Essentials for Effective Communication

Essential for Effective Communication

Watson Wyatt, a leading worldwide human consulting firm, did a study to understand the impact of effective communication in companies. The study was done over a five-year period (mid-2004 to mid-2009) and the study shows that shareholders got a 47% higher return from companies that communicate effectively.

“Effective communication helps engage employees, and that has positive implications for productivity and the bottom line,” said Kathryn Yates, global leader of communication consulting at Watson Wyatt.

This survey found that companies scoring high on communication parameters, are good in 3 areas – courage to continuously address employee concerns, innovatively adjust employment deals to match market conditions and measure progress with stringent discipline.

Courage, Innovation, Discipline – Watson Wyatt has identified these, in the study, to be essentials for efficient communication. Let us look at how these values are relevant to communication.

  • Courage: Watson Wyatt defines it as “telling it like it is.”

“Communication is truth; communication is happiness. To share is our duty; to go down boldly and bring to light those hidden thoughts which are the most diseased; to conceal nothing; to pretend nothing; if we are ignorant to say so; if we love our friends to let them know it.”
― Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader

We often try to shield people from bad news. This creates a layer of deception and hampers trust. The best way to build trust and relationships is to state the facts without diluting it. As many studies have found out, the top most reason why people leave their jobs is not because of dissatisfaction with their pay but because of their relationship with their bosses. Bad news hurts at first but it is the reality and facing these situations in a healthy fashion is what creates maturity.

  • Innovation: Creating a favorable environment for people to be innovative is the responsibility of an organization.

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.”
― Peter F. Drucker

Organizations need to be comfortable suspending what they are used to and foray into unknown territories, thus encouraging their employees to do the same. Innovation should not be restricted to products but should extend to every aspect of the business. Continuously communicating in the abstract space of possibilities to employees sets a precedent of a mindset of innovation.

  • Discipline: Wyatt stresses the importance of the need to set directions, take stock of the movement on a regular basis and, most importantly, communicating all this to the employees on a regular basis. This will serve as the rudder on a ship – providing direction and causing the employees to adjust course. With the fast changing marketplace the need to have heightened awareness is very high. Email blasts from the CEO, town hall meetings, blogs and video messages from key people on significant topics relevant to the employees can all serve to enhance the comfort level of the employees, as they will, at all times, know the performance of the organization.

As an engine is to a train, so is communication to an organization. The power and efficiency of an engine dictates the direction of the train. Hence, the emphasis paid to communication should play a significant role in any organization.

Today most organizations provide communication training to help their leaders and managers communicate with employees. However, only 3 out of 10 companies are training managers to deal openly with resistance to change. In the same Watson Wyatt study it was identified that highly effective communicators are more than 3 times as likely to handle resistance to change openly than the least effective communicators.

We at MMM Training Solutions provide customized communication training to all levels of management. Our ability to target the issues specific to each organization contributes greatly to the success of our program.

Is Communication Skills a part of Soft Skills Training?

“Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are — chaff and grain together — certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”
― Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, A Life for a Life

Often we are asked how soft skills training impact a person’s life. This quote gives me an incredible way to describe it – communication skills helps to ‘pour it all out’ but soft skills training helps you to decipher what is worth keeping and what needs to be blown away. It is the deeper ability to sense what is not being said and to understand the wisdom in what is being said even if it does not agree with your senses. It is the ability to understand that there is a reality that is different from one’s own and that is still real to the other person.

“It’s okay to disagree with the thoughts or opinions expressed by other people. That doesn’t give you the right to deny any sense they might make. Nor does it give you a right to accuse someone of poorly expressing their beliefs just because you don’t like what they are saying. Learn to recognize good writing when you read it, even if it means overcoming your pride and opening your mind beyond what is comfortable.” ― Ashly Lorenzana

Soft skills training helps you to understand that communication is not only about what is being said but it is also about that which is not being expressed. This comes through observing the body language and listening for feelings in the message. This enables you to comprehend both the tangible and the intangible. This is truly what creates effective two-way communication – the only way to develop good communication skills.

Etiquette is a Major Focus of Corporate Training

With the marketplace becoming global, business cannot be done effectively and seamlessly without an awareness of the cultures of your customers. Also, since a lot of transactions are conducted on the phone, telephone etiquette training is often requested in corporate training.

India has achieved its stardom through the out sourcing of customer service centers which provided technical support for its customers from all over the globe. Telephone and email were the contact channels to the customers. Hence Telephone Etiquette was very critical in providing excellent customer service. So telephone etiquette training became an important part of the corporate training programs.

