Category: Communication Skills

Stop Thinking And Start Communicating – Learning Effective Communication

Communication happens all the time. We cannot not communicate, as long as you are in the presence of other people communication will happen. We communicate not only with words, but also non-verbal cues and even silence! Communication is also imperative in satisfying most of our needs – whether it is getting work done or satisfying our basic social need of affiliation.

Communication is something on which we spend a great deal of our time, so obviously we all must be pretty good at it right? The answer surprisingly is “NO”. Often, we find ourselves in the middle of conflict and controversies many of which are a result of ineffective communication– whether it is at home or work.

Since communication is so important it then makes sense to learn the art of effective communication.

The first step towards effective communication is having a clear idea about what to communicate. The message should be well-defined in your mind. If there is any ambiguity in the message the chance miscommunication magnify. Write down the basic idea, even for oral communication, this will help you in organizing the message effectively.

The content of the message should be designed keeping in mind the target audience. We do this unconsciously while communicating with parents or older people – filtering out undesirable content and language. This filter needs to be exercised consciously in all our communication.

The next step is to choose the right medium for communication. Sending a message by e-mail to a person with no internet connectivity is a futile exercise. The medium depends on the target audience and the type of message being sent. Use written media for complicated messages and oral media for messages with just one central idea that doesn’t have too many facts.

Once you have zeroed down the message and the media, next you need to look at your language skills. On many occasions people have the right idea and chose the right medium but fail to communicate well due to lack of language skills. However, let us not give undue importance to language. Many people will tell you that without language skills you cannot communicate. I disagree.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that language skills are not required for effective communication, what I’m saying is language skills are not the end of the communication skills’ spectrum. Many people with mediocre language skills are at the height of their career. This is because language, though important, is not the only ingredient for effective communication. Having good language skills does not mean throwing around jargon and complicated vocabulary – it means using language to communicate your message in a clear and concise manner.

These pointers can be a start to effective communication. Most of us know the guidelines to effective communication and we spend a great deal of time thinking about them but we fail to employ them. So it’s time to Stop Thinking and Start Communicating! Practice and you will master the art of effective communication.

Filed under: Communication Skills

Be Error Free : A Guide To Correct Communication

The professionalism of any communication can be gauged by its correctness. One should ensure that any message going forward is free from mistakes. Correctness of a message not only indicates the professionalism and interest of the sender but also goes a long way in avoiding miscommunication.

For ensuring the correctness of communication considering the following 6 aspects can be very useful:

  • Facts – The most important aspect of any formal communication is its factual correctness. A large part of business communication is aimed at dissemination of information. Without correct facts, the communication will have no credibility and therefore no impact.
  • Language – Another thing we need to keep in mind while analyzing the correctness of a message is the language.  The language used should be correct and appropriate for the targeted audience.
  • Spelling – The golden rule for your communication to be taken seriously is being free from spelling errors. Having spelling mistakes in your communication just reflects negatively on your level of professionalism and interest. Use spellcheck!
  • Grammar – A message loaded with incorrect grammar is not only in bad taste but might sometimes lead to serious miscommunication. Review your message and make sure your message is free from grammatical errors.
  • Structure – The next important aspect of correct communication is the structure of the message. The structure of the message should be based on the message you want to convey. Compose your message in proper chronological or logical sequence.
  • Style of Writing – The message should be written in the correct style, depending on the purpose. For example, a positive message is generally direct, with the information being given in the first sentence. Whereas, a negative message requires background. A message drafted in an inappropriate style tends to be less impactful.

However, in spite of methodical drafting and review we still might be faced with a situation where we send a message with one or more errors.  Do not panic and do immediate damage control. You may send a mail or message correcting the errors in your message. The important thing is to address the errors once they have occurred.

For more on correct communication look at BizComm by Strengthscape.

Filed under: Communication Skills

Let Silence Do The Talking

Speak only if it improves upon the silence – Mahatma Gandhi

The importance of silence in communication should not be underestimated. You may have heard expressions like “Silence is Golden”.  But have you ever reflected on the value of silence?

We spend so much of our time and effort on talking and contemplating what to say, that we forget about silence. We may find it difficult to wrap our heads around it, but silence is a very important tool in effective communication.

The Mehrabian Model of communication, developed by Professor Albert Mehrabian, states that only 7% of all communication takes place with words. The remaining 93% pertains to paralanguage and nonverbal communication.  Silence has a significant role to play in this 93% of communication.

  • So what is the significance of Silence?
  • Does it have any actual uses?

Silence can be used in numerous ways to enhance the effectiveness of communication.

First, silence while communicating gives you the crucial time required for reflection. Reflection is thinking about the message. This is required to be able to give an appropriate response. Responses minus reflection are impulsive and may not be the best idea in a formal environment.

Secondly, listening is a very important aspect of communication, one that is generally neglected by many. If we don’t listen effectively, the meaning of the communication might be lost. Silence is the key to effective listening. Here by silence we do not mean silence of only words, but also silence of thoughts and judgement. Suspend all thoughts and judgement while listening. Thus silence enables effective listening.

