Surely everybody knows how to communicate – don’t they? We’ve only been doing it our whole lives – haven’t we?
Because it is so familiar to us however, unless we are learning a new language or travelling a foreign country, it’s most likely that we’ve never even given it a second thought. For the majority of us, communication happens at a somewhat unconscious level.
The truth is though, when we become over familiar with something, we can often become complacent and neglect to recognise its importance. This can apply significantly to our communication skills within the workplace. Effective communication within an organisation or team is critically important as it establishes trust and rapport and can ensure that risks/opportunities are quickly identified and resolved. The opposite (poor communication) can create a poor work environment with low motivation among staff.
In light of this and in order to bring our communication skills back to a conscious level, we should often ask ourselves the following questions:
• Am I getting the best out of my relationships with colleagues and clients?
• Are there issues that could be resolved with better communication?
• What can I do to ensure that my actions and behaviours aren’t causing negative repercussions in my business relationships?
One of the most important things to understand when it comes to communicating – is that we all do it differently. We all have different communication styles and personalities and it is vital that we are aware how this can affect the way in which we send and receive (interpret) information.
A message can be influenced by both the sender or the receiver and differences in personality and past experiences. These differences may relate to values, culture, skills, feelings, attitudes and personal history and can be referred to as barriers to communication. Some other barriers include distrust, defensiveness, stereotyping and the misreading of body language and tone.
Body language (or non verbal communication) is a really important tool when it comes to communicating. Many body language experts agree that a large majority (some have said up to 55%) of all human communications are non-verbal. Have a think about it the next time you are in an important meeting. Think about the way you are sitting; whether you have your arms crossed (appearing closed) or whether you find yourself averting others’ eye contact (appearing shy) and so forth. Also look at other people’s body language. Is it contradictory to what they are saying? A fantastic web site for more information on the importance of body language interpretation is – http://www.businessballs.com/body-language.htm.
Some other things we can do to improve our communication skills
• Think about what you say, before you say it
• Listen first. Communication is a two-way process
• Ask questions to show you are listening and to ensure you understand what someone is saying
• Try to anticipate potential confusion before it happens
• Think about what the person needs to know and what they don’t (for example, there is no point giving someone a 12 page background document when the executive summary would suffice)
• Try to see things from others’ perspectives
• Think about the way you deliver/the best channel for your message (for example email alone may not be suitable for complex issues – try following up with a phone call or meeting)
• Have someone QA important documents and emails to provide feedback on any confusion
• Pay attention to body language (your own and others)
• Use diagrams and charts where relevant (we can process pictures and images very effectively)
• Try to understand what the underlying concept of your message is to simplify it if possible
• Try to be enthusiastic when appropriate
• Learn from your interactions – positive and negative
However, good communication generally means being open, so whilst we may now have ideas on how to improve our communication skills, we need to ensure that we create opportunities to put them into effect. Regular internal and external meetings are vital to maintaining good communication and effective relationships. Keeping online communications up to date including company websites and social media channels – regularly pushing out information is critical.
Lastly, if communication is to be effective, it requires adequate resourcing and should be given a high priority in every organisation. It must be seen as a strategic part of the planning and management processes. All employees have a role to play in communication, and methods and channels of communication should be reviewed regularly.