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Effective Communication

The simple fact is that communication is central to everything we do in business. More importantly, your communication skills define who you are. What your supervisors, peers and subordinates think of you is directly related to your communication skills. Being successful, working effectively, getting what you want or need, even how much you enjoy being around your co-workers, the people you spend the vast majority of your waking hours with, it's all tied to those all important skills.

With so much riding on it, we could all stand to benefit from a little refresher course on the fine art of making ourselves understood. Begin by evaluating your communication skills. Look for areas of communication breakdown in your life. Are you shy? Do you find it difficult to speak up especially in public situations? You could write entire books on the subject. In fact many people have, and it wouldn't hurt to visit your local library to check out a few, but basically, the social part of our nature is a muscle. Like any muscle, it has to be worked. Force yourself into social situations. Think about initiating a Friday night get-together with some of your co-workers, or consider joining an organization like Toastmasters.

Shyness is easy to diagnose. Other areas of communication breakdown can be far more subtle, and require us to honestly look at areas of our personalities it might be easier to blame on others.

Do you feel that you are under-appreciated? Don't blame insensitive managers. Look instead to yourself. Are you effectively communicating your accomplishments? Are you missing the positive reinforcement your supervisor is giving you because it's not in the form you're looking for? Understanding the signals other people send is at least half of good communication.

Do you ever find yourself thinking that other people don't seem to get it? You have to repeat yourself three times and draw them a picture, nothing seems to help. Granted, at times there seem to be a lot of people with less than stellar communication skills (you might think about passing them a copy of this latest Core), but as somebody who recognizes that effective communication skills will pave your way to the top, you have to take the burden of communication entirely onto your own shoulders.

As tempting as it is to believe otherwise sometimes, people are generally smarter than you might think. If you think they aren't, that could be part of the reason it's hard to get your message across. People can tell what you think of them, and nobody wants to pay attention to somebody that thinks they're smarter than everyone else.

Also, people process information in different ways. Some people need to see it in writing, send those people notes, memos or e-mail.

Some need to hear it. Call those people or visit in person if possible. Still others get the message through doing, you need to walk them through it.

As you can see, there are as many ways of processing information as there are people. You need to experiment until you find the way that works. A quick shortcut in this process is to mirror what they do. If person X always sends you e-mail, and you have something you need person X to know, then for goodness sake don't call, e-mail. Chances are pretty good that that is the best way to communicate with that person. In short be flexible and aware of your audience.

That leads into the next point, effective listening. As we've hinted throughout this article, good listening skills are crucial to good communication.

Good listening begins by giving the person your full attention. If you try to do two things at once, both of them will suffer. What's more, if your distraction causes you to miss the message, the person will not blame themselves. They will blame you. As we said earlier, communication, and as a big part of that listening, effects the way people see you. In business, you need EVERYBODY to see you in the best light possible. It isn't safe to dismiss anybody's view of you as unimportant because you just never know.

You're too busy to stop and give somebody your full attention you say. Well, first question that evaluation. We're all very busy, but we can afford to be courteous especially in recognition of how important communication skills are in our professional lives. If you really are too busy to give that person your full attention, try to politely schedule a more appropriate time. Something like: Jeff, I know how important this is, but I really have to get this project done, and I can't give you the attention you deserve right now. Could we talk about it in a couple of hours?

Remember also that giving somebody your full attention does not mean waiting for your turn to speak. Watch out for things like thinking about what you're going to say while they're talking or interrupting them, jumping in at the slightest pause to make your point. You will have time to make your point when they're done, and you'll have the benefit of knowing that you fully understand what their point was.

It's very difficult to focus yourself completely on what somebody is saying because the mind has a tendency to leap ahead and draw conclusions before the other person is done. Train yourself not to do this. Instead, hang on every word the person says. If you think you know where they're going, stop yourself and bring your attention back to what they're saying. When they are done, pause, consider what you are going to say, and then comment.

As important as knowing how to say something is knowing what not to say. While you're in the office, don't complain about work. That kind of talk is demoralizing and counter productive.

What's more, it is self-fulfilling. The more you say you hate your job the more miserable in it you are going to make yourself. On the other hand, the more you project a positive attitude, the better you will feel.

Similarly don't complain about other people. Complaining about your boss or a co-worker will make you feel as bad as complaining about your job, and it is uncanny how quickly that will spread through the office, frequently with serious professional consequences.

Often we find ourselves sucked into these kinds of conversations by the "office complainer." It is tempting to join in, but it really is in your best interests to resist the impulse. Instead, give your full attention to whatever they are saying, but stay diplomatic and noncommittal yourself. Also, it can be a good idea to distance yourself from "complainers" if possible. After all you don't want people lumping you into the birds of a feather category.

Finally communication is such a large topic, there really isn't room to do it justice here. If you feel your communication skills need even more attention, there are several good books on the subject. Check your local library or bookstore. And look out for the next Core in which we tackle the other half of communication & writing skills.

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- Jennifer Mckinnon -


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