Improving Communication Effectiveness

Learning to Speak

Sending effective communication requires skill and an understanding of the audience.

Learning Objectives

Explain the difficulty of sending communications, with a particular focus on improving and enhancing’s one’s ability to communicate accurately and concisely

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The ability to communicate clearly in speaking and in writing is one of the most valuable professional skills.
  • Communicating effectively relies on credibility, which is undermined by grammar and spelling mistakes, incompleteness, and errors in logic.
  • When sending a message, the communicator must keep in mind the target audience.

Key Terms

  • clarity: The state, or measure of being clear, either in appearance, thought or style; lucidity.
  • brevity: The quality of being brief in duration.

The ability to communicate effectively in speech and in writing is one of the most valuable professional skills. Sending messages and information so they are understood as intended and produce the desired effect demands certain technical competencies and interpersonal capabilities. Fortunately, these can be learned and honed through practice.

Communicating effectively relies on credibility. Mistakes in grammar and spelling, incompleteness, and errors in logic can have a negative impact on the audience’s perception of the sender’s credibility. As a result, the communicator’s ability to persuade or otherwise influence the recipient is diminished. Effective ways to learn precise, professional oral and written communication skills include:

  1. having others, such as a supervisor, provide feedback on strengths and weaknesses as a communicator.
  2. analyzing the strengths and techniques of excellent communicators.
  3. imitating strong communicators.

Communicating in the Workplace

When sending a message, communicators must think of the target audience, being sure to use terms and phrases that readers or listeners will understand. For example, texts or e-mails should avoid using abbreviations that the receiver may not recognize. To respect others’ time, communication should aim for brevity and concision without sacrificing clarity and completeness. Using e-mail effectively poses particular challenges. Often, messages are poorly structured, missing specific subject lines, slow in getting to the point, or too long to warrant being read in their entirety.

It can be challenging to strike the right tone or avoid the wrong one in electronic communication. The absence of non-verbal cues, such as tone of voice or body language, means that written communication can be more easily misinterpreted and even cause offense. Consequently, important communications may warrant review by someone who can assess the tone and content and provide feedback.

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Connecting via text message: In texting, reliance on abbreviations can obscure a point.

Learning to Listen

Using active and reflective listening skills can help improve the effectiveness of oral communication.

Learning Objectives

Explain active and reflective listening as techniques for improving the effectiveness of oral communication

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Communication is an activity that involves a both sender and an audience, or receiver. While the sender must focus on making sure the message is clear, the receiver has to show that the message is received and understood.
  • Active listening is a process of attending carefully to what is being said and how the speaker says it.
  • Reflective listening focuses on personal elements of communication rather than the abstract ideas. It deals with the emotional content of communication.

Key Terms

  • Interpretation: An act of explaining what is obscure.
  • active listening: The process of attending carefully to what a speaker is saying, involving such techniques as accurately paraphrasing the speaker’s remarks.
  • receiver: A person who receives a signal.

Effective oral communication is the responsibility of both the sender and the recipient. While the sender must focus on making sure the message is clear, the receiver has to show that the message is received and understood. For the sender, content, channel choice, and understanding of the audience matter most. For the recipient, listening skills are paramount. Listening is an interaction between speaker and listener. The listener’s use of active and reflective listening skills can help improve communication effectiveness.

Active Listening

Active listening is a process of attending carefully to what is being said. It also involves the listener observing the speaker’s behavior and body language. One way to demonstrate this attention is for the listener to show understanding by paraphrasing what the speaker has said. Paraphrasing can confirm the accuracy of the listener’s interpretation or identify the need for clarification. Conversely, when individuals show disinterest or distraction when someone is speaking, it reveals an absence of listening that can frustrate, annoy, and even anger the speaker.

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Not listening: Failing to listen to a speaker can create anger, resentment, and misunderstanding.

Reflective Listening

Reflective listening focuses on personal elements of the communication rather than the abstract ideas. Reflective listening should be feeling-oriented and responsive. The listener should show empathy and concern for the person communicating. A good reflective listener concentrates on the discussion at hand while allowing the speaker to lead the communication. Verbal response is essential for reflective listening. Listeners should make statements that paraphrase what is said, clarify what appears to be implicit, and reflect the emotion or feeling they sense from the speaker. Being able to understand and articulate the meaning behind the words helps receivers better interpret the information and messages they hear.

