Communication is the glue that holds organisations together. There may be very few, if not any, jobs where the incumbent is not required to communicate with others and can work by himself or herself in a silo. Good communication skills are required to spread ideas, get buy-in and also win over people to your line of thought. Very rarely has anyone complained about communicating too much. More often than not, in organisations managers and employees alike feel there is room for improvement and communicating more effectively.
Communication is often defined as a relational process involving the participation and reflexes of the participants involved in the process. It involves more than just the communicator but also the receiver. It’s essential that the person receiving the message not only understands the message but also comprehends it in the same manner in which it’s expected to be understood. For communication to be successful there should be little room left for interpretation based on individual perception. However, having said that it is also essential to understand that all the recipients of the communication are individuals and have have different backgrounds. A successful communicator understands this and explores the best way to tweak her/his style to meet the requirements.
Centuries ago Aristotle defined the three elements for being an effective communicator – ethos, pathos and logos. Here’s a look at how these establish the foundation for good communication:
One of the most important elements is the authority of the communicator delivering the message. This authority is a function of either the position of the communicator in the organisation or her expertise level. This authority will compel people to listen to you and believe your message. So if the communicator is selling a new idea to her peers and wants to get their buy-in for investment of funds, the peers will look at her past record in terms of being successful at undertaking and delivering on risky projects as well as the credentials in terms of knowledge and experience to decide whether they want to be an active part of the communication.
Emotional Connect: Pathos
By appealing to the emotions of the audience the communicator can connect with the audience on a personal level. The audience is quick to sense genuine empathy displayed by the communicator and this will endear her more to them and possibly lead to getting the expected response, which is essentially the objective of communication. One of the most important ways to establish an emotional connect with the audience is to show them that you genuinely care about them. By showing them how the communication will be beneficial for them on a personal level, they understand that you care and are more willing participants in the conversation. Passion of the communicator also leads to better emotional connect. Passion is contagious and leads to inspiration. If you meet someone who is genuinely passionate about a product or idea, it will influence your perception about that product or idea.
The audience is intelligent – and hence no amount of authority and emotional appeal will help unless there is logic and analytical thought underlying the message being communicated. When the message being communicated is well researched, supported by facts and analysis or has solid data backing it up, the audience will be more willing to accept it. The communicator will also have a lot more conviction and communicate more confidently.
Apart from these basic tenants of communication here are few more aspects that are equally important to ensure successful communication:
- “What’s in it for me?”: All effective communicators understand that answering this all important question is the key to successful communication. At the outset of any communication the audience tries to find the answer to this question and how it will benefit them. So defining the objective of the conversation at the outset will help clarify expectations and ensure a more willing audience.
- Listening: The oft-ignored aspect of communication yet one of the most important ones is listening skills. By listening to others, you display two characteristics. You show the other person that you are genuinely interested in helping him and it also gives you an understanding of what exactly the other party is interested in and thus gives you a basis for your communication.
- Non Verbal Communication: Research shows that the interpretation of communication depends 55% on facial expressions, 37% is based on the tone of the voice of the communicator and only 8% is based on the actual words being used. Thus what you say is less important compared to how you say it – tone, body language, eye contact, posture, breathing patterns all play a major role in communication.
- Cognisance of Diversity: Having said that more than 90% of the interpretation of communication is dependant on non-verbal cues, what follows is the awareness of cultural diversity and the individual differences that come with it. Understanding of the age group, culture, religion & emotional state of the recipient of the communication is crucial for ensuring successful communication. Especially these days with business becoming more global and being spread across many countries taking cognisance of the cultural differences will help deliver winning communication. For example: A friendly tone or gestures of one culture may be considered highly offensive in others. Thus cultural assimilation training becomes very important for anyone travelling to or even interacting with people from other countries.
- Written communication: Yes, we all agree that spoken communication is important. However considering the impact that social media has had on our lives, lot of communication is through captions, photos, statuses and 40 word tweets. In this case to ensure that the message is understood in the way that it is meant to be, its essential to give due importance to written communication as well.
- Story Telling: Telling engaging stories or anecdotes can increase the effectiveness of communication immensely. A good communicator needs to master the art of storytelling. Research conducted by Uri Hasson at the Princeton University shows that certain parts of the brain light up which will help them retain that information longer.
- Novelty: To keep people interested in communicating with you, it’s essential to give them something new to think about or provide some jaw dropping information or moments. Our brains are trained to look for something new and brilliant and thus any novel concept will automatically pique everyone’s interest.
Thus communication is much more than what you say. And it’s also about preventing frustration and misunderstanding and understanding the emotion behind the information. Having said this it’s also important to note that to be a good communicator you need to constantly practice your communication skills to get better and better.
Head of Training and Development