is going through. So, in essence, it means sharing a person’s sorrow and letting them let out steam about a tragedy instead of offering lame condolences or meaningless pep talks. Sometimes, all that a person requires is an ear to share things that weigh heavily on his mind. Be supportive. Give him an ear and that is empathy. However, you need to put yourself through soft skill training in order to learn how to communicate with empathy because it usually does not come naturally.

How to communicate with empathy?

Here are some aspects of communicating with empathy that a soft skill training program will teach you.

  • Encourage the person to speak out his mind and listen to him without being judgmental.
  • Do not draw conclusions, offer false consolations or interrupt the person while he opens up to speak.
  • Do not let your mind or attention wander. Be genuinely concerned about what the person is saying.
  • Assure your friend that you can comprehend what he is going through. Assert, clarify and repeat certain things to strengthen his conviction that you are in tune with what he is trying to say
  • Understand the fact that your friend wants to be understood. So, as he speaks, imagine the scenario from his perspective to understand what he is exactly undergoing.
  • Hold your friend’s hand or give him a hug. It communicates your empathy without the need of words and shows that you understand his state of mind.
  • Avoid clichéd phrases such as “I know what you are going through,” “You do not have to feel bad about it” and “Things are going to get better.”

With soft skill training, you can learn to empathize with people and this helps you communicate better not just at the workplace, but in all your interactions.

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Ways To Greater Focus

The Pandava prince Arjuna was hailed as the greatest of archers – what was the secret of his ability? Was it merely the result of his knowledge and memory? Not really – it was this, combined with his fantastic ability to concentrate attention selectively on the task on hand.

Recent research in psychology is only confirming the wisdom of what Arjuna knew: that the human brain is made for concentration, not multitasking. When you learn to harness the power of your mind, the resulting concentration is what takes you to the peaks of achievement. Here are a few ideas on how to train your mind to achieve concentration.

how To Train Your Mind To Achieve Concentration ?

Do one thing at a time

Set a list of priorities for all the tasks you have to be done. Then do them one at a time, concentrating on each one by turn. If you strike up a conversation as you compose an email, chances are that either you will miss out on some important point your colleague makes, or forget an important point you had to include in the email. Tackle jobs that are important at the earliest and move on to the other tasks only after you have finished these.

Cut out the distractions

The greater the inputs your brain receives, the more difficulty it is going to have concentrating on any one task. If you are working on reading and assimilating information, do not have music playing in the background or try to carry on an online chat. If you are writing out a report, do it at the time of the day when you are least likely to have people dropping into your cabin for a quick word. The greater the number of distractions you encounter, the more difficult it is going to be complete the task and even more worrying, you may find your interest in completing it ebbing.

Break up jobs into smaller tasks

Although you may keep distractions to a minimum, this alone is not going to be enough to concentrate. The brain has a limit on how much it can handle at a time and if you try to keep going beyond this point, you are bound to lose interest or get bored, reducing your efficiency. Therefore, if the task on hand is a big one, it makes sense to break it up into two or three smaller tasks and tackle each of these in turn. Sometimes, it may even be essential to schedule a small break in between to allow the mind to recharge.

Recognize that multitasking causes your mind to wander. What this means is that although it may not be obvious, by concentrating on one job at a time, you will actually manage to achieve more in less time.

Focus brings success. More articles on how to focus better, keep visiting

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Communicate Clearly

The 7 Cs of Communication form the edifice on which effective communication rests. Of these Clarity in communication is of immense importance. Clarity of communication has to be ensured in the various stages of communication:

  • Drafting the message
  • Transmitting the message
  • Feedback

If clarity is lost in any of these stages, communication will fail. The BizComm model of Strengthscape encompasses effective techniques to ensure Clarity in Communication.

Drafting the Message – This is the first stage in communication. This is where you decide what message needs to be communicated to the receiver. For creating a clear message, you should first be sure about what you want to communicate. Next, you need to convert concepts into clear words. The words could be either written or formulated mentally. As a sender you must never assume that the audience will understand the same meaning of message as intended by you. For this, there should be no ambiguity in the construction of the message. Another way of ascertaining clear messages is using visuals like videos, graphics or illustrations. Not only are images high-impact but they also clarify complicated text.