Learning to Communicate Nonverbally

Nonverbal communication is the process of conveying meaning through sending and receiving wordless cues.

Learning Objectives

Identify key facets of nonverbal communication and gain awareness of how to interpret and use them

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Oral and written communications contain nonverbal elements that can reinforce or contradict what is being expressed verbally.
  • Nonverbal communication represents two-thirds of all communication. For this reason, learning to identify and read nonverbal cues is an important communication skill.
  • Nonverbal communication can enhance a spoken message through gestures, eye contact, and posture.

Key Terms

  • nonverbal: Of communication: a form other than written or spoken words, like gestures, facial expressions, or body language.

Nonverbal communication is the process of sending and receiving wordless (mostly visual) messages between people. Oral and written communication has nonverbal elements that can reinforce or contradict what is being expressed verbally. Messages can be communicated through gestures and touch, by body language or posture, or by facial expression and eye contact. Speech also contains nonverbal elements, known as paralanguage, that include voice quality, rate, pitch, volume, and speaking style, as well prosodic features such as rhythm, intonation, and stress.

Likewise, written texts have nonverbal elements such as handwriting style, spatial arrangement of words, or the physical layout of a page. However, much of the study of nonverbal communication has focused on face-to-face interaction, in which nonverbal cues are classified into three principal areas: environmental conditions, where communication takes place; physical characteristics of the communicators; and behaviors of communicators during interaction.

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Symbol table for nonverbal communication with patients: This table is an example of images that are used to communicate in place of speech.

Nonverbal communication can enhance a spoken message through body signals. Body language contains numerous elements, including physical features (both changeable and unchangeable); gestures and signals (both conscious and unconscious); and spatial relations. The listener might perceive an unintended message if the body language conveyed by the speaker does not match the verbal message. Nonverbal communication is an important component when making a first impression with a new acquaintance or business contact. Body language, stance, and voice inflection or tone can have a stronger impact than the content of an initial communication itself.

Nonverbal communication represents two-thirds of all communication. For this reason, learning to identify and read nonverbal cues is an important communication skill. While listening, try to observe the speaker’s posture, clothing, gestures, and eye contact. These convey information about the speaker as well as his or her message.

Posture

Posture or a person’s bodily stance can communicate a variety of messages. Some of the many types of posture include: slouching, towering, legs spread, jaw thrust, shoulders forward, and arm crossing. These nonverbal behaviors can indicate feelings and attitudes toward another person. Posture can be used to determine a participant’s degree of attention or involvement; the difference in status between communicators; and the level of fondness a person has for the other communicator, depending on body openness. For instance, a person who displays a forward lean or decreases a backward lean signifies positive sentiment during communication.

Clothing

Clothing is one of the most common forms of nonverbal communication. The study of clothing and other objects as a means of nonverbal communication is known as artifact or object. These studies indicate that the types of clothing an individual wears convey nonverbal clues about personality, background and financial status, and how others will respond. An individual’s clothing style can demonstrate level of confidence, cultural origin or preference, interests, age, level of authority, values and beliefs.

Gestures

Gestures may be made with the hands, arms, or body and also include movements of the head, face, and eyes, such as winking, nodding, or eye-rolling. Facial expressions, more than anything, serve as a practical means of communication. With all the various muscles that precisely control mouth, lips, eyes, nose, forehead, and jaw, human faces are estimated to be capable of more than ten thousand different expressions. This versatility makes nonverbal messages of the face extremely efficient and honest, unless they are deliberately manipulated. In addition, many emotions, including happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust, shame, anguish, and interest are universally recognized.

Eye Contact

When two people look at each other’s eyes at the same time, they are making eye contact. It is the primary nonverbal way of indicating engagement, interest, attention, and involvement. Studies have found that people use their eyes to indicate interest. This includes frequently recognized actions of winking and movements of the eyebrows. Disinterest is highly noticeable when individuals make little or no eye contact in a social setting. Generally speaking, the longer the established eye contact between two people, the greater the intimacy levels.

