Category: Soft 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

Decision Making Strategies And Techniques

Decision Making Strategies and Techniques

Alarm rings- Twing Twing!!

Wake up or snooze for 5 more minutes?

I am sleeping but my mind isn’t! It is wide awake and actively trying to make a decision about the time I should wake up , while I appear to be sleeping. It weighs so many pros of sleeping that appeal to me well and cons that push me to get up on my feet. Finally I wake up (Decision made).

The day begins making a decision, and then we just get into the vicious cycle of decision, from what dress to wear to selecting the route to office. We make many conscious and many unconscious decisions every moment.

“The average amount of remotely conscious decisions an adult makes each day equals about 35,000. In contrast, young children only make about 3,000 decisions each day.”

What is Decision Making?

Decision Making – It is the thought process of selecting the optimal logical option from all the available options.

Example: Just like deciding on what color shirt to wear to office, black, blue or white. Our brain seems to be designed in a way that  many a times it unconsciously takes the best decision without much effort

This was a simple everyday example but there are other difficult ones like the amount of funds that a department should invest on training and development of employees, how to handle an emergency situation in factory, etc. Some decisions are easier to arrive at  than the others. To answer this let’s understand

How do we arrive at a decision? (as per studies)

  • Single feature model: Here, decisions are based on the value of a single key feature. This type of decision making is useful in relatively simple situations.
    • Eg. While booking an air ticket, choosing the cheapest ticket. In this case the decision is based on the price of ticket alone without considering other variables.
  • Additive Feature Model: Here all the possible features of all the available options are evaluated to arrive at a decision. This type of decision making is useful in complex situation where decisions have a significant impact on us and helps us arrive at best possible option. However, since it is time consuming, it should be avoided to make simple decisions
  • Elimination by Aspects Model: In this approach, one begins by exploring the feature considered best by one. However, the option is rejected if it does not meet one’s expectation. The list of one’s possible choices keeps on becoming smaller as one rejects options and arrives at just one alternative option.

These three models are used when the problem is defined or has some structure. But what does one do in ambiguous situations, where there is greater risk, sense of urgency and the decision to be made is relatively significant?

Eg. You are getting late for a meeting, should you  break the signal and drive away , but risk being booked by the traffic police or worse an accident? Or should you follow all the rules, get late, lose credibility in front of clients and put the most critical deal at risk?

We tend to employ two unique decision making strategies in such situations. These strategies are a type of mental heuristics i.e.  a rule-of-thumb, mental shortcut that allow us to make decisions and judgments quickly.

  • Availability Heuristics: when we try to estimate how likely something is, we tend to often base the determination on similar incidents that we can remember. From the example above you may remember all of the times you have seen people breaking signals and being caught, but if you don’t remember any, you may decide to go ahead and break the signal. However, if you do recall any such incident,  you would decide to wait and take the risk of being late for the meeting.
  • Representative Heuristics: When you compare yourself to your mental prototype of a particular situation or behavior you are using this mental shortcut. Eg. When trying to break the signal you will imagine yourself being caught by the traffic police. If you imagine yourself as  a reckless driver you would decide to break the signal. But if you consider yourself as a law abiding citizen you would wait for the green signal.

Therefore, decision making may be as simple or as complex a process as you want it to be. What and how we decide is not based on the mental strategies alone but the emphasis is also on the  impact of decision and its complexities.

Using appropriate strategy can make us better decision makers than the others and  allow us to allocate our time and efforts more efficiently.

Filed under: Soft 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 Concise Be Effective!

“Brevity is the soul of wit” – William Shakespeare

The essence of effective communication has been put down quite aptly and concisely by The Bard!

A message that beats around the bush cannot hold anyone’s interest and can sometimes even confuse the receiver, thus complicating simple matters. So without beating around the bush let us jump into how we can make communication concise and effective.

Go straight to the point! Most formal messages do not require lengthy introductions. Going straight to the point will also ensure prompt response or action from the receiver. Drafting persuasive and negative messages may require a little background but stick to the relevant points, else you may appear desperate and unprofessional.

Always keep the audience in mind. The receiver should relate to the message. Communicate what is relevant to the receiver in the specific context and not what you think they should know.

Refrain from giving unnecessary details and information. It only confuses the receiver. Unnecessary data is a waste of time for the sender and the receiver.

Take your time while drafting the message. Review it to eliminate any unnecessary details and redundancies.
Use linguistics to your advantage. Shorten sentences by removing unnecessary adjectives and prepositions or fillers.

Use effective vocabulary to emphasize your point, rather than saying it a number of times.
Cut the jargon. Use simple yet effective words that do not require detailed explanation.

Some examples can help in understanding concise communication better:

Let us have back-to-back sessions tomorrow.

Let us hold continuous sessions tomorrow.

People who have more than 5 years of experience, please do not apply for the job.

Candidates having more than 5 years’ experience need not apply.

For each and every mistake you make, you will be punished.

You will be punished for every mistake you make.

However, conciseness cannot be achieved at the expense of clarity of the message. Do not leave out pertinent and relevant details just to be concise.

The BizComm program of Strengthscape can guide you in the art of Concise Communication.

Filed under: Soft Skills

Survey Design: Know The Types Of Questionnaires

A Questionnaire is an important instrument for collecting feedback, conducting surveys and they form an inherent part of psychometric assessments. There are numerous types of questionnaires and vary based on the requirement of the user. Broadly speaking, questionnaires can be classified based on the following criteria:

1.    Based on Type of Questions – The design of questions may vary depending on the requirement of the user. Questionnaires can be classified into the following based on types of questions:

  •  Close-Ended Questions – These are questions in which the response is limited due to the structure of the question. The respondent cannot give his detailed views but has to stick to the given options.
  • Open-Ended Questions – In these, the respondent is not bound by responses and is free to express his detailed opinion. He is not bound by a limited number of responses.
  • Forced Choice Questions – These questionnaires make the respondent choose a response that gives a definitive opinion. It does not leave any scope for ambiguity by removing neutral responses like “maybe” or “don’t know”. They are usually written in the form of “agree” or “disagree” statements, and the respondent chooses a statement closest to his feelings or opinions.

2.    Based on Structure – The structure of the questionnaire may also vary depending on the requirement. These are:

  • Structured Questionnaires– These questionnaires are meticulously designed with concrete questions. They are prepared well in advance.
  • Unstructured Questionnaires – These are fluid and flexible in nature. And used only as a guide by an interviewer or a person administering the questionnaire face-to-face. The questions in this case can be modified and adapted based on the responses.

3.    Based on Method of Administering – Questionnaires can also be classified based on the method of administration. The most common of these are:

  • By Mail – Questionnaires that require wide geographical reach are generally sent by post or e-mail. They are cost-effective and give the respondent ample time. However, receiving responses is not guaranteed by this method.
  • By Phone – Quick questionnaires or surveys can also be administered by phone. These should be concise and crisp. They ensure immediate response and are therefore preferred.
  • Face to face – Some questionnaires are administered face to face. These have the advantage of definite response and adaptability, but are expensive to administer and the responses may be tainted due to the biases of either the interviewer or the respondent.
Filed under: Soft 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