Transmitting the Message – Once the message is designed the next issue concerns transmitting it. Choose a medium that is suitable for the message and for the audience. Written medium should be used for transmitting complicated messages that may require future reference. Technology for transmission should be used keeping in mind availability with the audience. Also deciding what medium to use will depend on the demographics of the audience in terms of education, technological competence and age. There should be no distortion of the message in transmission.

Feedback – Feedback from the receiver is an important step in the communication process. Feedback ensure that communication has been effective. Feedback can be either in the form of action, as required in the communication, or paraphrasing the message or asking questions to ensure that communication is clear. Paraphrasing is translating the sender’s words to your own and checking for understanding. Also the receiver can ask questions both open-ended and close-ended to understand the message better and get any required additional information. Sometimes the feedback is not readily available from the audience, in these scenarios, you as a sender need to elicit a response from the audience to ensure that the message has been transmitted clearly.

Effective communication does not mean using jargon but conveying a message clearly.

Filed under: Communication Skills

What’s Cooking : A Guide To Using Grapevine In Business Communication

“Grapevine” or gossip if the informal network of communication utilized in a business environment. Generally, it has a negative connotation for most professionals. However, one must admit that grapevine exists in all organizations and can be used profitably if handled carefully.

First we must talk about why grapevine exists in organizations. Grapevine is the direct result of personal human connection that people form within their workplace, by the virtue of mutual interaction. One of the strongest human needs, is the need for affiliation. Therefore, it is safe to say that people from personal relationships even in a formal business environment. Once we foster these personal relationships, informal communication becomes inevitable. Thus it is safe to say that grapevine exists in all organizations.

Though we have established that grapevine exists in all organizations, we are also aware that it carries a negative connotation. We need to understand why this integral part of business communication is frowned upon by most. The reason is that grapevine generally has no credibility or less credibility and one can never identify the source of gossip. Negative information circulating in the grapevine can wreak havoc as it may result in panic and loss of employee morale. Grapevine is generally word of mouth and therefore an unstable form of communication. We see all around us that sensational and negative gossip tend to spread much faster than positive messages.

But this negative attitude towards grapevine does not mean that we can or should try to root it out. Expecting employees not to form informal relationships is unrealistic and draconian. If you try to stamp out informal communication networks you incur the dissatisfaction and anger of the employees, as you will be hindering their need for affiliation.

Then how can we handle this potentially dangerous but integral aspect of business communication?  The most important thing to keep in mind is that if handled well, grapevine can actually benefit the organization. There are certain advantages to grapevine, like:

  •  It is one of the quickest networks of communication. Gossip spreads much faster than any formal communication.
  • Grapevine is also a cheap form of communication, since it is mostly word of mouth and doesn’t use the formal networks.
  • Grapevine also mostly does contain a shred of truth.
  • It fosters personal relationships between the employees and therefore may help in creating a congenial work environment.
  • It is a flexible means of communication, since there is no control over it.
  • Employees tend to express their true attitude and feeling through grapevine and therefore it is a valuable source of information.

However, the biggest drawback of grapevine, is that we cannot exercise any control over it and therefore negative gossip may sometimes blow out of proportion and cause irreparable damage. The management should use grapevine to gauge the climate in the organization and also keep a watchful eye on how grapevine is moving and correct any potentially dangerous misinformation passing through the network.

For more insights into various aspects of business communication go through the BizComm Model of Strengthscape.

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A Guide To Nuances Of Nonverbal Communication

Non-verbal communication is communication that takes place without the words, either oral or written. It is deals with body movements, space and voice used for communication. It can be intentional and unintentional. Non-verbal communication is critical because it is difficult to hide or fake non-verbal cues.

The various components of nonverbal communication include body language, gestures, spatial arrangement and paralanguage. They influence the way in which messages are perceived and understood.