Delivering Constructive Feedback

Constructive feedback, both positive and negative, can help individuals learn and improve their performance.

Learning Objectives

Employ constructive feedback in conjunction with the varying control functions available to managers in an organization

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Positive and negative feedback can be constructive when it addresses factors directly related to performance over which someone has control.
  • Constructive feedback serves as motivation for many people in the workplace.
  • A performance appraisal or performance evaluation is a systematic, periodic process that assesses an individual employee’s job performance and productivity in relation to established criteria and organizational objectives.
  • In human resources or industrial psychology, 360-degree feedback, also known as multi-rater feedback, multi-source feedback, or multi-source assessment, is feedback from members of an employee’s immediate work circle.

Key Terms

  • feedback: Critical assessment on information produced,
  • constructive: Carefully considered and meant to be helpful.

Critical assessments are essential to learning and performance improvement. Individuals often rely on external measures, such as exams or feedback from others, to determine strengths and weaknesses. Praise and compliments are welcome reassurance of a person’s abilities, but negative assessments can hurt unless clearly supported by observations and thoughtfully delivered. Whether positive or negative, feedback can be constructive when it addresses factors directly related to performance over which someone has control.

Knowing how to deliver constructive feedback is an important skill for a manager and leader. Constructive feedback motivates many who use it to change their behavior, study new things, or adopt new attitudes. After receiving constructive feedback, an individual decides whether and how to put it to use. Joseph Folkman, an expert in the use of the 360-degree feedback technique, comments that those who want to achieve the greatest level of success possible should learn how to accept any kind of feedback, analyze it in the most positive manner possible, and use it to influence future choices.

Feedback in Organizations

Feedback is given in organizations in a variety of ways. Some are informal, as when a colleague offers a compliment or critique after hearing a presentation or reading a report. Others feedback mechanisms are more formal and part of a process created for the explicit purpose of delivering performance assessments.

Performance Appraisal

A performance appraisal (PA) or performance evaluation is a systematic and periodic process that assesses an individual employee’s job performance and productivity in relation to certain established criteria and organizational objectives. Other aspects of employee performance are considered as well, such as organizational citizenship behavior, accomplishments, potential for future improvement, strengths and weaknesses, etc. While performance appraisals are documented in writing, usually a manager will meet to provide and discuss feedback with an employee. Using specific examples of each behavior to support each assessment is helpful in indicating what someone needs to do differently or improve.

360-Degree Feedback

In human resources, 360-degree feedback, also known as multi-rater feedback, multi-source feedback, or multi-source assessment, is feedback that comes from members of an employee’s immediate work circle. Most often, 360-degree feedback will include opinions from an employee’s subordinates, peers, and supervisor(s), as well as a self-evaluation. In some cases, it can also include feedback from external sources, such as customers and suppliers or other interested stakeholders. The 360-degree assessment may be contrasted with “upward feedback,” where managers are given feedback only by their direct reports, or with a traditional performance appraisal, in which employees are most often reviewed only by their managers.

After-Action Reviews

At the end of a project, team members benefit from reviewing how they worked together, how well they met the project objectives, and whether they achieved the planned outcome. This after-action review entails a candid analysis of work product, communication practices, individual effort, coordination and planning, and other key aspects related to the project. The goal of this form of feedback is to apply lessons learned from one project to subsequent ones. Constructive feedback in this context is best delivered by focusing on actions and outcomes rather than on blaming individuals when things did not go as planned.

The Impact of the Office Environment on Employee Communication

The main purpose of an office environment is to support its occupants in performing their job at minimum cost and with maximum satisfaction.

Learning Objectives

Identify types and functions of physical spaces that organizations use to control information, work processes, and social interactions

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Effective communication among team members and others requires a physical environment that facilitates interaction.
  • There are three types of office spaces, each with distinct purposes and functions: work spaces, meeting spaces, and support spaces.
  • Decisions about the physical environment shape information flow, work processes, and social interactions.

Key Terms

  • accommodate: To render fit, suitable, or correspondent; to adapt; to conform.
  • cubicle: A small separate part or one of the compartments of a room.

