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What is Communication?

Communication is simply the act of transferring information from one place to another.

Although this is a simple definition, when we think about how we may communicate the subject becomes a lot more complex.

There are various categories of communication and more than one may occur at any time.

The different categories of communication are:

Spoken or Verbal communication: face-to-face, telephone, radio or television or other media.

Non verbal communication: body language, gestures, how we dress or act - even our scent.

Written Communication: letters, e-mails, books, magazines, the Internet or via other media.

Visualizations: graphs, charts, maps, logos and other visualizations can communicate messages.

 

How Good Are Your Communication Skills?

Speaking, Listening, Writing, and Reading Effectively

Communication skills are some of the most important skills that you need to succeed in the workplace.

If you want to be an expert communicator, you need to be effective at all points in the communication process – from "sender" through to "receiver", and you must be comfortable with the different channels of communication – face to face, voice to voice, written, and so on.  Poor communicators usually struggle to develop their careers beyond a certain point.

 

So are you communicating correctly?

 

Whenever you communicate with someone else, you and the other person follow the steps of the communication process shown below.

Here, the person who is the source of the communication encodes it into a message, and transmits it through a channel.  The receiver decodes the message, and, in one way or another, feeds back understanding or a lack of understanding to the source.

By understanding the steps in the process, you can become more aware of your role in it, recognize what you need to do to communicate effectively, anticipate problems before they happen, and improve your overall ability to communicate effectively.

This lesson will help you do this, and help you improve the way you communicate at each stage of the process.

 

The Source – Planning Your Message

Before you start communicating, take a moment to figure out what you want to say, and why.  Don't waste your time conveying information that isn't necessary – and don't waste the listener or reader's time either.  Too often, people just keep talking or keep writing – because they think that by saying more, they'll surely cover all the points.  Often, however, all they do is confuse the people they're talking to.

 

 

To plan your communication  :

  • Understand your objective.  Why are you communicating?
  • Understand your audience.  With whom are you communicating?  What do they need to know?
  •  Plan what you want to say, and how you'll send the message.
  • Seek feedback on how well your message was received.

When you do this, you'll be able to craft a message that will be received positively by your audience.

Good communicators use the KISS   ("Keep It Simple and Straightforward") principle. They know that less is often more, and that good communication should be efficient as well as effective.

 

Encoding – Creating a Clear, Well-Crafted Message

When you know what you want to say, decide exactly how you'll say it.  You're responsible for sending a message that's clear and concise.

To achieve this, you need to consider not only what you'll say, but also how you think the recipient will perceive it.

We often focus on the message that we want to send, and the way in which we send it.  But if our message is delivered without considering the other person's perspective, it's likely that part of that message will be lost.

 

Xcite's™tips to communicate more effectively:

  • Understand what you truly need and want to say.
  • Anticipate the other person's reaction to your message.
  • Choose words and body language that allow the other person to really hear what you're saying.

 

With written communication, make sure that what you write will be perceived the way you intend.

Words on a page generally have no emotion – they don't "smile" or "frown" at you while you're reading them (unless you're a very talented writer, of course!)

When writing, take time to do the following:

  • Review your style.
  • Avoid jargon or slang.
  • Check your grammar and punctuation.
  • Check also for tone, attitude, sound, feeling, appearance, or meaning.  If you think the message may be misunderstood, it probably will. Take the time to clarify it!
  • Familiarize yourself with your company's writing policies. Another important consideration is to use pictures, charts, and diagrams wherever possible.

As the saying goes, "a picture speaks a thousand words."

Also, whether you speak or write your message, consider the cultural context.  If there's potential for miscommunication or misunderstanding due to cultural or language barriers, address these issues in advance.  Consult with people who are familiar with these, and do your research so that you're aware of problems you may face

 

Choosing the Right Channel

Along with encoding the message, you need to choose the best communication channel to use to send it.

You want to be efficient, and yet make the most of your communication opportunity.

