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Effective Communication

Jun 5, 2008
The bare knuckled fight for the democratic nominee has me hooked! Not only am I fascinated by the race but I am also floored by the poor level of communication displayed by some of the candidates' communication staff. With a mixture of um's, err's, mumbled words, poor eye contact and closed body language I can only imagine the success they could achieve if they chose to communicate effectively.

Whether it is a job interview, a salary negotiation with your boss or the race for the White House - choosing to communicate effectively will ensure you are heard the way you want to be heard. Effective communication is not a reflex response so can be difficult to use but luckily it can be learned, practiced and mastered. This article aims to explain what effective communication is, why it is so important and also to provide you with 10 tips to effective communication.

I encourage you to read on, to continue to communicate effectively and to start to notice the difference.

What is effective communication?

On average, about 70% of our time is spent communicating, whether it is verbal, nonverbal or through listening, reading or writing.

In basic terms, communication is the transmitting of an idea or an opinion from one person or group to another person or group; an exchange of ideas. Effective communication is required to ensure the message is delivered, received, interpreted and acted upon in the way it was intended. Whoever you are office junior, CEO or stay at home dad, effective communication is key to achieving both your personal and professional goals.

There are two main elements to Effective Communication, assertive speaking and active listening.

Assertive speaking - To project yourself (verbally and non verbally) in a direct, confident and relaxed way, in order to be able to deliver your message, image or idea in the way that you meant it to be heard, whilst at the same time encouraging the audience to do the same.

Active listening - Utilizing empathy and respect to listen to both the content (verbal) and the emotional (non-verbal) elements of the message, idea or image being delivered in order to hear the message as it was meant to be heard.

Effective communication requires more than just words, it needs positive, direct and confident body language, facial expressions, pace, and tone of your voice to all add weight to what you want to say.

Professor Mehrabian of the University of California looked at how face to face communication is received by any listener. The research discovered effective communication is based around 3 main areas, with the content or words used only accounting for 7% of the whole message.

Impact of communication
Facial expressions / gestures / body language55%
Tone of voice38%
Content / words7%

Achieving Effective Communication

At school we are taught to read, write and speak appropriately. I am sure we can all remember a teacher telling us to 'be quiet' or the ever popular 'shut up and (listen)'. But the lack of formal training to listen, coupled with stress, deadlines and tension at work it is not surprising that we can go through our work and home life without properly listening.

We are often caught in a 'tug of war' scenario where more than one person is trying to speak at the same time, struggling for control of the conversation resulting in no-one receiving the right message. Tension is created, the conversation takes an adversarial tone and ineffective communication takes over. Effective communicators are aiming to achieve a 'see-saw' style interaction, where one person is the speaker and the other person is listener. This usually switches between the people involved as they aim to achieve the same goal - mutual understanding and collaborative working.

10 Tips to Effective Communication

Here are 10 tips for active listening and assertive speaking taken from my Effective Communication Toolkit.

1 Eye contact and body language - There is no need to stare the speaker out but do retain an appropriate amount of eye contact so that the speaker can tell that you are listening. Without eye contact they might assume that you have switched off. As the speaker you want your audience to be focused on what you are saying and not on the fact that you are playing with something in your pocket or glancing nervously toward the exit. As a listener ensure you display a positive set of body language - an open posture, make encouraging non verbal gestures - such as nodding or smiling.

2 Tone and pace of your voice - Change the pace and tone of your voice to match the words you are saying. When you want to emphasize a specific point - speak with more urgency - maybe varying the pace and increasing the volume of your voice. This encourages people to listen to what you are saying as oppose to a monotone which might just send your audience to sleep!

3 Responsibility - Take ownership of your message and show you believe in what you are saying. Ensure you know your subject so you retain your confidence throughout - especially at question time. Speak in the positive - be relaxed, confident and direct - emphasize what you CAN do.

4 Direct and confident - The listener will be more open to any message being delivered if it being done so in a direct and confident manner. The message will be believable and the audience will be confident in what you are saying.

5 Solution focused - Your message will more likely be heard if it is positive with clear thought through solutions. Avoid apportioning blame or pulling up past challenges but focus on what can be done now.

6 Do your homework - Do some research before presenting or speaking to an individual or group you are unfamiliar with. This will ensure that your message is delivered in a way that is appropriate to your audience.
7 The full message - As a listener note taking can help so you can keep up with what is being said and easily refer back for clarification. Take in the full message and remember that the words are only 7% of the overall message.

8 Probing and open questions - If you are in anyway unclear as to what is being said, ask open ended questions. They start with when, where, what, why, who and how. These types of questions generate dialogue. Closed questions (questions that elicit a yes/no answer) are best used at the end of a funnel of open questions to gain agreement or acceptance of an issue or to lead to the end of a conversation.

9 Non-judgmental - Although the message you are listening to might not have your agenda at its centre, there are more positive ways of adding to this than casting your own judgment. Avoid judgmental statements in your feedback and caution the use of questions starting with 'why' as they can often carry a judgmental tone. As an alternative to 'why' use ' perhaps you could walk me through your thinking around...'. This invites the speaker to be more open.

10 Sharing relevant examples - Sharing a relevant example will encourage the speaker and might give weight to their message. Ensure you do not detract away from the speaker by putting your agenda first.
About the Author
Lou Clark is a Life & Career Coach and founder of Ętre Coaching based in NYC. With a successful background in Human Resource Management, formal coach training & accreditation with the ICF, Lou is experienced in providing support and coaching through change. Visit Etre Coaching!
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