The main purpose of an office environment is to support its occupants in performing their job, preferably at minimum cost and with maximum satisfaction. In most organizations, work is accomplished by teams of people. Effective communication among team members and others requires a physical environment that facilitates interaction so individuals can coordinate activities, discuss and plan tasks, and manage interpersonal relationships effectively and efficiently. For this reason, the design of work spaces can be an important element in organizational performance.

A more open physical space can encourage casual communication since people work in close proximity with few barriers between them. Creating clear lines of sight and facilitating easy access make it easier for individuals to know who is present and available for interaction and to engage with them as needed. On the other hand, more private spaces, such as offices with doors, can create a more formal climate that distinguished between roles and status. Highly desirable corner offices occupied by an executive are an example. Individual offices can also preserve confidentiality and discretion as needed, which is especially useful for meetings between managers and their team members or when personnel matters are discussed.

Work places are typically divided into three physical areas: work spaces, meeting spaces, and support spaces. Each has it distinct function and purpose. The design of an organization’s physical environment requires a series of decisions about how the spaces will be used, by whom, and under what circumstances. Together, these choices can shape the flow of information, work processes, and interpersonal relationships.

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Office space: Organizing physical space according to the functional needs of the work can improve employee communication and satisfaction.

Work Spaces

Work spaces in an office are typically used for conventional office activities such as reading, writing, and computer work. There are nine generic types of work space, each supporting different activities. These include:

  • Open office – An open space for more than ten people, suitable for activities that demand frequent communication or routine activities needing relatively little concentration
  • Team space – A semi-enclosed space for two to eight people, suitable for teamwork that demands frequent internal communication and a medium level of concentration
  • Cubicle – A semi-enclosed space for one person, suitable for activities that demand medium concentration and medium interaction
  • Private office – An enclosed space for one person, suitable for activities that are confidential, demand a lot of concentration, or include many small meetings
  • Shared office – An enclosed space for two or three people, suitable for semi-concentrated work and collaborative work in small groups
  • Team room – An enclosed space for four to ten people, suitable for teamwork that may be confidential and demands frequent internal communication
  • Study booth – An enclosed space for one person, suitable for short-term activities that demand concentration or confidentiality
  • Work lounge – A lounge-like space for two to six people, suitable for short-term activities that demand collaboration and allow impromptu interaction
  • Touch down – An open space for one person, suitable for short-term activities that require little concentration and low interaction

Meeting Spaces

Meeting spaces are also an important facet to consider when improving and building work places. Following are some types of meeting spaces:

  • Small meeting room – An enclosed space for two to four persons, suitable for both formal and informal interaction
  • Large meeting room – An enclosed space for five to twelve people, suitable for formal interaction
  • Small meeting space – An open or semi-open space for two to four persons, suitable for short, informal interaction
  • Large meeting space – An open or semi-open space for five to twelve people, suitable for short, informal interaction
  • Brainstorm room – An enclosed space for five to twelve people, suitable for brainstorming sessions and workshops
  • Meeting point – An open area for two to four persons such as a sitting area, suitable for ad hoc, informal meetings

Support Spaces

Support spaces in an office are typically used for secondary activities such as filing documents or taking a break. There are twelve generic types of support space, each supporting different activities. These include:

  • Filing space – An open or enclosed space for storing frequently used files and documents
  • Storage space – An open or enclosed space for storing commonly used office supplies
  • Print and copy area – An open or enclosed space with facilities for printing, scanning, and copying
  • Mail area – An open or semi-open space where employees can pick up or deliver mail or packages
  • Pantry area – An open or enclosed space where people can get coffee and tea as well as soft drinks and snacks
  • Break area – A semi-open or enclosed space where employees can take a break from their work
  • Locker area – An open or semi-open space where employees can store their personal belongings
  • Library – A semi-open or enclosed space for reading and storing books, journals, and magazines
  • Games room – An enclosed space where employees can interact in recreational activities (for example, video games or ping-pong) during breaks from work
  • Waiting area – An open or semi-open space where visitors can be received and can wait for their appointment
  • Circulation space – Space which is required for circulation on office floors, linking all major functions

Setting Transparency Norms

Transparency in organizations is the extent to which its actions are observable by outsiders.

