Smart Skills: Communications
eBook - ePub

Smart Skills: Communications

Patrick Forsyth

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  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Smart Skills: Communications

Patrick Forsyth

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About This Book

Communication is one of the most basic functions in any organization. It transmits ideas, thoughts, information, opinions, and plans between various parts of an organization as well as to external customers or businesses – Its vital importance can never be over emphasized.

Yet it can be difficult and communication breakdown is not uncommon. There are several essential elements to making business communications work; these include structure, clarity, consistency, medium, and relevancy and our guide covers those areas within the below chapters:

  • Essential foundations of success
  • Preparation
  • Face-to-face communication
  • Putting it in writing
  • Electronic Communication
  • On your feet
  • Being persuasive
  • Negotiating

Our Smart Skill guide will enable you to target and convey your information through software, telephone or in-person methods. Regardless of what medium you use, effective communication means your message is received clearly and is understood entirely.

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“Please be sure to lock your door securely before entering or leaving your room.”
Notice on the inside of a hotel bedroom door.
The notice quoted above makes a good point. Someone wrote that, printed it and put on 252 doors and still didn’t notice that it was nonsense – and it is just one sentence. How many times have you heard someone in your office say something like: But I thought you said...? What is the difference between saying something is: quite nice and rather nice? And would you find anything that only warranted either description the least bit interesting?
Make no mistake: communication can be difficult.
Have you ever come out of a meeting or put the telephone down on someone and said to yourself: what’s the matter with that idiot, don’t they understand anything? And, if so, did it cross your mind afterwards that maybe the difficulty was that you were not explaining matters as well as you could? Make no mistake: the responsibility for making communication work lies primarily with the communicator.
The first rule about communication is never to assume it is simple. It is easy to take communicating for granted; indeed much of it is straightforward. But sometimes we are not as precise as we might be; never mind, often we muddle through and little harm is done. Except that occasionally it is. Some communication breakdowns become out and out derailments.
Often there is so much hanging on it that communications must be got right and the penalties of not so doing range from minor disgruntlement to, at worst, a cessation of business. So the rule – everyone needing to take responsibility for their communication and to execute it in a sufficiently considered manner to make it work effectively – is a vital one.


Any difficulties occur not because other people are especially perverse but because communication is, in fact, inherently difficult. Let’s consider why.

Inherent problems

To communicate successfully, it is necessary to make sure people:
• Hear what you say, and thus listen.
• Understand, and do so accurately.
• Agree, certainly with most of it, and take action if that is intended.
• Are stimulated to provide feedback.
Consider the areas above in turn in the context of the inherent way in which human nature works:
Objective: to hear/listen (or read).
• People cannot or will not concentrate for long periods of time, so this fact must be accommodated by the way we communicate. Long monologues are out, written communication should have plenty of breaks, headings and fresh starts, and two way conversation must be used to prevent people thinking they are pinned down and have to listen to something interminable.
• People pay less attention to elements of a communication that appear to them unimportant, so creating the right emphasis, to ensure that key points are not missed, is the responsibility of the communicator.
In other words you have to work at making sure you are heard – to earn a hearing.
Objective: to ensure accurate understanding.
• People make assumptions based on their past experience, so you must make sure you relate to just that. If you wrongly assume certain experience exists then your message will not make much sense (imagine trying to teach someone to drive if they had never sat in a car: press your foot on the accelerator – what’s that?).
• Other peoples’ jargon is often not understood, so think very carefully about the amount you use and with whom. Jargon is “professional slang” and creates a useful shorthand between people in the know, for example in one organisation or one industry, but dilutes a message if used inappropriately. For instance, used in a way that assumes a greater competence than actually exists (and remember, people don’t like to sound stupid and may well be reluctant to say, I don’t understand) it will hinder understanding.
• Things heard but not seen are more easily misunderstood, thus anything you can show may be useful; so too are words “painting a picture.”
• Assumptions are often drawn before a speaker finishes: the listener is, in fact, saying to themselves, I’m sure I can see where this is going and their concentration reduces, focusing instead on planning their own next comment. This too needs accommodating and where a point is key, feedback should be sought to ensure that concentration has not faltered and the message really has got through.
Overall, clarity not only allows people to understand what is put to them, it allows them to agree with the sense of it too.
Objective: obtain agreement and prompt action.
Changing habits is difficult: recognising this is the first step to influencing it. A stronger case may need making than would be the case if this was not true. It also means that care must be taken to link past and future, for example not saying: that was wrong and this is better but rather: that was fine then, but this will be better in future (and explaining how changed circumstances make this so). Any phraseology that casts doubt on someone’s early decisions should be avoided wherever possible.
There may be fear of taking action – will it work? What will people think? What will my boss think? What are the consequences of it not working out? This risk avoidance is a natural feeling: recognising this and offering appropriate reassurance is vital.
Many people are simply reluctant to make decisions: they may need real help from you and it is a mistake to assume that laying out an irresistible case and just waiting for commitment is all there is to it.
In addition, you need a further objective:
Objective: stimulating feedback.
• Some (all?) people sometimes deliberately hide their reaction – some flushing out and reading between the lines may be necessary
• Appearances can be deceptive. For example, Trust me is as often a warning sign as a comment to be welcomed – some care is necessary.
The net effect of all this is rather like trying to peer through fog. Communication goes to and fro, but effectively through a filter, part of which may be blocked, perhaps warped or let through only incompletely. Partly, the remedy to all this is simply watchfulness. If you appreciate the difficulties, you can adjust your communications style a little to compensate, and thus achieve better understanding.
One moral is surely clear. Communication is likely to be better for some planning. This may only be a few second’s thought – the old premise of engaging the brain before the mouth (or writing arm) through to making some notes before you draft an email or proposal, or even sitting down with a colleague for a while to thrash out the best way to approach something.
Already this provides some antidotes to the inherent difficulties, but are there any principles that run parallel and provide mechanisms to balance the difficulty and make matters easier? Luckily the answer is: yes there are.