The third use of silence is providing flow to communication. Especially in group communication, your silence gives the opportunity for others to develop and express their opinions. With contribution from a number of people communication flows naturally and new ideas are generated.

Another use of silence is in creating an impact on the audience. Allow an impactful communication to sink into the minds of the audience by using silence.

Silence also creates a favorable image of a person, if used at the right time. Silence before responding exhibits that you are taking time to think before making up your mind. Silence after saying something means that you value other people’s’ opinions.

Filed under: Communication Skills

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

Filed under: Communication Skills

How To Be An Effective Listener

When asked about your communication skills what comes to your mind?

For most people the image created is either of giving a speech in a packed auditorium or writing an engaging piece. What is common between these two: they are related to the sender in the communication process. What this means is that most of us picture ourselves as the sender. But this is an incomplete view of communication – the other significant aspect of communication occurs from the receiver. And it is this aspect that we tend to ignore. We are so busy becoming good speakers that we forget it is equally critical to become good listeners.

The communication process is incomplete till the message is received and comprehended by the receiver. And communication skills can be comprehensively developed when we talk about both conveying and receiving communication effectively.

This article discusses how to enhance listening skills. Listening is the process of hearing and comprehending a message and taking appropriate action or providing feedback.

We spend all our time in enhancing speaking skills but pay practically no attention to listening. So here are a few pointers for enhancing listening skills:

First, listening requires a great deal of concentration and attention. While listening your mind should not be pre-occupied with other thoughts. Listen and concentrate on only to what is being said.

Secondly, leave your prejudices and judgement aside. The message is more important than who delivers it or how it is delivered.

Free your environment of physical distractions like noise, mobile phones etc. The less the stimuli in your environment fighting for your attention, the better will be your listening abilities.
Try to internalize the message by relating it your existing knowledge, ideas and experiences. This will help you retain the message longer.

Provide feedback especially if additional information or explanation is required. The most critical trait of an active listener is providing feedback. This results in a two-way communication which is way more interesting than a monologue and also helps in generating new ideas.

Don’t interrupt the speaker while he is talking. Keep your observations for when there is a pause or till the end of the communication.

Listen to understand not criticize. Critical listening is important but listening only for the purpose of criticism seldom results in effective listening.

Read between the lines. Concentrate not only on the words but also the body language of the speaker, this will help you in understanding the underlying meaning of the message.

Following these simple strategies can take you a step closer to becoming an effective listener.

The BizComm program of Strengthscape comprises of a detailed module on Effective Listening.

Filed under: Communication Skills

Get The Basics Right – A Guide To The Cornerstones Of English Language Skills

Proficiency in the English language is considered by many to be one of the critical aspects of professional success. This observation is correct. There are a few reasons behind this, first organizations rely upon effective communication for achieving their goals, most organizations being multicultural and multilingual rely on the English language for this communication and people with good command over the English language tend to create a better first impression and many times gain professional success.

So what are the basics of the English language?

  • Grammar – The first important skill for the English language is Grammar. We cannot be too fussy about grammatical accuracy in business communication, but basic errors in grammar reflects on your level of professionalism. More importantly sometimes these errors can lead to miscommunication. The components of grammar that require special attention are usage of tenses, prepositions, subject-verb agreement and articles. We tend to restrict these skills to classroom learning, however their application should be a key skill to acquire.
  • Vocabulary – The second critical aspect of language proficiency is Vocabulary. This refers to knowledge of words used. Again, gaining complete knowledge of the English vocabulary is almost impossible, you will always encounter a word that you don’t know. However, having a good vocabulary will help you gaining effective speaking and writing skills. Vocabulary also enhances your comprehension power. The most effective strategy to build vocabulary is to Read! The more you read you will come across a variety of different words, learning their usage and meaning will enhance your vocabulary. However using these words after learning is even more important, otherwise they will be lost.
  • Diction – The third aspect of the language skill is Diction. This deals with how a person speaks in terms of articulation, pronunciation and accent. These skills are acquired with a great deal of practice. They are the most underrated out of the three skills but are very important in creating impactful oral communication. Articulation comprises of rate of speech, tone, volume, stress and pause. Most of these are influenced by our culture and therefore difficult to change, but with practice and exposure to a variety of diction, we can learn universally acceptable diction skills. The idea of right diction is not to follow a certain accent, but to be understood by all.

Learning these skills requires a great deal of effort and commitment. These skills cannot be acquired overnight, they require learning and practice over a long period of time. However, considering the importance of these skills it should be our aim to master them.

The BizComm Model of Strengthcape deals with Language Proficiency and other relevant topics.

Filed under: Communication Skills

Mind Your Body Language

Have you ever looked at someone slouching and thought he looked lazy or bored? It is amazing that just by looking at someone standing we can gauge a number of things about his personality or state of mind. It is a well-established fact that “first impressions are generally the last impressions” or at least they are lasting ones. And it is for these first impressions that we need to mind our body language. It is said that “actions speak louder than words” and this case it is true.