Learning Objectives

Define transparency and identify how it is determined by organizations’ communication strategies and practices

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Being transparent means operating in such a way that an organization ‘s actions are visible to outsiders.
  • An organization’s communication norms and practices determine its degree of transparency.
  • Transparency has three primary dimensions: information disclosure, clarity, and accuracy.

Key Terms

  • transparency: Figuratively, openness and accessibility.

Transparency in organizations is the extent to which its actions are observable by outsiders. It is a consequence of regulation, social expectations, and explicit policies that establish the degree of openness to employees, shareholders, other stakeholders, and the general public. Transparency is an essential part of accountability since it allows for judgments about whether an organization is achieving its objectives and living up to its obligations and espoused values. Because transparency is the perceived quality of intentionally shared information, an organization’s communication practices and norms play an important role in shaping the visibility of its actions.

Transparency has three primary dimensions: information disclosure, clarity, and accuracy.

Information Disclosure

Information disclosure includes choices about what types of information is shared and with whom, the content of what is communicated, and the timing of the release of information. For example, managers who voluntarily share with environmental activists information related to the firm’s ecological impact are practicing disclosure. Information can be a source of power, so people may hoard it to increase their influence over others; this tactic reduces the amount of transparency. Some information is private, such as personnel matters, or commercially sensitive, like strategic business plans. Norms and policies about disclosure focus on criteria such as relevance and appropriateness to determine who should have access to what information.

Clarity

Clarity refers to how easily comprehended the information or communication is. Managers who limit the use of technical terminology, fine print, or complicated mathematical notations in their correspondence with suppliers and customers are employing clarity. Communication practices that value quality of expression, attention to the needs of different audiences, and sensitivity to cultural and other differences can help make an organization more transparent.

Accuracy

Accuracy means that available information has integrity, is truthful, and faithfully represents organizational decisions, policies, and practices. Where there is transparency, managers do not bias, embellish, or otherwise distort facts with the aim of misleading or misrepresenting reality. Organizations that value honesty, trust, and ethical practices encourage accuracy and thereby increase their transparency.

Examples of Corporate Transparency

Examples of decisions to increase corporate transparency include when a firm voluntarily shares information about their ecological impact with environmental activists; actively limiting the use of technical terminology, fine print, or complicated mathematical notations in the firm’s correspondence with suppliers and customers; and avoiding bias, embellishment, or other distortions of known facts in the firm’s communications with investors.

Wage disclosure is one particular area in which companies can practice corporate transparency. For example, in the UK, employees outside the boardroom are currently granted anonymity regarding pay levels. In 2009, UK city minister Lord Myners proposed that the pay and identity of up to 20 of the highest-paid employees at British companies be disclosed; he also called for employees’ salary ranges to be disclosed. Following these guidelines would increase transparency: the public would have access to compensation information now kept from public view. Similar proposals have become increasingly common as high executive pay levels have come under increasing scrutiny. In this case, it is unlikely that disclosure will be made a legal requirement in the UK; the hope is that companies would voluntarily accept this higher level of transparency.

Using Technology to Communicate

Communication technologies support many types of messaging and information sharing in organizations.

Learning Objectives

Explain the role of technology in supporting communication in organizations

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Business communication often relies on the use of technology to connect and facilitate the flow of information among individuals, groups, and organizations.
  • Technology can enable real-time interaction or delayed response, that is, asynchronous with gaps in time between when a sender transmits a message and when the recipient processes it.
  • Communication technologies can support unidirectional information sharing or more interactive and collaborate work.

Key Terms

  • Delayed Response: In communication, pertaining to the ability to respond at a later time (the opposite of real-time, such as speaking).
  • Unidirectional: Communication designed to provided information or data that does not require a response.
  • real-time: Communication occurring in that instant, necessitating immediate response and engagement (i.e. conference call, business meeting, etc.)