Good communication is, in part, a matter of attention to detail. Just using one word instead of another can make a slight difference. Actually, using words with precision can make a significant difference. And there are plenty of other factors that contribute, many explored as this book continues. But there are also certain overall factors that are of major influence and which can be used to condition your communications. These include:

The What about me? factor

Any message is more likely to be listened to and accepted if how it affects people is spelt out. Whatever the effect, people want to know, What do I gain from this? and How will it hurt me? People are interested in both the potential positive and negative effects. Tell someone that you have a new, reorganised system and they will likely think the worst. Certainly their reaction is unlikely to be simply, Good for you, it is more likely to be, Sounds like that will be complicated or Bet that will have teething troubles or slow things down. Tell them they are going to get a faster, more certain result with the new system, and add that it is already drawing good reactions and you spell out the message and what the effects on them will be altogether, rather than leaving them asking questions.
Whatever you say, bear in mind that people view it in this kind of way, build in the answers and you avert their potential suspicion and make them more likely to want to take the message on board.

The That’s logical factor

The sequence and structure of communication is very important. If people know what it is, understand why it was chosen and believe it will work for them, then they will pay more attention. Conversely, if it is unclear or illogical then they worry about it, and this takes their mind off listening.
Information is remembered and used in an order – try saying your own telephone number as quickly backwards as you do forwards – so your selection of a sensible order for communication will make sense to people and again they will warm to the message.
Telling people about this is called signposting. Say, Let me give you some details about the specification, the performance and the installation and, provided that makes sense to the listener, they will want to hear what comes next. So tell them about the specification and then move on. It is almost impossible to overuse signposting. Sometimes order can be strengthened by explaining why the order has been chosen, Let’s go through it chronologically, perhaps I could spell out...
Whatever you have to say, think about what you say first, second, third and so on and make the order you choose an appropriate sequence.

The I can relate to that factor

Imagine a description of a wonderful sunset. What does it make you think of? Well, a sunset, you may say. But how do you do this? You recall sunsets you have seen in the past and what you imagine draws on that memory, probably conjuring up a composite based on many memories. Because it’s reasonable to assume that you have previously seen a sunset, and enjoyed the experience, I can be fairly certain that a brief description will put what I want in your mind.
It is, in fact, almost impossible not to allow related things to come into your mind as you take in a message (try it now and do not think about a refreshing drink. See.) This fact about the way the human mind works must...

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