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Effective Communication Skills For Today’s Managers – Life Lessons

Effectively communicating to your employees will result in a more efficient operation and will help achieve the bottom-line objectives of any company, business, or basic interaction. As a manager, your communication skill is critical in directing the actions of your employees. This basic managerial skill course in communication will enable you to become a better manager for yourself, and for your organization. You will learn how to communicate effectively, which will help you to maximize “work through others” to get the job done.

There are many components to communication. Consider verbal communication skills, listening skills, written memorandums/email, telephone skills and non-verbal communication. Also, reflect upon all the people we communicate to: subordinates, peers, supervisors, customers, and groups of people. In addition, ponder some of the reasons, why we communicate: to get and give information, to discipline subordinates, to make assignments, and so on. 

We will not be able to explore every facet and component of communication. Rather, we will focus on the general principles of effective communication that apply to most situations and we will point out important things to remember for some specific situations.  We will use only as much “theory” as needed to gain basic understanding of communication problems. Primarily, we will discuss what you can do to become an effective communicator.

Our Objectives

Upon completion, you will be capable of:

1) Recognizing communication problems and barriers.

2) Implementing techniques to resolve communication problems and barriers.

3) Demonstrating the basic general rules of effective communication.

4) Using special techniques in specific communication situations.

This is designed to do more than just give you information on communicating. Rather, it is set up to teach you skills which you can apply in your day to day routine.

What is Communication?

Communication is simply the sending of a message to another person. The person sending the message first needs to formulate the message in his head. This involves determining the meaning that the sender intends to convey to the other person. To formulate the meaning of the message, the sender usually draws upon his background attitudes, perceptions, emotions, opinions, education, and experience. 

The message is then sent to the listener through both verbal talking and non-verbal gestures. The person receiving this message then interprets its meaning. To do this, the listener uses his background, attitudes, perceptions, emotions, opinions, education, and experience. 

Effective communication exists between two persons when the person receiving the message interprets it in the same way as the sender intended it. Sounds really simple doesn’t it?  Well, it can be.

Who is Responsible for Communicating Effectively?

Managers share the responsibility in communicating effectively with the individual employees themselves. The manager is 100% responsible for communicating effectively with their employees.

This includes establishing an open and trusting climate for communication, as well as demonstrating good communication techniques to their employees. The employee is 100% responsible for taking advantage of the “climate for communication” to express what is important and relevant. For example,it is expected that a manager will ask “are there any questions?” after giving an employee an assignment, but it is also expected that an employee will say, “I have a question”, if one should occur to the employee, without waiting for the manager to ask. 

Why Managers Need to be Effective Communicators?

o Communication is used so frequently that “we cannot afford to do it poorly”.

o Communication has a special power: to create interest, stimulate action, achieve agreement, foster enthusiasm.

o Communication is the primary method that managers use to direct their employee’s behavior.

o Communication is the basis for almost all other managerial skills. It is involved in delegating duties to subordinates, motivating employees, demonstrating leadership  abilities, training new policies and programs, and counseling performance problems, etc.

Barriers to Effective Communication

o Supervisor inaccessible.

o Supervisor buried in work.

o Supervisor always in a hurry.

o Supervisor maintains a pre-occupied expression; little eye-contact with employees.

o Supervisor only informal with his peers or boss (never with subordinates).

o Supervisor tells employees to “write it up” instead of promoting discussion.

o Supervisor never asks, “How’s it going?”.

Where do Difficulties in Communication Arise?

The basic source of misunderstanding between two persons are communication failures that occur when the receiver understands the meaning of a message differently than it was intended. We do not always communicate what we intend.

Communication failures arise when there is a gap between what the sender meant and what the receiver thought the sender meant.

Communication failure can be caused by:

o Being so preoccupied that you do not listen to what other are saying.

o Being so interested in what you have to say that you listen only to find an opening to work your way into the conversation.

o Being so sure that you know what the other person is going to say that you distort what you hear to match your expectation.

o Evaluating and judging the speakers, which makes the speaker guarded and defensive.

o Not being able to “see past the words” and get the emotional message of the sender.

o Not trusting the speaker and becoming suspicious of what is being said.