Body language is the movement of body used to communicate with people and it depends on a person’s attitude or feelings. Body language includes expressions, eye contact, posture and gestures. For example, a person may sad when he droops his head and walks slowly. Humans don’t have to say anything to show how they are feeling. Even the color of a person’s skin may show how he feels, when his face becomes red with embarrassment or anger. Body language can be voluntary or involuntary. However, for the most part people have limited control over their body language. Gestures are used widely in our day to day communication, whether it is shaking hands to say hello, waving goodbye or pointing to indicate direction. Gestures are also developed to aid the differently abled to communicate better.

Another element of nonverbal communication is spatial arrangement, it is not only used to communicate, but also has a great influence over the communication. The interior design of a room can exude comfort or can be very formal and will be used depending on the type of communication. Whether your boss asks you to occupy the comfortable sofa or the chair across his table will depend on what he wants to communicate.

Voice or paralanguage also has an impact on the communication. The tone, pitch and rate of speech may indicate the level or urgency of the message or the emotions that the sender is going through.

Of these, body language and paralanguage are considered to be of greater significance. The reason for the importance of body language and paralanguage in communication are that they define the underlying meaning of a message. Since we have limited control over them it is important to analyze it to understand the true meaning of a message. However, understanding body language poses certain challenges, since expressions and gestures are greatly influenced by culture and are not same everywhere in the world. Like the “thumbs up,” which is a positive gesture in some cultures, may mean something very different in other cultures. In Nigeria, the thumbs up gesture is a rude insult. This means that understanding cultures is critical to understanding true meaning of nonverbal communication. Even the tone of voice and rate of speech are influenced by culture.

Learn more about Body Language and nonverbal communication through Strengthscape.

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Presentation Skills – Asking Questions

Every presentation program should be accompanied by an engaging and evaluating question and answer round. This stimulates and encourages the audience and keeps them engrossed in the matter of the discussion. There are different stages of encouraging and handling a Q&A round during a presentation. Lets see how:

  • The questions should be pitched at the right level of the listeners
  • Leave some room to encourage exchange of questions and answers by not covering every aspect of your topic for the presentation.
  • Inform the audience that they are free to ask questions during the presentation. They can either ask them as it comes to their mind or wait for the discussion of one part to be over before indulging in a Q&A session for that part.
  • You can even invite people to present their questions in written form.
  • Create a comfortable environment for the people to freely ask questions by validating every question.
  • If the audience looks a bit shaky, shy and in-confident, encourage them to indulge in group discussion before putting their question across.
  • Make sure to answer the questions clearly and succinctly.
  • Always smile and greet the questioner with regard and friendliness.
The right way of handling questions:
  • Once you are through with your presentation, it is essential and healthy to indulge in Q&A session with the audience. However, do not let one person dominate the entire process.
  • After a person asks a question, do not lock eyes with him. Instead, return eye contact to the group to avoid indulging into a one-to-one conversation with the questioner. The best is to shift your attention and sight farthest away from the person who has put forward the query.
  • Always repeat the question yourself so as to ensure that everyone has heard the question well. This also lets you buy time to think of an appropriate answer rather than blurting out an emotion response.
  • While answering the question, concentrate on your body language, eye contact and also take note of where to pause. Remember your reply should cater to the audience as a whole and not alone to the questioner. Your responsibility and communication should refer and indicate the interest of the entire group.
Importance of encouraging participants to ask questions during a presentation:
  • It helps in assessing the very essence of the point of discussion
  • It assists in clarifying a vague comment made by one of the listeners from the audience
  • Helps in getting the initial and first hand reactions of the listeners by exploring attitudes, values and feelings
  • Aids in looking at the subject from different perspectives
  • Leads to refinement of an idea or statement made during the presentation
  • Prompts the audience to support their assertions and interpretations.
  • Encourages people to respond to one another
  • Encourages audience to investigate and put forward their assumptions through a thought process
  • Helps assess possible predictions and outcomes of the subject put forward
  • Aids in connecting and organizing information
  • Encourages people from the audience to illustrate a concept or principle with an example, as per their understanding of the matter.
  • Whatever be the case, always handle the Q&A session with authority and dedication as audience participation and reaction is the best tool to measure the success of your presentation.
Filed under: Communication Skills

Effective Communication – 4 Strategies For Breaking Barriers

Ever felt that you are unable to communicate the way you would like? All of us face many barriers while communicating which makes our communication less effective than we would like. Most of these barriers can be overcome if we pay just a little bit more attention to our communication style. Before we talk about overcoming barriers let us understand what these barriers are.