Business communication often relies on the use of technology to connect and facilitate the flow of information among individuals, groups, and organizations. Technologies for e-mailing, messaging, video conferencing, and document-sharing in most organizations are fully integrated into how work is conducted and how people interact.

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Communication methods: Technology in communication can include e-mail, texting, and social media.

Some technologies support simultaneous, or real-time, interaction, including among individuals in different locations. In these cases, interaction is immediate and direct. Examples of this type of technology include teleconferences and web chats. Other communication tools are asynchronous, meaning messages may be transmitted by senders and processed by recipients at different times. E-mail and digital documents, such as spreadsheets and presentations, are examples of asynchronous tools. Responses from recipients may be delayed, which means the sender must wait for confirmation that the message has been interpreted as intended and resulted in the desired action. Many mobile apps used on tablets and smartphones allow for both real-time and asynchronous communication.

Communication mediated by technology can be unidirectional, flowing from a sender to one or more individuals, groups, or organizations. Unidirectional communication is typical when the sender primarily seeks to inform or influence the recipient(s). Electronic memos that are e-mailed or documents shared via computer servers are examples. Alternatively, communication can be intended as reciprocal and interactive. A collaboration tool such as Google Docs is an example.

Organizations use communication technology to support and drive their business activities. Some examples of technology used to communicate in business include:

  • E-mail among employees, management, and customers
  • Social media sites used to communicate with customers
  • Video conferencing used to hold meetings with remote workers
  • SMS (texting) among employees
  • Internet marketing as way to advertise products and services to customers
  • Mobile marketing strategies to advertise products to customers based on their current location
  • Mobile applications such as QR codes and Shazaam offering additional information to customers about a company or service

The predominance of communication technologies in organizational life means it is vital that employees have the skills to use them. Many organizations make training available, but increasingly employers expect prospective employees to be experienced users of desktop and even mobile technologies.

The Importance of Sensitivity and Etiquette in Business Communication

Following the norms and practices of etiquette is an important factor in effective business communication.

Learning Objectives

Explain the importance of identifying and considering different etiquette and cultural customs in business communication

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Business etiquette is the code of expected professional behavior regarding manners, courtesy, and politeness.
  • Etiquette is dependent on culture; what is excellent etiquette in one society may shock in another.
  • A failure to understand, be sensitive to, and adjust to different etiquette expectations can impede successful communication.

Key Terms

  • etiquette: Forms required by good breeding or prescribed by authority, to be observed in social or official life; conventional decorum; ceremonial code of polite society.

We use forms of etiquette in interactions with co-workers, business colleagues, customers, suppliers, and other types of stakeholders. These norms are typically unwritten rules learned through socialization and experience, although some organizations have explicit written rules of conduct that speak to matters of etiquette. Practicing etiquette demonstrates respect, and effective communication requires that message are sent and received in ways that are consistent with the norms of etiquette.

Business etiquette can vary significantly by country and geographic area. Etiquette is a core aspect of most cultures, which represent the values that guide how people live and interact. Differences in etiquette can create challenges for cross-cultural communication in business. What is excellent etiquette in one society may shock another. For example, conflict between expectations of etiquette can arise in meetings held during meals. In China, a person who takes the last item of food from a common plate or bowl without first offering it to others at the table may be viewed as a glutton who is insulting the host’s generosity. Traditionally, guests who do not have leftover food in front of them at the end of a meal in China have dishonored their host. Conversely, in the United States of America, guest are expected to eat all of the food given to them as a compliment to the quality of the cooking. However, there too it is considered polite to offer food from a common plate or bowl to others at the table. If both parties are aware of and sensitive to differences in etiquette, they can avoid misinterpreting behavior or giving the wrong impression.

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Bowing in Japan: Bowing is an important part of etiquette in Japan.

A failure to understand, be sensitive to, and adjust to different etiquette expectations can impede successful communication. Credibility is essential in the ability to persuade, and perceived displays of disrespect can make it difficult to influence others. Etiquette reflects shared expectations of behavior, and thus it is an important basis of developing good interpersonal relationships that facilitate effective communication. The ability to use proper etiquette is an important quality of professionalism; it is therefore vital for employees to learn the norms and practices of etiquette in the organizations and cultures in which they work.