Category: Soft Skills

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

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: Language 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.

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

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: Soft Skills

Delivery Skills: A Key To Effective Presentations

Going up on stage and delivering an effective and impactful presentation or speech can give nightmares to many people. Stage fright is categorized by many as one of their worst fears. However, it is difficult for anyone to escape public speaking in today’s business environment.

The moment we think about giving a presentation we think about the delivery of the presentation. However, out of the time spent in preparing for the presentation, a significant amount of time goes in preparing the presentation itself – collecting the data and putting it up in a coherent form using various tools like PowerPoint. By the time we are done with this preparation the time for delivery is at hand we realize we have done no preparation for that! For the client or audience, all that preparation has no meaning if the delivery is ineffective.
Therefore it is safe to say that delivery of a presentation requires as much, if not preparation, than developing it. Without preparation we might find ourselves at a loss for words to explain our brilliant ideas, or still worse be caught off guard due to stage fright!

Since we understand the importance of delivering an effective presentation, there are some simple guidelines for ensuring effective delivery

  • Create strong presence – The first 30 seconds of any encounter are the most crucial. The same rule applies to presentations as well. Make the first impression count. Create a strong presence on the stage or the room. This can be achieved effectively by a string greeting, being appropriately dressed and having a positive body language.
  • Engage the audience – The next challenge is engaging the audience. The effectiveness of a presentation is assessed by audience engagement and this is not always easy to achieve. Some strategies for engaging the audience are – give them what they want, grab their attention by telling them how your presentation can help them and create a mental trigger for them. Creating a strong visual or a context for them to associate will ensure that your audience is hooked to what you have to say.
  • Establish Credibility – Coming across as a credible and dependable person can do wonders for your delivery skills. Interacting with confidence, providing correct information and facts and being well prepared will establish your credibility as a presenter.
  • Create an Impact – An impactful delivery creates a strong impression on the audience and ensures that your message is conveyed well. Impactful delivery can be ensured by connecting with the audience, empathizing with their needs and ensuring a high recall of your interaction.  Pause at the right moment, ask imperative and thought provoking questions and highlight the key features and benefits.

The PresentSmart Model of Strengthscape delves in-depth into the nuances of effective delivery.

Filed under: Presentation Skills

Visual Aids in Presentations

Visual aids add an integral dimension to a presentation. It helps to achieve its objectives at a much faster pace, through the use of clear pictures which enhance the comprehending capacity of the audience in multitudes. These are adapted for reinforcing the message in clear points and for creating excitement and enthusiasm amongst the listeners. They tend to encourage gestures and movements of the speaker by shifting the communication method from simply listening to visualizing as well.

The use of audio-visual concepts and ideas, which are a combination of words and pictures, ends up leaving a better, long lasting and lingering impact on the minds and retention power of the audience.
Several varieties of communication products come under the jurisdiction of visual aids like overhead transparencies, flip charts, audio slide shows video tapes and so on. To make your presentation most effective, it is highly essential to opt for the right mode of visual aids so as to have the maximum benefit therefrom.

Tips on preparing visual aids, some do’s and don’ts:

Choosing the right visual aid – The major points of the presentation, along with a rough outline of the objectives and goals of the same, should be prepared before going ahead in choosing the visual aids. Determining your accomplishments, the needs and expectations of the audience and the physical settings required would assist a lot in deciding which visual aid mode would work best for you.
Keep it simple – Every element  or slide of an audio visual product should contain only one single message in very simple, brief  and easy-to-understand language. More than one message per page creates confusion in the minds of the audience and ultimately reducing its potential impact.
Connection between the speech and the visual slide-The words spoken in connection to the point specified through the visual aid should be connected and interlinked but should not be the same. In other words, never read out straight from the visual aid script, there should be a difference in your speech and what is being portrayed through the clip.
Read or listen, not both – While delivering a presentation using visual aids, ask your audience to first listen to what is being said and then read. Doing both at the same time will lead to poor or no understanding of the message being delivered. Also, make sure not to provide reading material while you talk.It should be given to highlight and illustrate your points once the talking is over.
Provide paper copies of the various graphics used during the presentation to the participants for future reference
Calculate and analyze your cost constraints before selecting the visual aids. Also, try substituting with  the cheaper and less expensive alternatives if it fits into your needs.
Work on an extended schedule and account for production time in your planning and selection process so as to save on time, energy and money.
When discussing general problems, it is advisable to use local photographs and examples. It would connect more with the audience.
Charts and Graphs should be opted for in order to support numerical information delivered in the presentation.
Sketches and Drawings must be developed for conveying various plans and designs.
Do not overcrowd the graphics with too much detailing. The ,line-details, letters and symbols should be highlighted in bold so that they can be easily seen by the person sitting on the last row. Also, avoid using too many colors.
For persuasive statements, emotional requests, qualifying remarks or any type of rhetorical briefings, visual aids should not be brought into use.
Handouts, if any, should be distributed after you finish addressing the crowd so as to avoid distraction during the presentation.
Practice with the graphic materials and the audio-visual instruments in advance so as to completely become familiar with their use and order.
Ask for feedback from your audience regarding the clarity of your visual aids. This should be done in the initial stages of the presentation so as to have room for making necessary adjustments.
Filed under: Presentation Skills

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

What is Negotiation and Why is Negotiation Important in Business

People engage in negotiations regularly in fact multiple times a day without even realizing that the conversation they are engaged in is in fact a negotiation. It is something used all the time in the workplace as well as in personal life. Whether it is deciding on which cuisine to have in dinner or coming to an agreement about room rent with the landlady both are examples of negotiation.
However the above stated fact about the frequency of entering into negotiation does not ensure good negotiation skills. One reason for this is because people many times confuse negotiation with bargaining. They miss out on the fact that bargaining is a one-time event, negotiation on the other hand is a long term association.
Dictionary definition of negotiation is “a discussion to reach an agreement.” Though the definition appears to be simple but actual negotiations are far from it. Humans are complex and it becomes extremely difficult to reach an agreement when they have conflicting point of views.
Negotiation is commonly mistaken as same for convincing. Many believe that they are good at convincing others and thus good negotiators however convincing is not a synonym of negotiating.
In reality, negotiation is a complex process involving multiple angles. The best negotiations are not those who get all they want rather those who achieve a win-win outcome. In such outcomes all the parties are benefited and none are at loss.
Unlike the commonly held belief about negotiation being like arguments, a way to achieve your objective without considering others needs by hook or by crook.
Negotiation is a discussion in order to understand the objectives of the parties involved in the negotiation process and then come up with an alternative in order to achieve maximum satisfaction possible for both the parties.It is about achieving your objectives but while building, maintaining as well as improving relationships during the process. It is not about proving one right and the other wrong, rather about trying to gain maximum for both the parties.
Negotiation skills are important in everyday life as it increases one’s effectiveness not only by helping one achieve the objectives but also by helping one in getting along better with people.
Negotiation is used right from the start of joining an organisation. For example, at the time of joining an organization, one negotiates on salary etc. The individual tries to maximize the salary received whereas HR on the other hand tries to reduce cost for the organization. Another example of using negotiation skills in the workplace is at the time of making a deal with external stakeholders like vendors etc.
Again the goals are contradictory, as one party wants to pay minimum and other wants to earn maximum. In such distributive scenarios, where the pie is to be shared, effective negotiation helps in increasing the size of the pie. The challenge is to reach an optimal solution where both parties are satisfied with the outcome. Thus negotiation skills play a crucial role in achieving such outcomes.
Filed under: Negotiation 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