Setting the Stage for Effective Communication

Even before the first word is uttered, various factors are already at work that can affect the success or failure of our communications.  Let’s examine these factors to see what role they play. 

Communicator’s Appearance

Before we ever say a word, others have been receiving messages from us. We communicate to others just by the way we dress and groom. In the book Dressing for Success, the author notes that other people conclude about 17 different things about us just on the basis of how we appear.

Many businesses utilize a dress code to guide people to the appropriate type of attire. It use to be traditional within the business world for men to wear a coat and tie. This conveys to others that we are professionals. In addition, conservative colors are preferred to more outspoken colors. This communicates seriousness, stability, and a “down-to-business” attitude. Recent changes have occurred in this area, just always remember that people do make conclusions about you based on your appearance.  Understand the expectation as it relates to dress code and insure you are in tune with the company position. 

Communicator’s Past Conversations

Communication experts tell us that the credibility of the communicator, as determined by past conversations, is a critical factor in effective communication. Credibility refers to the attitude the listener has toward the truthfulness and trustworthiness of the sender’s statements. When a listener views the sender as dependable, knowledgeable, reliable, warm and friendly, emphatic, and non-selfish, the message that is sent will be more likely to be received. Unless we seem credible to the receiver. our message will be discounted and we will not be able to communicate effectively with him.

Communicator’s Personality

The personality of the communicator plays a part in both the formulation of the message and in how the message is communicated. Each individuals beliefs, opinions, prejudices, feelings, biases, and personal experiences enter into the development of a message. Most of the time this happens quickly, automatically, and out of habit. In addition to influencing what we think and say, our personalities also play a role in how we say the message. You may know of an instance where two managers sound completely different in conveying the same exact message to a listener. For example a result oriented manager may talk in short, concise, action-oriented sentences, while another manager may end up in a long discourse including many details and side points.

The Communication Situation

The situation and circumstances surrounding our communication plays a part in determining its success or failure. Although many types of situations affect the messages we send, one particular type that can easily distort our messages is communication under stress. Stress, by its very nature, makes it difficult for us to “think clearly”. In a stress situation, the meaning of the message can be distorted; subtle shades of meaning can be confused; pieces of information can be forgotten; minor points may seem more important than major points. In addition, the wording of the communication may suffer. Uncertainty, nervousness, and confusion can creep into the speaker’s voice, resulting in a less assertive statement. 

Communicating Effectively – Verbal Communication

Verbal communication means talking. The goal in communicating verbally is to convey a message to another person so that the other person understands it exactly as the person talking intended it. A well communicated message is one which the other person can accurately repeat back in his own words. Verbal communication can be made more effective by:

o Talking about specific rather than general situations.

o Using concrete language, e.g., “merchandise” rather than “stuff”.

o Using words familiar to employees; explaining unfamiliar words.

o Including an example to illustrate the point.

o Giving sufficient detail to convey the point.

o Giving details slowly and in order.

o Making it a practice to address the five “W” questions in the  topic (if applicable).

Who is involved?

What is the situation; how did it begin?

When will it occur?

Where is it taking place? What you think, believe, feel?

Why will it happen? Why is this important?

 Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication refers to the gestures and body positions that accompany ones speaking. All people display certain gestures or lack of them when talking. It is important to be aware of your nonverbal communication, for it plays a big role in making your total communication effective. 

Effective communication occurs when a person’s verbal message and nonverbal message both “say the same thing”. Problems in communication occur when the speaker’s words say one thing, but his gestures and body language says something else.

Types of Nonverbal Communication

All of the following “says something”. In the specific context, they should correspond and reinforce the spoken message.

o Eye contact.

o Position of our arms and legs.

o The distance we stand from others when talking to them.

o Where we sit at a table or in relation to others.

o Smiling.

o Nodding or other head movements.

