Communication is a vital part of our day-to-day lives. It is a skill that we regularly exercise, yet rarely practice or have a desire to perfect. The ability for us to be able to communicate effectively has a significant bearing on the things that we do, the lives of the people around us and on our own lives as a whole.
Think back to a time when you were last reprimanded by your boss, or, for some of us, your spouse! How did you feel? Did you come out of the discussion feeling positive and ready to put right the situation that got you there? More often than not the answer is a resounding no. This could have been a different answer if the communication channel had adopted a more positive stance.
There are lots of situations where ineffective communication can cause unwanted results, far too many to list here. However we can solve this problem, at least from our end, by looking at the steps required for effective communication and transferring them seamlessly into our daily lives.
Back when I started out in the world of Management, I was an Assistant Manager with a branch of McDonalds in Kent and communication was a key part of that role. It was due to these communication skills that I was able to be promoted and become the Restaurant Manager for one of these stores at the tender age of 23. You see, there are lots of people working as part of a team in a fast-paced environment trying to deliver a fast, efficient level of service to the customer. There is communication with the people working the different stations, communication with the customer by way of the counter person serving. There is also communication via the in-store marketing that is all around. Internally, you have communication with your employees who come from various walks of life and have very different needs and desires. Communication with your vertical hierarchy is very important as well, to ensure you have a good relationship with your line managers and boost your promotion chances.
Messages need conveying all the time and what follows are the key components that I was taught to use.
The Communication Model
There are four components to the Communication Model.
The message that is being sent needs to come from somewhere, so we have a **Sender**. The person, machine, device that starts the communication process. For every person that sends a message, there needs to be one or more people to receive the message. These are the Receivers. If you don’t have anybody getting the message, you don’t have communication The Sender conveys to the Receiver a Message. This is the whole point of communication in the first place, a message needs to be sent! The most important part and that part that is oft forgotten. Feedback. If there is no feedback, you cannot guarantee that the message has been received properly, so the Communication Model has not been effectively completed. We’ve all seen the programs on TV which are set in a professional kitchen. The orders come into the Head Chef who looks at each individual sheet and shouts (usually!) in a loud, clear voice one part of the order. He is the sender, sending a message to a receiver, who in this case is the person who is responsible for preparing that part of the order. The receiver will shout an acknowledgement, usually “Yes Chef”, which gives us our feedback.
A perfect communication model in action.
Barriers to Communication
The situation above is fairly utopian in that there are lots of assumptions being made with regards to the message being sent and the environment in place. There are many barriers to communication that you should be aware of and always try to avoid whenever possible, or mitigate against.
The kitchen could be extremely noisy. There is a lot of equipment on, people bustling around. The chef will mitigate against this by shouting the order to ensure that the receiver is able to receive the message clearly. You need to be aware of the environment you are in before sending a message out. For example, if you are upstairs in your house, bathing your children and your spouse shouts a message to you, there is a very good chance you are not going to receive that message. There is the immediate noise of the children laughing, splashing, playing. Your concentration acts as a filter because you are not listening for a message but playing with your children. The distance between the room your spouse is in and your current location will also act as a filter. The easier option is for the sender to come up the stairs and convey the message.
Yes, this is from personal experience!
Another example of a filter includes communicating with people who don’t have English as a native language. They are able to receive the message but it may not be received in the way that the sender intended. In this situation, it is crucial that the feedback is received in a more detailed manner. I find myself in this situation quite often when consulting with clients and, dependant on the level of importance of the message, as well as the medium used, I will ask for the message to be repeated back to me to ensure it has been understood. Obviously this is isn’t required if it’s an email communication because there is no variance on what is seen on the screen, however, my dialect may not be as easy for my client to understand as a written word, so confirmation that the message has been understood clearly is vital.
Communication isn’t all about talking or writing emails. One of the main skills you can develop, particularly if you are in a management role, is the art of listening. When you listen, you are putting yourself in a position whereby you can gain knowledge about a particular person, subject or situation. By not listening, you are closing yourself off and we’ve all felt that frustration of trying to talk to someone who clearly isn’t giving you their full attention.
There are some distinct listening skills you can adopt to help you with your communication and I try to use all of these daily. I learnt them nearly twenty years ago and they still ring true today. They will never go out of date because we will be communicating with each other until the day we die.
Reflection - this is simply repeating exactly what has been said to you. Employee - “I need the day off tomorrow” You - “You need the day off tomorrow?”
This is a good technique because your response is always phrased as a question, which will encourage the sender to volunteer more information.
Paraphrase - this is similar to Reflection, however you are repeating what has been said, yet in your own words. Employee - “I’m not going to be able to meet that deadline” You - “You’re saying that you are having difficulty meeting the deadline? Why’s that?”
Ask Open-Ended Questions - where possible, you should always ask questions that will require an answer that isn’t only Yes/No. This means that the person you are talking to has to think about the answer and you get a response that is based on their own opinion, giving you more knowledge about the situation than a simple Yes/No answer provides.
Listening Posture and Concentration - have you ever had a conversation with someone whilst checking your mobile phone? Do you think that the person talking to you was impressed with that? If you look disinterested in the conversation then the person talking to you is going to be reluctant to talk. Always give people your full attention. If it’s a particularly important conversation, put your phone away and don’t allow yourself to be interrupted. We’ve all been in the situation where you are in a meeting with someone, their phone goes and they decide that answering that call is more important than speaking with you.
Don’t be that person.
Body Language - people don’t always communicate with their mouths. When you are talking to someone, look at their body language as it can give us more information than the person is willing to give. In general, the body doesn’t lie. Are their signs of nervousness? Tiredness? What about other more obvious things, like the person talking to you is coming down with a cold but refuses to say they are ill, yet the signs are all there. Always be aware of the signs that the person you are communicating with is giving across through their body rather than verbally. When you pick up on something and tell them, they will really think that you care because you are paying attention to them. This can make all the difference.
Silence - I love this one, it’s a doozy! Nobody likes a silence. It’s so uncomfortable and is the easiest way to be able to get information from somebody. When interviewing people, either for a disciplinary or for recruitment, silence is a superb technique for getting people to follow up on something they have already said.
You - “Tell me about what you saw happening on that shift last Monday”
Employee - “Oh, nothing really, I just saw Jim and Bob arguing”
You nod your head, smiling…….
Employee - “……….yeah, their voices were raised and I heard Jim accuse Bob of being a thief”
You nod again, smiling….
Employee - “……apparently he stole something from Jim’s locker”
When you talk with someone, you expect them to tell you when they are ready to move on to another subject or line of questioning, so using silence to extract more information from the subject line you are currently discussing is an awesome way of listening.
There is a lot more detail that we can explore, but that is for another day. For now, please take note of the above when you are having difficulties getting messages through to people. If you are in a position of management, the listening skills will help elevate you from a position of authority to a position of respect.