Using email to send simple directions is practical.  However, if you want to delegate a complex task, an email will probably just lead to more questions, so it may be best to arrange a time to speak in person.  If your communication has any negative emotional content, stay well away from email!  Make sure that you communicate face to face or by phone, so that you can judge the impact of your words and adjust these appropriately.

When you determine the best way to send a message, consider the following:

  • The sensitivity and emotional content of the subject.
  • How easy it is to communicate detail.
  • The receiver's preferences.
  • Time constraints.
  • The need to ask and answer questions.

 

Decoding – Receiving and Interpreting a Message

It can be easy to focus on speaking, we want to get our points out there, because we usually have lots to say.

However, to be a great communicator, you also need to step back, let the other person talk, and just listen.

This doesn't mean that you should be passive.  Listening is hard work, which is why effective listening is called active listening.

To listen actively, give your undivided attention to the speaker and do these following tasks:

  • Look at the person.
  • Pay attention to his or her body language.
  • Avoid distractions.
  • Nod and smile to acknowledge points.
  • Occasionally think back about what the person has said.
  • Allow the person to speak, without thinking about what you'll say next.
  • Don't interrupt.

Empathic listening also helps you decode a message accurately.  To understand a message fully, you have to understand the emotions and underlying feelings the speaker is expressing.  This is where an understanding of body language can be useful.

Feedback

You need feedback, because without it, you can't be sure that people have understood your message.  Sometimes feedback is verbal, and sometimes it's not.  We've looked at the importance of asking questions and listening carefully.  However, feedback through body language is perhaps the most important source of clues to the effectiveness of your communication.

By watching the facial expressions, gestures, and posture of the person you're communicating with, you can spot:

  • Confidence levels.
  • Defensiveness.
  • Agreement.
  • Comprehension (or lack of understanding).
  • Level of interest.
  • Level of engagement with the message.
  • Truthfulness (or lying/dishonesty).

As a speaker, understanding your listener's body language can give you an opportunity to adjust your message and make it more understandable, appealing, or interesting.  As a listener, body language can show you more about what the other person is saying.  You can then ask questions to ensure that you have, indeed, understood each other.

In both situations, you can better avoid miscommunication if it happens.

Feedback can also be formal.  If you're communicating something really important, it can often be worth asking questions of the person you're talking to to make sure that they've understood fully.

If you're receiving this sort of communication, repeat it in your own words to check your understanding.

 

Key Points

It can take a lot of effort to communicate effectively.  However, you need to be able to communicate well if you're going to make the most of the opportunities that life has to offer.

By learning the skills you need to communicate effectively, you can learn how to communicate your ideas clearly and effectively, and understand much more of the information that's conveyed to you.

As either a speaker or a listener, or as a writer or a reader, you're responsible for making sure that the message is communicated accurately.  Pay attention to words and actions, ask questions, and watch body language.  These will all help you ensure that you say what you mean, and hear what is intended.

Effective communication helps us better understand a person or situation and enables us to resolve differences, build trust and respect, and create environments where creative ideas, problem solving, affection, and caring can flourish.  As simple as communication seems, much of what we try to communicate to others—and what others try to communicate to us—gets misunderstood, which can cause conflict and frustration in personal and professional relationships.  By learning these effective communication skills, you can better connect with your spouse, kids, friends, and coworkers.

 

What is effective communication?

In the information age, we have to send, receive, and process huge numbers of messages every day.  But effective communication is about more than just exchanging information, it's also about understanding the emotion behind the information.  Effective communication can improve relationships at home, work, and in social situations by deepening your connections to others and improving teamwork, decision-making, and problem solving. It enables you to communicate even negative or difficult messages without creating conflict or destroying trust.  Effective communication combines a set of skills including nonverbal communication, attentive listening, the ability to manage stress in the moment, and the capacity to recognize and understand your own emotions and those of the person you’re communicating with.

While effective communication is a learned skill, it is more effective when it’s spontaneous.  A speech that is read, for example, rarely has the same impact as a speech that’s delivered (or appears to be delivered) spontaneously.  Of course, it takes time and effort to develop these skills and become an effective communicator.  The more effort and practice you put in, the more instinctive and spontaneous your communication skills will become.

