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Stephen R. Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" lists the fifth habit of successful people as “seek first to understand, then to be understood." Maintaining focus enables one to understand the other party’s intention, motivations, and capabilities. This helps to frame replies in a more effective manner. Listening with the intent to understand also forces the recipient to match the effective points raised in the reply, leading to a high-quality communication.
Many people, however, immerse themselves in their own point of view, and the recipient, feeling completely left out, stops listening or reading.
Image Credit: flickr.com/d_d_solis
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The key to effective communication is clarity. Clarity entails making the subject as well as the opinion or remark about the subject very clear without leaving anything to the recipient’s assumptions. Lack of clarity is the primary cause of miscommunications and misunderstandings not just in the workplace, but also in life itself.
For instance, the statement “we will talk today in the evening" lacks clarity, whereas “we will meet at 5 P.M. today in my office" is clear. The first sentence neither clarifies how the “talk" will take place, whether it will be face-to-face or by phone, and does not specify the time and location, the two parameters here.
In oral communication, proper articulation and proper pronunciation in conformity with the accepted standard ensure clarity of speech.
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Organized and Logical Approach
The requirement of clarity needs backing up by a communication style that promotes an organized and logical approach. While there are many styles that ensure this within the approach, the underlying principle is adequate preparation. One good approach is to stick to a subject or point and make things clear about the same before moving on to the next subject or point.
For instance, when discussing a project, the best approach is to state the problem upfront, followed by the reason for the problem, the various alternatives, the best approach, and reasons for taking the approach. The second part of the communication deals with a step-by-step itemization of the project objectives, and the means of achieving the same. This is in stark contrast to an unprepared and unplanned approach where the thrust is on discussing how to fulfill objectives and treating other factors as incidental.
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Using enough words to ensure clarity requires balancing by using the least number of words necessary to convey the message. Excessively long sentences and too many descriptive sentences blur the line and complicate the issues discussed.
A best practice is to avoid sentences or words that convey no meanings. Common redundant words include “free" gifts where “free" is redundant, “advance" reservation, where “advance" has no meaning, and similar lexical misuses. Eliminating such redundant words or phrases adds power to the message.
Adherance to the accepted grammar and style practices go a long way in improving the effectiveness of the communication.
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The recipient of the communication varies in skills, background, competencies, and grasping power. Similarly, situations of urgency, caution, or such require different communication approaches. A communication strategy that adjusts the communication style to suit both the recipient and the situation contribute to effectiveness of the communication by improving the interactive nature of communication and the receipt of more input from the other parties.
Some pointers in this direction include:
- High achievers who value time prefer fast speech or brisk to-the-point communication, whereas people with low education levels or skills are more comfortable with slow speech and detailed explanations.
- Business communication requires formal conversational style and grammar and avoidance of slang.
- In oral communication, raising the pitch of each the word in the sentence conveys different sentence. For instance, “WHAT are you doing" and “What are YOU doing," with “What" and “You" in a raised pitch in the two examples, convey entirely different meanings. The first situation focuses on the task and the second situation focuses on the person doing the task.
- Guiding and hypothetical questions imply suggestions. Examples of guiding questions include “I am sure you know about …, don’t you?" An example of hypothetical question is “What would you do if …?" Such questions require usage only in appropriate situations or else might distort the feedback.
Image Credit: flickr.com/Alex Panoiu
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Effective communication depends not just on the sender communicating properly, but on the recipient receiving the communication in the intended manner.
Securing feedback is the best way to ensure that the recipient has understood the message in the intended manner. Ways of getting feedback for effective communication include:
- Visual cues and body language. For instance, a blank facial expression means a message not understood well, a quizzical look suggests some misunderstanding, failure to maintain eye contact show boredom or lack of interest, leaning forward and maintaining good eye contact depicts interest, an affirmative head nod indicates approval or understanding, and fidgeting in the chair implies lack of interest or a distracted frame of mind.
- Encouraging recipients to ask questions serves to reinforce the message and correct misconceptions
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Covey, Stephen R. The 7 habits of highly effective people. Free Press (Division of Simon and Schuster), November 2004 (revised).