Communication Skills – Start Here! Why you need to get your message across Effective communication is all about conveying your messages to other people clearly and unambiguously. It’s also about receiving information that others are sending to you, with as little distortion as possible. Doing this involves effort from both the sender of the message and the receiver. And it’s a process that can be fraught with error, with messages muddled by the sender, or misinterpreted by the recipient. When this isn’t detected, it can cause tremendous confusion, wasted effort and missed opportunity. In fact, communication is only successful when both the sender and the receiver understand the same information as a result of the communication. By successfully getting your message across, you convey your thoughts and ideas effectively. When not successful, the thoughts and ideas that you actually send do not necessarily reflect what you think, causing a communications breakdown and creating roadblocks that stand in the way of your goals – both personally and professionally. In a recent survey of recruiters from companies with more than 50,000 employees, communication skills were cited as the single more important decisive factor in choosing managers. The survey, conducted by the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Business School, points out that communication skills, including written and oral presentations, as well as an ability to work with others, are the main factor contributing to job success. In spite of the increasing importance placed on communication skills, many individuals continue to struggle, unable to communicate their thoughts and ideas effectively – whether in verbal or written format. This inability makes it nearly impossible for them to compete effectively in the workplace, and stands in the way of career progression. Being able to communicate effectively is therefore essential if you want to build a successful career. To do this, you must understand what your message is, what audience you are sending it to, and how it will be perceived. You must also weigh-in the circumstances surrounding your communications, such as situational and cultural context.
Communications Skills – The Importance of Removing Barriers
Problems with communication can pop-up at every stage of the communication process (which consists of the sender, encoding, the channel, decoding, the receiver, feedback and the context – see the diagram below). At each stage, there is the potential for misunderstanding and confusion.
To be an effective communicator and to get your point across without misunderstanding and confusion, your goal should be to lessen the frequency of problems at each stage of this process, with clear, concise, accurate, well-planned communications. We follow the process through below:
As the source of the message, you need to be clear about why you’re communicating, and what you want to communicate. You also need to be confident that the information you’re communicating is useful and accurate.
The message is the information that you want to communicate.
This is the process of transferring the information you want to communicate into a form that can be sent and correctly decoded at the other end. Your success in encoding depends partly on your ability to convey information clearly and simply, but also on your ability to anticipate and eliminate sources of confusion (for example, cultural issues, mistaken assumptions, and missing information.) A key part of this is knowing your audience: Failure to understand who you are communicating with will result in delivering messages that are misunderstood.
Messages are conveyed through channels, with verbal channels including face-to-face meetings, telephone and videoconferencing; and written channels including letters, emails, memos and reports.
Different channels have different strengths and weaknesses. For example, it’s not particularly effective to give a long list of directions verbally, while you’ll quickly cause problems if you give someone negative feedback using email.
Just as successful encoding is a skill, so is successful decoding (involving, for example, taking the time to read a message carefully, or listen actively to it.) Just as confusion can arise from errors in encoding, it can also arise from decoding errors. This is particularly the case if the decoder doesn’t have enough knowledge to understand the message.
Your message is delivered to individual members of your audience. No doubt, you have in mind the actions or reactions you hope your message will get from this audience. Keep in mind, though, that each of these individuals enters into the communication process with ideas and feelings that will undoubtedly influence their understanding of your message, and their response. To be a successful communicator, you should consider these before delivering your message, and act appropriately.
Your audience will provide you with feedback, as verbal and nonverbal reactions to your communicated message. Pay close attention to this feedback, as it is the only thing that can give you confidence that your audience has understood your message. If you find that there has been a misunderstanding, at least you have the opportunity to send the message a second time.
The situation in which your message is delivered is the context. This may include the surrounding environment or broader culture (corporate culture, international cultures, and so on).
Removing Barriers at All These Stages:
To deliver your messages effectively, you must commit to breaking down the barriers that exist within each of these stages of the communication process.
Let’s begin with the message itself. If your message is too lengthy, disorganized, or contains errors, you can expect the message to be misunderstood and misinterpreted. Use of poor verbal and body language can also confuse the message.