 

Xcite's™ effective communication skills

 

1. Listening

Listening is one of the most important aspects of effective communication.  Successful listening means not just understanding the words or the information being communicated, but also understanding how the speaker feels about what they’re communicating.

Effective listening can:

 

  • Make the speaker feel heard and understood, which can help build a stronger, deeper connection between you.
  • Create an environment where everyone feels safe to express ideas, opinions, and feelings, or plan and problem solve in creative ways.
  • Save time by helping clarify information, avoid conflicts and misunderstandings.
  • Relieve negative emotions. When emotions are running high, if the speaker feels that he or she has been truly heard, it can help to calm them down, relieve negative feelings, and allow for real understanding or problem solving to begin

 

Xcite's™ tips for effective listening

If your goal is to fully understand and connect with the other person, listening effectively will often come naturally.

If it doesn't, you can remember the following tips:

 

  • Focus fully on the speaker, his or her body language, and other nonverbal cues.  If you’re daydreaming, checking text messages, or doodling, you’re almost certain to miss nonverbal cues in the conversation.  If you find it hard to concentrate on some speakers, try repeating their words over in your head—it’ll reinforce their message and help you stay focused.
  • Avoid interrupting or trying to redirect the conversation to your concerns, by saying something like, “If you think that’s bad, let me tell you what happened to me.” Listening is not the same as waiting for your turn to talk.  You can’t concentrate on what someone’s saying if you’re forming what you’re going to say next.  Often, the speaker can read your facial expressions and know that your mind’s elsewhere.
  • Avoid seeming judgmental.  In order to communicate effectively with someone, you don’t have to like them or agree with their ideas, values, or opinions.  However, you do need to set aside your judgment and withhold blame and criticism in order to fully understand a person.  The most difficult communication, when successfully executed, can lead to the most unlikely and profound connection with someone.

Show your interest in what’s being said.  Nod occasionally, smile at the person, and make sure your posture is open and inviting.  Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like “yes” or “uh huh.”

The more you practice these tips, the more satisfying and rewarding your interactions with others will become

2. Nonverbal communication

Mainly using nonverbal signals.  Wordless communication, or body language, includes facial expressions, body movement and gestures, eye contact, posture, the tone of your voice, and even your muscle tension and breathing.  The way you look, listen, move, and react to another person tells them more about how you're feeling, than words alone ever can.

Developing the ability to understand and use nonverbal communication can help you connect with others, express what you really mean, navigate challenging situations, and build better relationships at home and work.

  • You can enhance effective communication by using open body language—arms uncrossed, standing with an open stance or sitting on the edge of your seat, and maintaining eye contact with the person you're talking to.
  • You can also use body language to emphasize or enhance your verbal message—patting a friend on the back while complimenting him on his success, for example, or pounding your fists to underline your message

Xcite™ has some great tips for improving how you read nonverbal communication.

  • Practice observing people in public places, such as a shopping mall, bus, train, café, restaurant, or even on a television talk show, with the sound muted.  Observing how others use body language can teach you how to better receive and use nonverbal signals when conversing with others.  Notice how people act and react to each other.  Try to guess what their relationship is, what they're talking about, and how each feels about what is being said.
  • Be aware of individual differences.  People from different countries and cultures tend to use different nonverbal communication gestures, so it’s important to take age, culture, religion, gender, and emotional state into account when reading body language signals.  An American teen, a grieving widow, and an Asian businessman, for example, are likely to use nonverbal signals differently.
  • Look at nonverbal communication signals as a group.  Don't read too much into a single gesture or nonverbal sign.  Consider all of the nonverbal signals you receive, from eye contact to tone of voice to body language.  Anyone can slip up occasionally and let eye contact slip, for example, or briefly cross their arms without meaning to.  Consider the signals as a whole to get a better “read” on a perso

3. Managing stress

In small doses, stress can help you perform under pressure.  However, when stress becomes constant and overwhelming, it can hamper effective communication by disrupting your capacity to think clearly and creatively, and act appropriately.  When you're stressed, you're more likely to misread other people, send confusing or off-putting nonverbal signals, and lapse into unhealthy knee-jerk patterns of behavior.

