You don’t need to be told that the world of work is tougher than ever – you live it every day. To meet the increasing demands, to do more and to deliver more, top business managers follow seven golden principles. We discussed them in brief last week.
The first principle is communication. Tough management requires an obsessive attention to the effectiveness of all communication, including the what, when, how and most important, the why of what you are communicating.
Equipping yourself with strong communication skills is one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself and your workplace and can vastly enrich social interaction. Working on improving your communication skills is a journey, simply because with it, you are opening new social horizons. So, how do we improve our communication skills, ensuring that we speak to the world with clarity and confidence?
Communication in business is much like communicating with children. You state your point in a way that you consider to be very clear and obvious to the listener, while the listener hears something totally different. Listeners hear what they want or expect to hear or, even worse, interpret what they think you meant, as opposed to what you said.
Listening, a generous act
Listening is really the single most important factor in becoming a clear and confident communicator. Actually, listening to people’s words, to their pitch contour and hints of emotion means you are much more likely to understand where they are coming from and what they are trying to tell you.
Actively, listening and engaging fully in the conversation is great for confidence and personal clarity. Firstly, good listeners are always respected; it is an act of generosity towards the speaker. Secondly, you’ll feel in control: You’ll understand the conversation’s finer points and knowing the finer points means you’ll be much more able to construct coherent and relevant responses and questions.
Unfortunately, simply improving listening skills cannot heal all communication problems. There are a number of other reasons – such as poor self-confidence – why you find your conversations might prove unsatisfactory. A good exercise is to write yourself an open list about what you find uncomfortable in your interactions and the negative feelings you experience after you have left a conversation.
Keep the list with you and the next time you come out of a conversation feeling unhappy, write down what you feel went wrong. This way, you will be able to conceptualise some of the issues involved in your communication problems. Perhaps you need to work on your self-confidence? If so, take up that social hobby you’ve been putting off and which will improve your confidence and beat your communication problems at the source!
Taking responsibility for your words
A diffident speaker peppers her or his speech with ‘Maybe’, ‘But…’, ‘I’ll try…’, ‘I think…’ and ‘I hope…’ It serves to muddy the message and as such works in a vicious circle, reducing confidence, which in turn reducing clarity, which in turn reducing confidence. Next time you go into a conversation, make a conscious effort to show commitment to your proclamations. Believe in your words and make strong statements! That doesn’t mean you will seem bullish, it just means that you’re happy to stand behind your words as you speak them.
If you don’t presume to speak for others (for example, saying, “We think”), if you are a good listener and prepared to learn from others, then this positivity of speech becomes something to be admired.
Aim your speech
All communication, in whatever form, has aims. You speak to be heard and so cause a reaction in the listener. Knowing why you’re entering a conversation, if you initiate it and what you want your words to convey, once you’re in it, means you can focus clearly, keeping all irrelevant details out. As well as this, taking a step back and looking at your intentions before you speak means you’ll be more able to spot negative aims, such as wanting to be hurtful. It’s quite simple – negative aims create negative conversations. Guarding against this can improve your experience of conversation no end. This is especially useful if you have a habit of blundering out horrible things when you are in a fury or under pressure!
Communication is never straightforward. Subtexts lie below subtexts, below subtexts, below subtexts. And that’s to say nothing of those thoughts that people leave in their minds. In many ways that is what makes life exciting; after all, we’re not robots. Ultimately, perfect communication, in terms of fully understanding others, is impossible. That is not to say that there is no point in trying to be a good communicator. It’s quite the opposite. Developing your communication skills means you get nearer and nearer that impossible goal – to understand what it is to be another person.
Think of how often you communicate with people during your day. You write emails, facilitate meetings, participate in conference calls, create reports, devise presentations, debate with your colleagues… the list goes on.
Use seven Cs
We can spend almost our entire day communicating. So, how can we provide a huge boost to our productivity? We can make sure that we communicate in the clearest, most effective way possible. Try the 7 Cs of Communication.
According to the 7 Cs, communication needs to be:
Clear - When writing or speaking to someone, be clear about your goal or message. What is your purpose in communicating with this person? If you’re not sure, then your audience won’t be sure either. To be clear, try to minimize the number of ideas in each sentence. Make sure that it’s easy for your reader to understand your meaning. People shouldn’t have to ‘read between the lines’ and make assumptions on their own to understand what you’re trying to say.
Concise - When you’re concise in your communication, you stick to the point and keep it brief. Your audience doesn’t want to read six sentences when you could communicate your message in three.
Are there any adjectives or ‘filler words’ that you can delete? You can often eliminate words like ‘for instance’, ‘you see’, ‘definitely’, ‘kind of’, ‘literally’, ‘basically’, or ‘I mean’. Are there any unnecessary sentences? Have you repeated the point several times in different ways?
Complete - In a complete message, the audience has everything they need to be informed and, if applicable, take action. Does your message include a ‘call to action’, so that your audience clearly knows what you want them to do? Have you included all relevant information – contact names, dates, times, locations and so on?
Correct - When your communication is correct, it fits your audience. And correct communication is also error-free communication. Do the technical terms you use fit your audience’s level of education or knowledge? Have you checked your writing for grammatical errors? Remember, spell checkers won’t catch everything. Are all names and titles spelled correctly?
Concrete - When your message is concrete, then your audience has a clear picture of what you’re telling them. There are details (but not too many!) and vivid facts, and there’s laser-like focus. Your message is solid.
Coherent - When your communication is orderly, logical and aesthetically consistent, it is coherent; all points are connected and relevant to the main topic and the tone and flow of the text are consistent.
Courteous - Courteous communication is friendly, open and honest. There are no hidden insults or passive-aggressive tones. You keep your reader’s viewpoint in mind and you’re empathetic to their needs.
Recently, there were two additions to the 7 Cs of Communication:
Credible – Does your message improve or highlight your credibility? This is especially important when communicating with an audience that doesn’t know much about you.
Creative – Does your message communicate creatively? Creative communication helps keep your audience engaged.
Use this 7 + 2 Cs of Communication as a checklist for all of your communication. By doing this, you’ll stay clear, concise, concrete, correct, coherent, complete, courteous, credible and creative.
(The writer, a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience, can be contacted