Barriers in context tend to stem from senders offering too much information too fast. When in doubt here, less is oftentimes more. It is best to be mindful of the demands on other people’s time, especially in today’s ultra-busy society.
Once you understand this, you need to work to understand your audience’s culture, making sure you can converse and deliver your message to people of different backgrounds and cultures within your own organization, in your country and even abroad.
Making a Great First Impression:-
It takes just a quick glance, maybe three seconds, for someone to evaluate you when you meet for the first time. In this short time, the other person forms an opinion about you based on your appearance, your body language, your demeanor, your mannerisms, and how you are dressed.
With every new encounter, you are evaluated and yet another person’s impression of you is formed. These first impression can be nearly impossible to reverse or undo, making these first encounters extremely important, for they set the tone for the all the relationships that follows.
So, whether they are in your career or social life, it’s important to know how to create a good first impression. This article provides some useful tips to help you do this.
Be on Time
Someone you are meeting for the first time is not interested in your “good excuse” for running late. Plan to arrive a few minutes early. And allow flexibility for possible delays in traffic or taking a wrong turn. Arriving early is much better that arriving late, hands down, and is the first step in creating a great first impression.
Be Yourself, Be at Ease
If you are feeling uncomfortable and on edge, this can make the other person ill at ease and that’s a sure way to create the wrong impression. If you are calm and confident, so the other person will feel more at ease, and so have a solid foundation for making that first impression a good one. See our section on relaxation techniques to find out how to calm that adrenaline!
Present Yourself Appropriately
Of course physical appearance matters. The person you are meeting for the first time does not know you and your appearance is usually the first clue he or she has to go on.
But it certainly does not mean you need to look like a model to create a strong and positive first impression. (Unless you are interviewing with your local model agency, of course!)
No. The key to a good impression is to present yourself appropriately.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and so the “picture” you first present says much about you to the person you are meeting. Is your appearance saying the right things to help create the right first impression?
Start with the way you dress. What is the appropriate dress for the meeting or occasion? In a business setting, what is the appropriate business attire? Suit, blazer, casual? And ask yourself what the person you’ll be meeting is likely to wear – if your contact is in advertising or the music industry, a pinstripe business suit may not strike the right note!
For business and social meetings, appropriate dress also varies between countries and cultures, so it’s something that you should pay particular attention to when in an unfamiliar setting or country. Make sure you know the traditions and norms.
And what about your personal grooming? Clean and tidy appearance is appropriate for most business and social occasions. A good haircut or shave. Clean and tidy clothes. Neat and tidy make up. Make sure your grooming is appropriate and helps make you feel “the part”.
Appropriate dressing and grooming help make a good first impression and also help you feel “the part”, and so feel more calm and confident. Add all of this up and you are well on your way to creating a good first impression.
A Word about Individuality
The good news is you can usually create a good impression without total conformity or losing your individuality. Yes, to make a good first impression you do need to “fit in” to some degree. But it all goes back to being appropriate for the situation. If in a business setting, wear appropriate business attire. If at a formal evening social event, wear appropriate evening attire. And express your individuality appropriately within that context.
A Winning Smile!
“Smile and the world smiles too.”* So there’s nothing like a smile to create a good first impression. A warm and confident smile will put both you and the other person at ease. So smiling is a winner when it comes to great first impressions. But don’t go overboard with this – people who take this too far can seem insincere and smarmy, or can be seen to be “lightweights”.
Be Open and Confident
When it comes to making the first impression, body language as well as appearance speaks much louder than words.
Use your body language to project appropriate confidence and self-assurance. Stand tall, smile (of course), make eye contact, greet with a firm handshake. All of this will help you project confidence and encourage both you and the other person to feel better at ease.
Almost everyone gets a little nervous when meeting someone for the first time, which can lead to nervous habits or sweaty palms. By being aware of your nervous habits, you can try to keep them in check. And controlling a nervous jitter or a nervous laugh will give you confidence and help the other person feel at ease. Again, see our section on relaxation techniques for help with this.
Small Talk Goes a Long Way…
Conversations are based on verbal give and take. It may help you to prepare questions you have for the person you are meeting for the first time beforehand. Or, take a few minutes to learn something about the person you meet for the first time before you get together. For instance, does he play golf? Does she work with a local charitable foundation?