How many times have you felt stressed during a disagreement with your spouse, kids, boss, friends, or coworkers and then said or done something you later regretted?  If you can quickly relieve stress and return to a calm state, you'll not only avoid such regrets, but in many cases you’ll also help to calm the other person as well.  It’s only when you’re in a calm, relaxed state that you'll be able to know whether the situation requires a response, or whether the other person’s signals indicate it would be better to remain silent.

 

Xcite™ has some beneficial tips for improving how to deliver nonverbal communication:

  • Use nonverbal signals that match up with your words.  Nonverbal communication should reinforce what is being said, not contradict it.  If you say one thing, but your body language says something else, your listener will likely feel you're being dishonest.  For example, you can’t say “yes” while shaking your head no.
  • Adjust your nonverbal signals according to the context.  The tone of your voice, for example, should be different when you're addressing a child than when you're addressing a group of adults.  Similarly, take into account the emotional state and cultural background of the person you're interacting with.
  • Use body language to convey positive feelings even when you're not actually experiencing them.  If you're nervous about a situation—a job interview, important presentation, or first date, for example—you can use positive body language to signal confidence, even though you're not feeling it.  Instead of tentatively entering a room with your head down, eyes averted, and sliding into a chair, try standing tall with your shoulders back, smiling and maintaining eye contact, and delivering a firm handshake.  It will make you feel more self-confident and help to put the other person at ease

4. Emotional awareness

Learn to recognize & accept your emotions

Emotions play an important role in the way we communicate at home and work.  It’s the way you feel, more than the way you think, that motivates you to communicate or to make decisions.  The way you react to emotionally driven nonverbal cues, affects both how you understand other people and how they understand you.  If you are out of touch with your feelings, and don’t understand how you feel or why you feel that way, you’ll have a hard time communicating your feelings and needs to others.  This can result in frustration, misunderstandings, and conflict.  When you don’t address what’s really bothering you, you often become embroiled in petty squabbles instead—arguing with your spouse about how the towels should be hung, for example, or with a coworker about whose turn it is to restock the copier.

Emotional awareness provides you the tools needed for understanding both yourself and other people, and the real messages they are communicating to you.  Although knowing your own feelings may seem simple, many people ignore or try to sedate strong emotions like anger, sadness, and fear.  But your ability to communicate depends on being connected to these feelings.  If you’re afraid of strong emotions or if you insist on communicating only on a rational level, it will impair your ability to fully understand others, creatively problem solve, resolve conflicts, or build an affectionate connection with someone.

 

How emotional awareness can improve effective communication

Emotional awareness—the consciousness of your moment-to-moment emotional experience—and the ability to manage all of your feelings appropriately is the basis for effective communication.

Emotional awareness helps you:

  • Understand and empathize with what is really troubling other people
  • Understand yourself, including what’s really troubling you and what you really want
  • Stay motivated to understand and empathize with the person you’re interacting with, even if you don’t like them or their message
  • Communicate clearly and effectively, even when delivering negative messages
  • Build strong, trusting, and rewarding relationships, think creatively, solve problems, and resolve conflicts

Effective communication requires both thinking and feeling

When emotional awareness is strongly developed, you’ll know what you’re feeling without having to think about it—and you’ll be able to use these emotional cues to understand what someone is really communicating to you and act accordingly.  The goal of effective communication is to find a healthy balance between your intellect and your emotions, between thinking and feeling.

 

Emotional awareness is a skill you can learn

Emotional awareness is a skill that, with patience and practice, can be learned at any time of life.  You can develop emotional awareness by learning how to get in touch with difficult emotions and manage uncomfortable feelings, including anger, sadness, fear, disgust, surprise, and joy.  When you know how to do this, you can remain in control of your emotions and behavior, even in very challenging situations, and communicate more clearly and effectively.

 

Xcite™ appreciates you taking the time to learn about communication and how it can benefit your workplace.

In the next lesson you will learn about interpersonal communication skills

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