Communication is the key to a successful idea, and/or organization. Keeping in mind that communication entails outgoing and ingoing information that is both delivered and received in a lucrative manner. The
two golden rules to communicating effectively are:
– Organize thoughts in your mind before sharing them with others.
– Communication is collaborative, not competitive.
Leaders of today are the vehicles of a successful exchange of ideas, and are looked to for understanding as well as motivating, leading and keeping the vision alive. In this paper I will show comparison, while contrasting three different models of effective communication, illustrating five tools that leaders can use to improve their communication skills.
Essence of Effective Communication
No matter how brilliant and invaluable your idea, it is worthless unless you can share it with others. For this reason, effective communication is crucial at every level of an organization. However, the ability to communicate effectively does not come easily to many people, and it is a skill that requires practice.
We begin practicing our communication skills even before we learn to walk. A newborn child communicates by crying, but it slowly learns to mimic its parents’ speech. Eventually, the child discovers that certain speech patterns elicit different responses; one of the joys of parenting is trying to decipher the meaning behind certain “words.” Slowly, through trial and error, the child learns to manipulate sounds to get what it wants, and as the child develops, this active oral practice leads to more nuanced and fluid conversations. In short, the child learns effective communication. (Sussil, 2002.)
To effectively communicate a complex idea, however, requires skills beyond elementary conversation. There are two golden rules to follow.
-Organize thoughts in your mind before sharing them with others.
This rule involves decoding and encoding before and during a two-way conversation, as in the Interactional Model. One idea often prompts a torrent of others. In order to share your ideas, you must first shape them coherently. Organization is important, because it creates a pattern for your listener, allowing him or her to grasp the larger picture intuitively. This allows the listener to focus on the details of your message, without struggling to understand how you went from Point A to Point B.
As a thought experiment, imagine that a colleague has asked you for directions to the airport. Write them down. Your directions will probably look something like:
-Drive west half a mile on Aurora.
-Take a left on Madison.
-At the third light, turn right and follow Dexter for 2-3 miles.
-Get on the interstate, heading south.
Now, with a pair of scissors, cut each line of instructions into a small strip of paper. Jumble the strips up and arrange them in a completely random order, then give them to your colleague. Even with mixed-up directions, s/he should have no trouble reaching the airport, right? After all, your directions are complete and accurate. Not a single step is missing.
The problem, of course, is that your directions are also completely unorganized, rendering them useless. Your colleague will find it impossible to focus on your message itself, because he or she will struggle to follow your message’s structure (or lack thereof). (Wright, 2003.) For this reason, practicing the tool of listening for the content of the message to be reflected from the listener, would prove to be effective if the communication is rendered unorganized.
-Communication is collaborative, not competitive.
As noted in the Linear Model, where communication is only one-way, thrusting your idea on others mars the beauty and integrity of conversation. Communication is in some ways like a dance; each partner plays off the other, basing his or her steps on the other person’s, while simultaneously maintaining a certain amount of individuality.
Communication is a two-way process involving an exchange of ideas. If you try to make it one-way, you prevent this exchange and will eventually frustrate the other person. You may also frustrate yourself, if you read the other person’s lack of verbosity as disinterest in the conversation, rather than an inability to get a word in.
The hallmark of effective communication is the coherent verbal projection of your ideas, so that your listener receives the message that you intend to send. By observing these two rules, you will reduce miscommunication and misunderstandings. (Hall, 2000.) With this goal, the practice of noting the speaker’s cues, both verbal and nonverbal the communication will not only remain effective, but will continue following the Interactional and Transactional models of communication, where the conversation flows two-ways, in both listening and leading.
In a world with so much information available, why do employees still complain that companies are under-communicating? Can leaders, who rose in the hierarchy due to their ability to talk, learn the value of listening? With the speed of information exchange growing exponentially, how can we slow down to have the deeper, more meaningful conversations that are so critical in the age of knowledge management and learning organizations?
These are just a few examples of today‘s barriers to effective communications. Without impactful communications, companies will not be able to attract, retain and inspire the employee. Inspire because without inspiration, there is no commitment. Without commitment, there is no discretionary effort. And without that critical extra effort, a company cannot achieve or maintain its competitive edge. (Ashton, 2002.)
Now, more than ever, leaders need to think of themselves as communication vehicles. In the past leaders were often promoted based on their ability to talk. Now there is a greater expectation for leaders to be great listeners to their employees, their customers, and other stakeholders. The job of leadership today is not just to make money. It‘s to make meaning. For this reason, leaders must become proficient in listening, as well as communicating in a transactional and Interactional form. Because practicing reflecting back to the speaker what one thought they heard, and listening for the feelings of the speaker, a leader is providing a continual transaction of communication to take place, while clarifying understanding.
The importance of this new role, and the inadequacy many leaders may feel, is evident in the increase in executive coaching consultants and training programs that are designed to increase these skills. Today senior leadership must not only be able to clearly formulate their vision for the organization, but also to convincingly communicate it such that employees will want to commit to it. (Frost, 2004.) Under these conditions a leader has demonstrated to the listener a skill of responding to the feelings of the speaker.
If I may repeat, reflecting back to the speaker what you think you are hearing is essential in ensuring that you have received the information the speaker is trying to convey, and that comprehension is clarified. One example that comes to mind is from PLATO’S REPUBLIC (1992) in Book I, where Socrates defends his account on what justice is by his definition. Questioned by Thrasymachus, Socrates states his position that justice is the advantage of the established rule. Thrasymachus restates to the speaker in his own words what he thought the speaker said, thus allowing the speaker to respond to further clarify the message being sent (Hersey, Blanchard, Johnson, 2001, p.251) “And a law is correct if it prescribes what is to the rulers’ own advantage and incorrect if it prescribes what is to their disadvantage? Is that what you mean?” (Reeve, 1992, p.15)
Ashton, John. (2002.) Barriers to Communication. New York Publishing.
Frost, Amanda. (2004.) The Importance of Communication. B&B Press House.
Hall, Martin. (2000.) Effective Communication. San Diego Journal, Vol. 18.
Sussil, Michael. (2002.) Communication Matters. Ivy Print.
Wright, Paul. (2003.) Beyond Words. Simon & Schuster Publications.