We all claim to be excellent communicators in our applications but how many of us really demonstrate this vital skill? And what do we even mean by communication?
When I am running workshops on Communication Skills I get very different answers to the question of ‘What is Communication?’ People are very focused on the presenting or speaking examples of communication. They will often talk about written communication but forget the hidden skill of listening and questioning for clarity. It is regularly said that the biggest communication problem we face in business today is that we do not listen to understand but merely to reply.
What is Communication?
The definition is ‘the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing or using some other medium.’ Now, this can be in person, by email, even creating a blog post or a tweet. It is important to remember that communication comes in many forms and to a host of audiences with very different needs and expectations. You may be imparting very technical information to a very non-technical audience. How do you approach this and meet their needs?
Think about how you present and speak to people to convey a message.
There are issues you need to consider:
• How you present to different audiences?
• How do you meet the needs of your audience?
• Do you use a visual tool i.e. as PowerPoint or Prezi?
• How large will your audience be?
• How much you utilize participation from your audience?
• How long will you be talking/ how long will your document be?
If we consider how we write information and convey a message then we need to think again about our audience and their needs and expectations. The writer of a blog will aim to be informal and informative whilst the writer of a report needs to be concise and factual – using the format of the organisation. Also consider the difference in how a lecturer communicates to their audience to how someone standing for a student union post will.
Returning to the hidden aspect of communication it is important to consider how you check for understanding from your audience? This stage can often be overlooked yet it is the most important element of communication. So, how can you know if your audience understands your message or that you have fully understood the person you have been speaking to? What are your client’s needs? You can’t assume or guess these. Indeed you may well have to clarify time-frames or budgets or check for changes in needs. To be successful you use your listening and questioning skills. Think about the expression “You have two ears and one mouth.” Follow that ratio. Listen more, talk less!
How to demonstrate it
When answering an application or interview question such as “tell me about a time when you have had to communicate complex information to people quickly and effectively…” think about what you did and how you did it. Break that information down. You can use a tool such as STAR (Situation, Task, Action and Result) or CAR/R (Context, Action, Result and Reflection.) Think what you did and who your audience was. What did you need to tell them? Why did you need to tell them this? What would happen if they didn’t know? Did they have any previous knowledge of the situation, task or need? How did you check for understanding? Did you ask questions? Did you summarise what they had said to you to check you both understood each other? Then the important part would be how can you do this better next time? What did you learn from this process?
How to improve
People feel that the more they say the better. That by using longer words or prettier pictures is better yet is it? Does your audience actually understand your message any better? Or do you confuse them? Clarity is the key in communication. Content is vital and presenting accurate information is a must. Be clear and check for understanding from your audience. Invite questions or perhaps make a clarifying statement and get feedback from the audience. Seek feedback from others, be they a supervisor or a customer. Reflect and develop.
Remember that skills do not sit in glorious isolation but instead interlink with each other. If you have excellent communication skills you will be better able to offer excellent customer service skills or be more effective in your interpersonal abilities and persuasion. Communication is a skill that is very much a work in progress. The more you practise the better you will become and watching others will give you inspiration and ideas on how to continue to develop. Do listen to feedback and remember the words of Plato “Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something”