“The meaning of communication is the response you get.” This means we need to take responsibility for the effectiveness of our communication. We usually blame our audience or readership for any misunderstanding. However, if the message does not get across as we intended, then we need to look at our own ways of communicating. Quite often, the response we get does not so much depend on what we say but how we say it.
Therefore, let us examine some strategies to effective communication in the work place.
First of all, understand your audience; this means, where possible, knowing vital information about them including their age, gender, culture and education. It also helps if you know their mind set or attitude towards you as well as the nature of information you wish to convey.
Next, plan both what to say and HOW to say it. Remember that the non-verbal part of communication, i.e. the vocal and the visual, affect the success or otherwise of your communication much more than the verbal. Even in written communication we have these three Vs:
- Verbal or the words we couch our message in
- Vocal or the style, tone and register we use
- Visual or how we structure the layout
A skilled writer uses all three Vs to create the impact they desire.
Use the most appropriate communication channels. The choices are many: face-to-face, email, memo, telephonic or video meetings, presentations, websites, news releases, even the internet or the intranet. Sometimes you do not have a choice so where possible, get feedback to assess the efficacy of your communication.
Consider the layout of the office as there could well be physical barriers. The importance of the layout and even the arrangement of furniture should never be minimised. Some organisations thrive in an open-plan office with staff sharing space. Even perceived accessibility to senior managers makes a big difference. Bureaucracy and red-tape create barriers which stifle productivity where proximity is needed. On the other hand, there might be certain types of organisations and/or nature of work, particularly creative, where employees need private space to deliver quality work.
Finally, barriers can exist because of cultural and linguistic differences in a company with a multi-national staff. Here cultural awareness training goes a long way in sensitising employees to different sensibilities, particularly at the managerial level.
Linguistic barriers are not restricted to different mother tongues. Differences in expression, perception and reception occur within the same language. Therefore, use Plain English, i.e. keep your language and style short and simple by following a few golden rules. Cut out jargon, ‘business speak’ or complex and ambiguous language that may confuse the receiver in any way. Use more verbs than nouns, and favour the active over the passive voice. Make your language personal by using personal pronouns. Keep the tone friendly and conversational but always polite. Remember, write or speak to express not to impress.
Apart from these fundamentals to clear and effective communication, there are some other useful tips that will help remove the barriers:
- Establish mental and emotional rapport between you and your internal or external audience, be they your staff, customers/clients or partners. Here, trust is important as you will lose credibility and the confidence of your staff if you are seen to be withholding vital information or speaking half-truths.
- Bonding and team spirit among staff is equally important to minimise the insidious effects of ‘water-cooler’ gossip.
- If possible, appoint a communications manager, to monitor internal and authorise external communication, especially of a sensitive nature, sent out to the media or clients.
- Have a suggestions box. This is particularly useful in an organisation with a stricter vertical hierarchy.
Successful and effective communication must be two-way and it may be easier for staff at lower level to give feedback or make suggestions if they do not have to interact directly with their superiors.
Follow these tips and you will be well on your way to effective and successful communication, and the response you get will have the meaning you intended.