Communicate or Fail is a two-part post focussing on communications at an organisational level and on a personal level. Part 2 will focus on personal communication. Click here if you missed part 1.
Effective communication remains at the heart of business. It is a crucial skill that must be mastered in order to be successful, even in today’s twitter-based world. While literacy levels continue to fall and good expression seems irrelevant to many, the ability to convey your message effectively will help you and your organisation stand out from the crowd.
From short emails, to mission statements, to large business proposals, effective communication is a skill you cannot afford to be without. If you can make your point or present a case clearly, you have a better chance of influencing people, gaining their support and motivating them. If you can give people clear instructions and information, they are better equipped for the tasks asked of them. It could be the thing that helps you win that big client or a promotion!
Each person has a unique communication style. By getting to know your style, you can achieve greater self-awareness and learn how to develop more effective interpersonal relations with colleagues, customers and even at home. Accurate self-knowledge is truly the starting point for effectiveness at work. Understanding other people’s communication styles improves working relationships by increasing our acceptance of other people and their way of doing things.
I personally find the DISC model and Myers Briggs the most useful tools to help you understand communication styles. Once you have established your natural communication style you can start to think about how you can adapt your style to drive the right outcomes with others. Adapting your communication style is not about changing who you are nor is it about changing your intended message. Adapting your communication style choice is only about conveying your intended message in the manner that the other person is going to be best able to receive and understand it.
The diagram below, based upon the DISC model, shows the four basic communicator styles: They tend to be called different names depending on the methodology used, but they’re all pretty similar.
How to interact with each style:
Relators like to work with groups and build relationships. Security is important to them and they like consistency and focusing on areas of specialisation. You should:
- Be sincere and personable
- Take an interest in him or her as a person
- Be patient in drawing them out
- Use open-ended questions
- Present new ideas in a non-threatening manner
- Give plenty of time to adjust
- Clearly define individual goals and roles
- Offer and provide personal support
- Focus on the benefit of his or her contribution to the group
Socialisers like recognition and pride themselves on being popular. They like freedom of speech and freedom from control and detail. They work best in an open environment. You should:
- Create a positive, friendly environment
- Give them plenty of opportunities to speak about ideas, people, and their intuition
- Engage them with stimulating and fun activities
- Reinforce conversations with written documentation
- Foster a democratic relationship
- Incorporate incentives for taking risks
- Encourage him or her in thinking outside of the box
Thinkers know there’s a place for everything and everything should be in its place. Correctness and exactness are highly valued. You should:
- Take time to prepare your case in advance
- Make an appointment
- Provide both the pros and cons of your plan
- Support your ideas with volumes of data
- Assure that you’ve eliminated all surprises
- Provide a detailed plan with a precise explanation of how it fits in the big picture
- Stay focused on the issue when disagreeing
- Be prepared to provide many explanations with patience and persistence
Directors must be in charge. They pride themselves on achievement and focus on results. The bigger the challenge, the better they feel. You should:
- Provide direct answers
- Get to the point
- Be brief
- Stick to business
- Show how your plan will get results, solve problems, and allow this individual to be in charge
- Identify ways in which your idea will benefit the Director
- Ask questions that focus on “what,” not “how”
- Avoid direct disagreement
There are 3 skills you need to hone to be an effective communicator, namely listening, speaking and writing. You won’t be astonished to read that, I hope! However, you would be surprised at how little effort people invest in them.
Listening is really where all good communication begins. Misunderstanding what another person is saying is one of the biggest obstacles to communication. Each of us sees the world in a unique way, and we usually assume that everyone sees it the same way we do.
Below are some barriers to effective listening. You’ll probably recognise that most of them apply to you at one time or another.
- We can think faster than a speaker can talk, and jump to conclusions
- We are distracted and allow our minds to wander
- We lose patience, and decide we are not interested
- We overreact to what’s said and react emotionally
- We interrupt
So how do you become a generous listener?
1. Don’t talk. Listen. People want a chance to get their own ideas and opinions across. A good listener lets them do it. If you interrupt the speaker or put limitations on your listening time, the speaker will get the impression that you’re not interested in what he is saying — even if you are. So be courteous and give the speaker your full attention.
2. Don’t jump to conclusions. Many people tune out a speaker when they think they have the gist of their conversation or know what they’re going to say next. Assumptions can be dangerous. Maybe the speaker is not following the same train of thought that you are, or is not planning to make the point you think they are. If you don’t listen, you may miss the real point the speaker is trying to get across.