Some common barriers to communication include:
  • Physical barriers
  • Cultural barriers
  • Biases
  • Language barriers
  • Poor Listening

Is it possible to overcome these barriers?

The answer is an emphatic “YES”!

We can use some effective strategies to overcome these barriers:

Use Technology Effectively – Physical barriers can be overcome by using technology effectively in today’s technology driven world. Geographical barriers are reducing in significance with the ever improving communication technology, however, using this technology effectively is equally critical.

Be Culture Sensitive – In this ever-shrinking world working with people from different cultures has become the rule rather than an exception. Even the smallest of organizations have teams of people from all over the world. If you want to communicate effectively in a multicultural environment, you must understand different cultures and be sensitive to them.

Eliminate Biases – Bias is a prejudice for or against something or someone. For effective communication, biases should be eliminated or minimized otherwise it can cloud our judgement and hamper communication. Being non-judgmental is extremely important for effective communication. Objective thinking should be cultivated and openness to varied ideas and attitudes are important for eliminating biases.

Concise and Clear Content – Many times communication becomes ineffective due to the content being delivered. If the content is not structured properly or the language does not fit the requirement of the audience, communication becomes ineffective. Use of jargons should depend on the knowledge and background of the audience. Communication with too much jargon may be difficult to understand, but at the same time simplistic language may not engage the audience.

Effective Listening – Most of the time the burden for effective communication is on the sender. However, the receiver is as important in the process of communication as the sender. Effective listening or active listening can help the receiver to contribute to effective communication. Providing feedback is an integral part of effective listening and this goes a long way in ensuring effective communication.

Breaking barriers to communication is imperative since effective communication is the basis for all human activity, all it requires is a little effort and introspection!

Filed under: Communication Skills

Thank You Please – Why are these little words important?

Ever been told to use the golden words while talking to others? As children we are often coaxed and threatened into using words like “Thank You, “Please”, and “Sorry”. Why are these little words important? They go a long way in creating a congenial environment and circumventing conflict. Courteous communication can be a very important tool in the carrying out communication effectively. But are these words enough in resulting in courteous communication? Well, not really. There are many things one must keep in mind in ensuring courteous communication.

Let us begin by understating what is courtesy. Courtesy can be defined as polite behavior and attitude towards others. The next question is how important is it to be courteous. Let me illustrate with an example – you reach office huffing, having started the day badly, spilling coffee all over yourself and then missing the 8:00 am bus. You see the elevator door closing as you run with only a couple of minutes to spare for a meeting on the 15th floor.

Your anger and frustration is just about to reach its peak, when a friendly hand slides out and stops the lift for you. Your anger and frustration melts straightaway. You reach the meeting on time and give a wonderful presentation feeling confident after the elevator experience. Courtesy becomes even more important in direct communication. Courteous communication when asking a colleague for help or sending sales proposition mail to a client can multiply your chances of being met with a positive response.

Some pointers for courteous communication:

  • For starters address people with respect, using a name or salutation they are comfortable with. If you don’t know the person well go formal.
  • Be empathetic. Create your message keeping in mind the requirements and state of mind of the audience.
  • Be honest. There is no substitute for honesty and sincerity. Trying to trick someone is never going to result in successful communication and relationships.
  • Be friendly. Maintaining a friendly tone in your message will immediately get positive vibes from the receiver.
  • Use a gentle and polite tone. Harsh and insensitive words will do nothing for your goal.
  • Even when disagreeing with someone put it politely. Do not attack the person.
  • Try to maintain a positive tone even for negative messages, always end the message on a positive note.

These guidelines will ensure courteous and eventually effective communication and a congenial work environment.

For more on Effective Communication lookup BizComm.

Filed under: Communication Skills