Whether you are a high-powered CEO, a mid-level manager or an intern trying to get your foot in the door, effective communication is the cornerstone to success. Not only on the individual level, but the organisational level too. But what is effective communication and how can one go about mastering it?
The Power of communication
Organisations represent amalgamations of people belonging to different social and professional backgrounds that all come together on a daily basis to work for the same goals.
Although we may take it for granted, if you think about it, that’s quite amazing! And the key to getting this done is communication.
Communication can be defined as: a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behaviour. It involves processes of transmitting information and common understanding from one person (a sender) to another (a receiver).
As a human technology, or set of technologies, communication has been essential in the evolution of Homo Sapiens and their domination of planet earth. Since the Cognitive Revolution, the development and standardisation of methods of communication have allowed humans to organise in large groups, cooperate against common threats, demarcate territories, travel across oceans, and develop vast political and economic systems. Our ability to transmit messages, especially detailed explanations of what happened in the past or could transpire in the future, gave us the edge over other species.
But, the lifeblood of this macro historical development has not just been communication but successful or effective communication. On the micro-level, moreover, it is also central in the success of organisations and the individuals that populate them. As noted by Fred Lunenberg, of Sam Houston University: “communication is important, because every administrative function and activity involves some form of direct or indirect communication”.
But what is effective communication and how can one learn to master it?
Effective communication can be described as:
a connection between people that allows for the exchange of thoughts, feelings, and ideas, and leads to mutual understanding … evidenced when a speaker sends a message to which a listener responds.
As communication involves the transmission of a message from a sender to a receiver, it can only be deemed successful when that transmission is “received”. Dan Mager explains that, although we take it for granted, communication is highly complex. Many factors determine the success or failure of this transmission, including:
- Internal factors that affect each individual participant
- Interactional factors that affect how information is sent and received
- External factors that determine how the physical environment is conducive to effective communication.
Effective communication skills are fundamental to success in many aspects of life. Virtually all jobs require strong communication skills, and people who are more adept at communication are thought to also enjoy better interpersonal relationships with friends, family and co-workers.
Four universal qualities of communication
According to Mager, there are certain principles inherent in the communication process. Moreover, there are skills people can learn and practise in order to master communication. By being aware of, and applying these principles, one can significantly decrease the likelihood of misunderstanding and conflict, while increasing the chances of successful communication. Let’s look at what Mager calls the four universal qualities of communication.
One: Message sent may not be message received
According to Mager, a great pitfall of communication is the assumption, on the side of the sender, that what they said, thought or intended was automatically understood and received by the receiver. The reality may be quite different because the message needs to be filtered through the thoughts and feelings of both the sender and the receiver. This leaves considerable room for misunderstanding. Being conscious of the message you are sending is a first intervention. The second is to ask for feedback and probe the accuracy of the message received in relation to its intended meaning. A little extra care can go a long way in avoiding misunderstandings, whether at home or at work.
Two: You are always communicating
Actions, whether intentional or unintentional, communicate information. It is important to be aware of one’s communication beyond mere words. Body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and volume can all impact the way a message is sent and alternatively received. This may impact the mood at home or the way you deliver a presentation. Remember, communication is more than written or spoken words.
Three: Content and feeling matter
Mager notes that every message consists of both content and feeling. The content is what the message encapsulates in terms of words used. On the other hand, feeling involves the way content is expressed through non-verbal cues including:
- Body language
- Facial expression
- Tone of voice
- Voice volume
Discrepancies between content and its expression can confuse the receiver. On the one hand, if the content is delivered verbally in a contradictory manner, confusion could lead to misunderstanding. On the other hand, pure content without expressive cues – such as text messages and email – can easily be misinterpreted precisely because the words are isolated from the context. In an age of short messaging apps and remote work, it is extremely important to consider the way in which your written words may be interpreted without the context of your non-verbal cues.
Four: What is not said sticks
Finally, Mager contends that if there is a discrepancy between the content and non-verbal cues, the listener will give more weight to the non-verbal behaviour. Being aware of your message and its delivery will not only make you more successful in communication, but give you more edge in the way you harness the power of communication.
Conscious communication is the key to success
Our days are filled with countless communications. While some are more run-of-the-mill than others, many may have more gravity than you think. Paying close conscious attention to how you communicate, regardless of whether you are on the sending or receiving end, is something to learn and practice. A focused approach towards effective communication will not only make you more successful at work, but bolster your interpersonal relationships outside of the workplace as well.