Is there anything that you know of that you have in common with the person you are meeting? If so, this can be a great way to open the conversation and to keep it flowing.
Your attitude shows through in everything you do. Project a positive attitude, even in the face of criticism or in the case of nervousness. Strive to learn from your meeting and to contribute appropriately, maintaining an upbeat manner and a smile.
Be Courteous And Attentive
It goes without saying that good manners and polite, attentive and courteous behavior help make a good first impression. In fact, anything less can ruin the one chance you have at making that first impression. So be on your best behavior!
One modern manner worth mentioning is “turn off your mobile phone”. What first impression will you create if you are already speaking to someone other than the person you are meeting for the first time? Your new acquaintance deserves 100% of your attention. Anything less and you’ll create a less than good first impression.
You have just a few seconds to make a good first impression and it’s almost impossible ever to change it. So it’s worth giving each new encounter your best shot. Much of what you need to do to make a good impression is common sense. But with a little extra thought and preparation, you can hone your intuitive style and make every first impression not just good but great.
The Johari Window:
Creating Better Understanding Between Individuals and Groups
The Johari Window is a communication model that can be used to improve understanding between individuals within a team or in a group setting. Based on disclosure, self-disclosure and feedback, the Johari Window can also be used to improve a group’s relationship with other groups
Developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham (the word “Johari” comes from Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham), there are two key ideas behind the tool:
- That individuals can build trust between themselves by disclosing information about themselves; and
- That they can learn about themselves and come to terms with personal issues with the help of feedback from others.
By explaining the idea of the Johari Window to your team, you can help team members understand the value of self-disclosure, and gently encourage people to give and accept feedback. Done sensitively, this can help people build more-trusting relationships with one another, solve issues and work more effectively as a team.
Explaining the Johari Window:
The Johari Window model consists of a foursquare grid (think of taking a piece of paper and dividing it into four parts by drawing one line down the middle of the paper from top to bottom, and another line through the middle of the paper from side-to-side). This is shown in the diagram below:
Using the Johari model, each person is represented by their own four-quadrant, or four-pane, window. Each of these contains and represents personal information – feelings, motivation – about the person, and shows whether the information is known or not known by themselves or other people.
The four quadrants are:
Quadrant 1: Open Area
What is known by the person about him/herself and is also known by others.
Quadrant 2: Blind Area, or “Blind Spot”
What is unknown by the person about him/herself but which others know. This can be simple information, or can involve deep issues (for example, feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, unworthiness, rejection) which are difficult for individuals to face directly, and yet can be seen by others.
Quadrant 3: Hidden or Avoided Area
What the person knows about him/herself that others do not.
Quadrant 4: Unknown Area
What is unknown by the person about him/herself and is also unknown by others.
The process of enlarging the open quadrant vertically is called self-disclosure, a give and take process between the person and the people he/she interacts with.
As information is shared, the boundary with the hidden quadrant moves downwards. And as other people reciprocate, trust tends to build between them.
Don’t be rash in your self-disclosure. Disclosing harmless items builds trust. However, disclosing information which could damage people’s respect for you can put you in a position of weakness.
Using the Tool:
The process of enlarging the open quadrant horizontally is one of feedback. Here the individual learns things about him- or her-self that others can see, but he or she can’t.
Be careful in the way you give feedback. Some cultures have a very open and accepting approach to feedback. Others don’t. You can cause incredible offence if you offer personal feedback to someone who’s not used to it. Be sensitive, and start gradually.
If anyone is interested in learning more about this individual, they reciprocate by disclosing information in their hidden quadrant.
For example, the first participant may disclose that he/she is a runner. The other participant may respond by adding that he/she works out regularly at the local gym, and may then disclose that the gym has recently added an indoor jogging track for winter runners.
The Johari Window in a Team Context
Keep in mind that established team members will have larger open areas than new team members. New team members start with smaller open areas because little knowledge about the new team member has yet been shared. The size of the Open Area can be expanded horizontally into the blind space, by seeking and actively listening to feedback from other group members.