The manager can use nonverbal behaviors in two ways. First, when speaking, he can monitor his own nonverbal behavior and try to make sure it corresponds and emphasizes what he is verbally saying.

For example:

o When taking charge of a situation, the manager should have good eye contact with his subordinates, stand in a straight posture, use a firm but not overbearing voice,and point to what he wants done. 

o Upon noticing customers, the employee should smile to indicate friendliness, make eye contact to acknowledge the customer’s presence, tun his body in the direction of the customer to indicate his willingness to help if needed.

The other way a manager can use nonverbal behavior is in “listening to what others are really saying”. If the manager notices the employee saying one thing verbally but another thing non verbally, then the manager should suspect that the verbal message being said may be somewhat “incomplete”.

Active listening skills is what separates the good from the great. Learn to listen with your ears, eyes and perception paying attention to both the verbal and nonverbal communication.

For example:

An employee who says that he would feel comfortable doing a task but who exhibits folded arms, crossed legs, and tensed neck muscles might not be feeling as comfortable as he thinks. The manager who suspects this might need to keep his eye on this situation.

Written Communication

In written communication, the simpler, shorter, and more direct the better. This can be remembered by the equation:

Effectiveness = Conciseness = Completeness

Try the following tips for achieving concise and complete communication.

o Use simple words; your goal is not to impress your reader with your vocabulary, it is to get the point across.

o Make sure the words exactly express the thought; different words can slant the entire message of your point.

o Make the sentence structure clear; poor grammar, run on sentences, etc., can distort the point you want to make.

o Use a different paragraph for each complete unit of thought.

o Make sure all of the necessary information is included.

o Anticipate questions and include the answers in your message.

o Use only essential words and phrases.

o Make sure your facts, dates, times, etc., are correct.

o Consider the tone of the memorandum. Make sure it doesn’t contain antagonism or    preaching. I highly suggest that if you are upset about something, it is OK to    write out your thoughts and ideas for making the situation better.  Then make sure you do not send it, until you read it the next day. You will find in most cases that what you want to say does not change, but how you say it will change dramatically once you are over the emotions you attached to it.

o Make sure it is neat in appearance.

Remember all written memorandums have a dual purpose: you want the reader to receive your message and you want to do it the shortest, quickest way possible without leaving out necessary information.

All memorandums written in this way will be a good reflection upon you.

Phone Conversations

Talking on the phone lies between face-to-face communication and written communication in regard to information we can receive from the other person. Phone conversations do not give us access to the body language of the other person, hence, we miss the nonverbal cues accompanying the words. On the other hand, phone communication does allow us to take into account the tone of voice the other person is using, unlike written communication/email. 

Voice tone can be used in two ways. First, we can vary our voice tone to reinforce what we are saying verbally. Managers can convey competence, sincerity, and trust through the tone of their voice when talking to customers or employees.

Secondly, we can pay attention to other people’s tone of voice, much like nonverbal behavior, to check on unspoken feelings and thoughts. To do this accurately, practice listening to both the words and the tone of the voice that carries the words.

When talking to someone you have spoken to before, pay attention to changes in their usual voice qualities. Some people speak slow, loud, or clear. When these people change their normal voice qualities, they are communicating something extra to us. It is up to us to look for cues to detect what these changes in customary

voice tones mean.  Remember, you can’t talk to someone on the phone and someone in front of you both at the same time and do justice to either party.  

Communicating to a Group

Communicating to a group can be as simple as making an announcement r as complex as running a training program requiring much group participation. Much of what has been presented in this training applies to communicating to a group. Pre-communication factors, such as your appearance, credibility, and the specifics of the situation plays large part in establishing a successful presentation. Talking effectively and using nonverbal body language to correspond to the spoken words can all be used in group settings. A particularly skillful speaker can even “read” the nonverbal cues of the group as a whole and use this information to adjust his talk.