So here are some pointers for positive body language:

First maintain a smart posture. Do not slouch or stand in an unnaturally attentive position, be casual and smart. Slouching shows lack of interest or confidence.

Do not use too many gestures, it drives attention away from what you are saying to how you are saying it. People tend to use involuntary gestures when nervous or under pressure.

Remember that gestures are culture specific and can mean different things depending on which part of the world you are. So be sensitive and aware while using gestures.

Maintain positive eye contact. However, differentiate between eye contact and staring. Maintaining positive eye contact shows high level of interest and confidence.

Expressions are hard to control, but keeping them unexaggerated can help. Exaggerated expressions again take focus away from what you say to how you say it.

Even a handshake goes a long way in creating a good impression. Keep it short and crisp.

Physical Appearance, though not strictly body language also helps in creating a positive first impression. Make sure you are dressed smartly and professionally. Appropriate dressing is the key – being too formal or too informal will put you in an uncomfortable spot.

Keeping these simple guidelines in mind go a long way in creating positive and lasting first impressions. In today’s fast paced business environment where interactions are short and many times second opportunities are not available, using body language to create a positive impression can be the key.

BizComm by Strengthscape deals with Body Language and many more nuances of Effective Communication.

Filed under: Communication Skills

Effective Guidelines: How To Make Your Communication Coherent

Have you ever watched a movie that lacked proper flow of scenes, story and dialogues? The hodgepodge of emotions and characters left you exhausted, confused and dissatisfied? What caused this confusion in your mind? It was the lack of coherence.

Coherence in communication refers to a logic and consistency of the message. Often we find ourselves clarifying e-mails that we have sent because the other person was confused about the action he had to take or the number of tasks to be performed. This problem occurs mostly when our messages lack coherence. A message that does not flow logically and consists of too many ideas will result in ineffective communication.

Coherence, though very important is often ignored.

These 5 rules can assist you in coherent communication

  • Rule number one is stick to the topic! Don’t try to cover different issues in a single mail or conversation. Your thoughts will be better organized if you stick to one topic and this will reflect in your communication.
  • If you have many issues to address, compartmentalize them. Organize points well, using numbering or bullets with similar topics being covered together.
  • Use connecting words and phrases to connect sentences and paragraphs well. These words help in maintaining a flow in the message and thus result in a coherent message.
  • The message should be structured logically. Mention first things first. This is especially important for instructions or tasks that need to be prioritized. Sequence of events should be mentioned in chronological order.
  • Review your message. Before sending it out review your message to analyze it makes sense and flows well. If the message is critical it is better to ask someone else to review, since finding your own message incoherent is difficult.

So follow these rules to make communication coherent and logical. You will see coherent and well-designed messages yielding superior and more effective results, without much delay.

Many more such tips on effective communication are available through BizComm by Strengthscape.

Filed under: Communication Skills

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.

Filed under: Communication Skills

Barriers To Communication At Encoding Stage

Communication is an important aspect of all our lives. Many studies in the field of communication suggest that we spend about 70-80% of our waking time in communication. We communicate even with our silence. However, as a receiver or sender of communication, we realize many times that the communication was ineffective. There are many causes of ineffective communication and these are termed as barriers to communication.

Barriers to communication occur in all stages of communication – right from when the sender formulates the message to when the receiver gives feedback on the message.  These barriers break down the communication process and this may sometimes result in obstacles in the efficient functioning of an organization.  Therefore it is important to recognize these barriers so that they can be avoided or overcome efficiently.

Let us discuss the barriers that occur at the first stage of communication.

At this stage the sender formulates and encodes the message.

  • Indecision about content – The sender may be unsure about what message to send or how much information to communicate. This may happen when either the sender has too much or too little information on a subject.
  • Lack of familiarity with audience – Another barrier at this stage could be not knowing who your audience is. For effective communication it is important to know the audience well. Some of the critical information to be gathered about the audience is the age, sex, educational background, cultural background and preferred language. This information helps in designing content that is appropriate for the audience and will be received well.
  • Undefined situation – If the sender is unsure of the reason for the communication, then the chances of miscommunication are high. Designing appropriate communication largely depends on understanding the situation and the reason for the communication. Content of the message needs to address the reason for the communication and the sender should understand this with clarity.
  • Lack of basic communication skills – Sometimes the communication may be ineffective due to the lack of basic communication skills. If the sender is unable to articulate his thoughts into appropriate words or lacks basic grammar skills, communication will be ineffective.
  • Emotional Conflict – If the sender faces emotional conflict or highly charged emotions like anger, while encoding the message, the message may lack coherence or may be too laden with emotions to be understood correctly.

These barriers result in breakdown of the communication process and miscommunication. Understanding these barriers is important so that they can be avoided or addressed at the right time.

To understand more about effective communication look up BizComm by Strengthscape.

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