Group members should strive to assist a team member in expanding their Open Area by offering constructive feedback. The size of the Open Area can also be expanded vertically downwards into the hidden or avoided space by the sender’s disclosure of information, feelings, etc about himself/herself to the group and group members.
Also, group members can help a person expand their Open Area into the hidden area by asking the sender about himself/herself. Managers and team leaders play a key role here, facilitating feedback and disclosure among group members, and by providing constructive feedback to individuals about their own blind areas.
In most cases, the aim in groups should be to develop the Open Area for every person.
Working in this area with others usually allows for enhanced individual and team effectiveness and productivity. The Open Area is the ‘space’ where good communications and cooperation occur, free from confusion, conflict and misunderstanding.
Self-disclosure is the process by which people expand the Open Area vertically. Feedback is the process by which people expand this area horizontally.
By encouraging healthy self-disclosure and sensitive feedback, you can build a stronger and more effective team.
Using stories to inspire
Think about this for a minute, because it may happen more often than you think. How many times have you stayed up late reading a novel that you “couldn’t” put down, or watching a movie that you couldn’t turn off? How many times have you pushed yourself harder after hearing the story of someone else’s success, or changed your opinion after reading a convincing article in a magazine or newspaper?
There’s no doubt that stories can change the way we think, act, and feel. Leaders, especially, can use the power of a good story to influence and motivate their teams to new heights. Stories can inspire everything from understanding to action. They can create legends that an entire workplace culture can build upon, and they have the power to break down barriers and turn a bad situation into a good one. Stories can capture our imaginations and make things real in a way that cold, hard facts can’t.
Make no mistake – stories can be very, very powerful leadership tools. Great leaders know this, and many top CEOs today use stories to illustrate points and sell their ideas.
So, do you want to be a persuasive motivator? If so, learn how to tell a good story. But how? When should you tell a story, and how do you know what kind of story to tell to get the results you want? This article summarizes our Expert Interview with Annette Simmons, author of “Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins.“
Types of Stories
Learn what kind of story to tell for different situations. There are six main types of story that you can use in the workplace:
- “Who I Am” Stories – When you start leading a team, members of your new team sometimes make automatic judgments about who you are. They may see you as controlling, mean, or “out to get them” without really knowing you. If you tell a “Who I Am” story when you first become a team leader, you can give a powerful insight into what really motivates you. This can break down walls and help your team realize that you’re a person just like them.Your goal with a “Who I Am” story should be to reveal some type of flaw about yourself or mistake that you’ve made. Why? Because by revealing a flaw, you show your team that you trust them with this information. Revealing flaws can also make you more approachable, because it demonstrates that you’re only human. (Just make sure it’s a small flaw!)
For example, the author often finds that when clients first meet her, they assume that her primary goal is to sell them copies of her book or more consulting time. She gets past this by explaining that her dad was a social worker who wanted her to help others (while also being her own boss) and so felt she should go to law school. She was so determined not to do this, that she moved to Australia. This story has the double benefit of emphasizing that she didn’t grow up in privileged circumstances, and so actually has a background similar to that of many of her clients, and also that she might sometimes make slightly foolish decisions. After all, emigrating to another continent is a rather extreme way of getting out of going to law school!
- “Why I’m Here” Stories – These are very similar to “Who I Am” stories. The goal is to replace suspicion with trust, and help your team realize that you don’t have any hidden agendas. Show that you’re a good person, and that you want to work together with them to achieve a common goal.For example, a new member of the school board was appointed to the sub-committee responsible for the head teacher’s performance management. In their first meeting, which looked at whether the head had met her stated objectives in the past year, the new member challenged the Head on several aspects of the proof presented. After the meeting, the new board member approached the Head, and explained “I’m sure you realize that my challenges are not personal. And I think you’re doing great work. However, my duty as a board member is to ensure that the city’s education budget is being spent wisely, and so it’s my job to ensure that bonuses are only paid when there’s a real justification for doing so.” The Head reassured her that she understood this perfectly, and was, in fact, grateful for the rigor she had brought to the process.