Listening

Why you Should Listen to Your Employees

o Employees might have helpful ideas.

o Employees might know causes of problems in the workplace.

o Employees might be able to warn me about potential problems I haven’t yet recognized.

o How employees feel about things can be a tip-of future problems.

Ways of Not Listening

o Signing routine papers.

o Sorting papers.

o Allowing long telephone interruptions.

o Sneaking looks at the time.

o Gazing out of the window, or at distractions passing by.

o Maintaining pre-occupied facial expressions.

o Calling orders to other employees in between sentences.

o Fidgeting nervously, shaking foot, playing with gadgets, coffee cup, etc.

Inhibiting Communication from Your Employees

Avoid the following to prevent cutting off future communication from your employees:

o Blaming the employee who gave you bad news.

o Getting angry.

o “Falling apart”.

o Demanding the employee to justify work that is reported to be not going well.

How should you react to news:

React to bad news by remaining objective; keep your emotions under control; switch to a “problem-solving”, “let’s get this situation corrected” approach. Respond to good news with praise, acknowledgment and appreciation.

Active Listening

Active listening is comprised of three separate and important skills: attention skills, following skills, and responding skills. Attention skills are those actions you take to put the talker at ease, to non verbally show you are listening, and to best “pay attention to” what the other person is trying to say. Maintaining eye contact, eliminating distractions, and concentrating on both the verbal and nonverbal are examples of attention skills. 

Following Skills

These are the skills we use to encourage the conversation along; to get the point the person is making. Nodding our heads, saying “uh-huh”, “I see”, and “go on” are following skills. Asking appropriate questions to bring out the point is a following skill as is allowing silences without jumping in. All following skills serve two purposes: to indicate to the speaker that you are “with him” and to help him get the point across.

Responding Skills

This is where we determine if we received and interpreted the message as the speaker intended it. Say something like, “If I understand correctly, you are saying … ” and go on to paraphrase that we understand, using our own words. Check out the facts and ideas, the main point of what the speaker said. It is only after we are sure that we understood the message as intended, can we then evaluate, judge, take action, or supply an answer or comment.

Communicating on the Job – Who We Communicate To

Before the message is formulated and communicated, we become aware of who we will be sending it to. How and what we communicate can change depending upon who is the intended audience.

Upward Communication

If we will be communicating to our immediate supervisor, our message might be prepared, formulated, and presented in a specific manner. For example, if we need to seek assistance from our supervisor, asking an open-ended question will result in more information than a question that can be answered yes or no.

Peer Communication

If the communication is intended for a peer, the message might be less “formally” prepared and presented. For example, less background information might need to be given since the peer can “easily relate” to the situation to be described.

Downward Communication

The manager who is communicating to his subordinate may need to do so in a different way than to others. Clear, concise, directions might be the format for much of the messages the manager gives to his employees. In addition, the manager may follow-up many of his messages with, “Do you have any questions?”.

Checking For Understanding

When communicating with employees, it is always a good idea to check for understanding. Simply take a second and ask ” recap for me what I have asked you to do.” By doing this, you can clear up any missed communication that may have taken place.  This step is helpful for both parties as it allows them to communicate back to you that they heard and understood your direction. This is a critical step in delegation of tasks.

Communicating With Customers

Communicating to a customer also affects how the message is formulated and delivered. Messages conveyed to customers need to be totally accurate and delivered in a professional and friendly manner.

Purpose of the Communication

When we talk to someone, we usually have a purpose. The purpose of the communication differs depending on the situation and who we are addressing. A manager may communicate for any of the following reasons:

o To motivate employees.

o To teach, instruct, or explain a task.

o To counsel an employee.

o To seek information or assistance.

o To correct an employee’s behavior.

o To be persuasive.

o To socialize.

With each of these purposes, the communication changes in order to accomplish our goal.

One of my favorite leaders use to say, that you will have  become a master of communication when you are able to tell someone where to go and to have them looking forward to the trip! 


Source by Charles

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