3. Listen for the ‘unsaid’. Concentrate on what is not being said as well as what is being said. Remember, a lot of clues to meaning come from the speaker’s tone of voice, facial expressions, and gestures. People don’t always say what they mean, but their body language is usually an accurate indication of their attitude and emotional state.
4. Ask questions. If you are not sure of what the speaker is saying, ask. It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “Do you mean . . . ?”or “Did I understand you to say . . . ?” It’s also a good idea to repeat what the speaker has said in your own words to confirm that you have understood him correctly.
5. Don’t get distracted. Don’t let yourself be distracted by the environment or by the speaker’s appearance, accent, mannerisms, or word use. Paying too much attention to these districations can break your concentration and make you miss the point of the conversation.
6. Be open-minded. Don’t just listen for statements that back up your own opinions and support your beliefs, or for certain parts that interest you. The point of listening, after all, is to gain new information. Be willing to listen to someone else’s point of view and ideas. A subject that may seem boring or trivial at first can turn out to be fascinating, if you listen with an open mind.
7. Provide feedback. Make eye contact with the speaker. Show him you understand his talk by nodding your head, maintaining an upright posture, and, if appropriate, interjecting an occasional comment such as ”I see” or “that’s interesting” or “really.” The speaker will appreciate your interest and feel that you are really listening.
Hearing is natural. Generous listening is a skill that we learn.
We’re not all born with a natural talent for public speaking or getting our message across effectively. Many people lack confidence in their ability to express themselves verbally – not necessarily all the time, but perhaps in certain situations or circumstances. However, talking to one another does tend to make things happen! It is not always what is said, but how it is said that can make the difference between good and poor speaking skills.
A good speaker:
- Relates to the listener
- Is respectful of others
- Encourages trust
- Shows empathy
- Is purposeful and clear
- Uses appropriate vocabulary
- Speaks with fluency
- Is confident and credible
- Is approachable and responsive
- Uses body language well
- Involves listeners
- Enables participation
- Knows what to leave out
- Generates interest
- Uses silence well
- Varies pitch/pace/tone according to the situation
- Is passionate about their topic
By far the best way to improve your verbal communication skills is to practice, particularly in areas where you are least confident. Put yourself in situations that require you to communicate effectively, be that one to one, or to a group. Speak at work. Speak at your child’s school. Speak at a town hall meeting. Speak in your car. Speak in front of the mirror.
You won’t ever achieve perfection. But you will improve. Little by little, your practice will result in improvement. Feedback is crucial to improving your speaking skills, so take the good and the not so good on board and work on those areas for improvement
The first step to writing clearly is choosing the appropriate format. Do you need to send an informal email? Write a detailed report? Create an advert? Or write a formal letter?
The format, as well as your audience, will define your “writing voice” – that is, how formal or relaxed the tone should be. For instance, if you write an email to a prospective client it should have a different tone to that of an email to a friend.
Start by identifying who will read your message. Is it targeted at senior managers, your team, or to customers? With everything you write, your readers, or recipients, should define your tone as well as aspects of the content.
Composition and Style
Once you know what you’re writing, and for whom you’re writing, you actually have to start writing.
• Start with your audience – Remember, your readers may know nothing about what you’re telling them. What do they need to know first?
• Create an outline – This is especially helpful if you’re writing a longer document such as a report, presentation, or speech. Outlines help you identify which steps to take in which order, and they help you break the task up into manageable pieces of information.
• What’s in it for the audience? – For instance, if you’re writing a sales letter for prospective clients, why should they care about your product or sales pitch? What’s the benefit for them? Remember your audience’s needs at all times.
• Identify your main theme – If you’re having trouble defining the main theme of your message, pretend that you have 15 seconds to explain your position. What do you say? This is likely to be your main theme.
• Use simple language – Unless you’re writing a technical guide, it’s usually best to use simple, direct language. Don’t use long words just to impress people.
Your document should be as “reader friendly” as possible. Use headings, subheadings, bullet points, and numbering whenever possible to break up the text.
After all, what’s easier to read – a page full of long paragraphs, or a page that’s broken up into short paragraphs, with section headings and bullet points? A document that’s easy to scan will get read more often than a document with long, dense paragraphs of text.
Headers should grab the reader’s attention. Using questions is often a good idea, especially in advertising copy or reports, because questions help keep the reader engaged and curious.
In emails and proposals, use short, factual headings and subheadings, like the ones in this article.
Adding pictures is also a smart way to break up your text. These visual aids not only keep the reader’s eye engaged, but they can communicate important information much more quickly than text.
Good luck with improving your Personal Communication!