by Elaine Cercado
I have noticed that the subject of “improving communication skills” would always get a “high-impact” rating through all the years that I’ve been delivering management development and sales training programs. Whether the audience is made up of new or experienced professionals and managers, it has remained a favorite skill to learn and re-learn.
While we all communicate everyday at work and home, not all of us are comfortable doing it, and not all of us get the results we desire. Communication is indeed important, as it is the basis of interpersonal interactions. Strong communication skills could result to strong and successful relationships; reversely, weak communication skills could result to disastrous and failed relationships.
In this article, I will share some tips to refine communication skills in the context of the workplace. When these communications skills are applied consistently, the impact to relationships at work is positive for sure. Positive relationships lead to a strong personal influence, a big network, and a successful career at the personal level. At an organizational or business level, positive relationships could lead to successful projects, higher sales and bigger business.
Tip #1: Understand the communication process, know where your gaps are and address them.
In every communication, there’s a source, a channel and a receiver. From the source, there is a process of encoding the message, which is decoded by the receiver. The receiver gives feedback to the source once decoded within the context or given situation. Successful communication happens when both the source and the receiver understand the same message. The illustration below shows the communication process.
If you are the source of the communication, it is important to plan your message. Oftentimes, we start communicating without taking a moment to plan what we want to say, why & for whom. One of the most effective ways to communicate is to KISS-keep it simple & straightforward! The other effective way is the 3T or 3S – Tell/Say what you will say, Tell/Say it, Tell/Say what you have just told/said.
It is also important to choose the words and the body language that will allow the receiver to really understand your message. When choosing the channel of communication, consider the sensitivity of the topic, the emotional content, the ease of communicating the details, the receiver’s preference, the time constraint and the need for immediate answers to questions. Will email or face-to-face be the most effective considering all these? Choose wise to avoid miscommunication!
Finally, if you are the receiver, listen. There are different levels of listening and you should strive to listen to the highest level – that will be the focus of the next tip. Listening sounds easy – but it is actually a skill that requires conscious, consistent practice to fully develop. Some ways to improve listening skills: do not interrupt, focus, paraphrase, listen to both facts and feelings, and pay attention to non-verbal language. The last will be the subject of tip #3, as understanding non-verbal language can richly empower your communication skills and relationships.
Tip #2: Improve your listening skills to the highest level of listening.
We are used to “active listening” – which is listening attentively, and demonstrating that by asking questions, focusing, avoiding personal opinion, and showing non-verbal responses such as by nodding or using facial expressions. However, if you can tap into the emotions and feeling, and you can show that you understand what the person is going through – without necessarily agreeing or experiencing the same emotions – then you are showing a capacity for empathetic listening. This is the highest level of listening – when you can say “I appreciate and understand how you feel.” When you say that with all sincerity, you are able to connect and raise your relationship to a higher level. As the poet Maya Angelou has said, “People will forget what you did, they will forget what you said, but they will never forget the way you made them feel”.
Tip 3#: Master the art and science of non-verbal language.
According to Professor Albert Mehrabian who has pioneered the understanding of communications since the 1960’s, we communicate through words, tone and body language. According to Mehrabian, spoken words only account for 7% of communication, while tone of voice accounts for 38%, and body language and facial expression account for 55%. This has become the famous “7%-38%-55% rule” or the 3Vs (verbal, vocal and visual) in communication.
The implication is that if the words disagree with the tone of voice and nonverbal behavior, people tend to believe the tonality and non-verbal behavior, not the words. Hence, for effective and meaningful communication, these three parts of the message need to support each other and be congruent.
If you are the source of the communication, ensure all three components – verbal, vocal and visual – are congruent. Otherwise, you might send confusing signals. If you are the receiver of the communication, learn to understand what is being said – and not being said (the non-verbal language). If unsure, you can validate and confirm by using your questioning skills.
I’ve witnessed successful relationships at work, at home and in the community. A key success factor that is consistent among these relationships is clear and effective communication. Whether we are communicating at the personal or intimate level, or at the national or international level (i.e. country to country relations), the communication process remains the same. The goal of communicating is as basic as ensuring that the sender and receiver understand the same message, or that they are in synch. Once that connection is made, the relationship takes off successfully. My key message: continuously refine your communication skills for strengthened relationships and successful careers or businesses. Are we in synch?