- Teaching Stories – It can be very hard to teach without demonstrating, and that’s the whole purpose of Teaching Stories.There’s no better example of this than Aesop’s fables. Remember “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”? This story alone has taught millions of children not to yell for help unless there’s a real need for it. Although it’s simple, like most fables, it’s done an effective job for centuries.
Use Teaching Stories to make a lesson clear and to help people remember why they’re doing something in the first place.
The author tells a more recent example to emphasize the value of teaching stories. She was working with a nation wide chain of care homes for the elderly. Many of the staff in these homes are young and, with the best intentions, often use tones of voice that are more suitable for addressing young children than elderly people. The challenge was to get these young staff to remember to use respectful tones of voice. She achieved this by telling the story of her own grandmother, who suffered a stroke and was unable to speak. After some months, she gave up eating because she had decided she would rather die than live without dignity, because of the patronizing way in which her carers spoke to her.
- Vision Stories – Tell these to inspire hope, especially when your team needs occasional reminders of why they’re doing what they should be doing.Vision Stories are meant to stimulate action and raise morale. Find a story that reminds everyone what the ultimate goal is, and why it’s important that everyone reaches that goal. This type of story should be told from your heart, with emotion.
The author shares her own vision story, which is one of human beings saving the planet from ecological disaster by working together. She drew on the importance of embedding this collaborative approach in society when she was at the airport recently, and her plane was delayed for the third time. While it would have been tempting to take out her frustration on the airline staff, remembering the importance of helping others to work collaboratively helped her calm her emotions.
- “Values in Action” Stories – When you see the word “integrity,” what do you think of? Honesty? Doing the right thing for the right reason?Every value can mean something different from person to person. If you want to pass on values to your team, start by defining what those values mean to you. So, if you want your team to demonstrate a high level of customer service, then tell a story that reveals exactly what customer service means to you.
For example, a chain of opticians ran an advertising campaign that offered to replace glasses with a new style if customers didn’t like the frames when they got them home. Now this led to the transaction costing the optician money in most cases. However, the manager at one store regularly told his staff about a customer who had taken advantage – most apologetically – of the offer, but then not only remained loyal to that optical chain for years, but also recommended the chain to her family and friends. As a result, the small loss on one transaction bought the chain many profitable purchases in the future.
- “I Know What You’re Thinking” Stories – The world of business involves frequent bargaining. The advantage of telling this type of story is that you can recognize another person’s objections, and then show why those objections aren’t applicable in this situation. You can show respect for the other point of view while convincing the person that you’re right.For example, a saleswoman in children’s shoe store convinces a mom to buy a pair of premium-priced shoes by explaining that if her child doesn’t find his new shoes comfortable after a week, she can bring them back for an exchange or refund. This is the case even though the shoes would be worn and couldn’t be resold. The saleswoman backs this up by telling of one customer who did that just last week, although she was the only customer whose child hadn’t loved the shoes.
Keep these suggestions in mind when telling your stories:
- Be authentic – The best storytellers talk from their hearts, so don’t try to fake an emotion that you don’t feel. Your listeners will probably see through this, and your story will crash and burn.
- Pay attention to your audience – Stories that are too long are generally boring. Tell the story well, but don’t go on forever.
- Practice – Try to practice before you tell the story. Even if you tell it to yourself just once in front of a mirror or video camera, this can help you when you’re in front of your real audience.
- Create an experience – Remember that when you tell a story, you’re creating an experience for your listeners. Don’t just use sound (words), but the other senses as well. Show your listeners the picture you’re painting, don’t just tell them.For example, it’s easy to tell people that it’s snowing outside. But if you want your listeners to really experience the snow, then describe how cold it is and the way the wind blows snow into your eyes. Tell them how you dream of a hot cup of cocoa after you’re done shoveling snow in your driveway, and how your toes freeze because your boots aren’t warm enough. Try to engage the five senses in every story: taste, touch, sight, hearing, and smell. They’ll make your story come alive.
Stories can be powerful leadership tools – if they’re told well.
Know which kind of story to tell, and spend time brainstorming some good ideas for each type of situation. Remember, you’re creating an experience for your listeners, so focus on using at least two or three senses when you tell your story. Create interest, and draw your listeners in. Show them what you’re saying, don’t just tell them.