Emotions ran high on these calls as expensive equipment is giving trouble. Also, the comprehension between the two parties was greatly impeded by the challenges in communication. The customer service representative often had to deal with anger and sarcasm but the core learning that we hope to imbibe is, “Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.” – Eric Hoffer (1902 – 1983)

Our training taught the representatives numerous techniques to stay calm and ask the right questions – Open-ended questions that help to gather the information needed to troubleshoot and close-ended questions that allow you to get key information from the client. Active listening is advocated when the client is engaged and giving information without resistance and reflective listening when a client is angry, irate, uncooperative and condescending. Our mantra is, “One of the greatest victories you can gain over someone is to beat him at politeness.” – Josh Billings (1818 – 1885). We believe that the ability of the representative to maintain his/her composure is the ticket to an effective call. All the tools, techniques and methodologies that help us to attain this end is focused on in the training.

Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” – Mark Twain

Mark Twain could not have put the benefits of corporate training more aptly. It is life changing and rejuvenating for both the business and the employees when the learning from the training is implemented in everyday life.

Telephone Etiquette in Problem Solving

You can not solve a problem with the same mind that created it ” by Albert Einstein.

Two issues that affect the problem solving capabilities of people are that they focus less on problem identification and more on problem solving and they do not think explore the problem from different angles.

There is a famous incident quoted by General Motors where a person who bought a GM car encountered a strange problem – every night he would go to buy ice cream from a nearby store and on the night he bought vanilla ice cream the car would stall. This seemed ludicrous but the company took him seriously and send an engineer who after days of observation identified a critical problem. Why only the vanilla flavor created this problem? – This was because the vanilla flavor sat in the front of the store and the time frame was the critical contributing factor. But the willingness of the engineer to listen and explore without a pre-determined mindset was what resolved the issue. These are important elements in problem solving.

MMM often conducts training for BPOs on telephone etiquette as part of the problem solving program because the agents solve customer issues through phone conversations. This can be frustrating for the agents, as they do not get to watch the reactions and body language of the customers. So good telephone etiquette with the capability of reading the tone of voice is important for customer satisfaction.

Two issues that affect the problem solving capabilities of people are that they focus less on problem identification and more on problem solving and they do not think explore the problem from different angles.

Avoiding Gaps In Communication – An Anecdote

Here is a humorous story that throws light on effective communication skills:

A man feared his wife could not hear as well as she used to and thought that she might need a hearing aid. Not quite sure how to approach her, he visited a doctor to discuss the problem. The doctor thought for a while and explained that he could perform a simple test to evaluate the extent of hearing loss.

That evening, the wife was in the kitchen cooking dinner when the husband came in. He thought to himself, “I’m about 40 feet away, let’s see
what happens.” Then in a normal tone he asked, ‘Honey, what’s for dinner?”

No response.

So the husband moved to closer to the kitchen, about 20 feet from his
wife and repeats, “Honey, what’s for dinner?”

There was still no response.

He then walked up to the kitchen door, about 10 feet away. “Honey, what’s
for dinner?”

Again there was no response.

As a last attempt, he walked right up behind her and asked, “Honey, what’s for dinner?”

To which the wife answered, “Sam, for the fourth time, we are having CHICKEN!”

The learning point in this anecdote is easy to see – always consider closing any communication gap that may arise before coming to conclusions.

Communication gaps arise due to many factors. They may be extrinsic – like noise or clutter; they may be intrinsic – lack of focus or preconceived ideas. Always keep an open mind during any form of conversation and aim at reducing the impact of uncontrollable factors. By consciously taking the effort to indulge in effective conversation, you can really go a long way in forming better relationships in the workplace and in your personal life.

Business Writing From Abe Lincoln’s Perspective

Abraham Lincoln is one of the most loved Presidents of the USA. He is an admired leader of the world for he always thought before he spoke. The incident given below highlights his thoughts on writing and the learning can be extended to helping you to improve business writing skills.

One day Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury Chase said, “Oh, I am so sorry that I did not write a letter to Mr. So-and-so before I left home!”

President Lincoln promptly responded:
“Chase, never regret what you don’t write; it is what you do write that you are often called upon to feel sorry for.”

(From Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories, by Colonel Alexander K. McClure)

A well thought, structured and concise mail or report is easier to read. It saves the reader a lot of precious time in today’s busy world. Lincoln’s seemingly simple response in this story has great meaning. You have to be careful of the words you speak – even more of the words that you write. You are responsible for what you have stated in your writing.

This gives you even more reason to ensure that you recheck the contents for its grammar, punctuation and flow of thought before delivering it to the intended recipients. A minute or two spent in rechecking this way would save you a lot of time, trouble and explanations later.

The bottom line is: Be aware of what you write and how you do so, since it has an impact on your image and career. Improving this aspect of your communication skills can go a long way in putting your career on the fast track.

Business Communication – Understanding Boundaries

We learn many valuable morals from the famous Aesop’s fables. I shall share my thoughts with respect to business communication with regards to the following fable today:

A crab and her child were walking down the beach one day. While doing so, the crab irately watched while the child strolled in a one-sided manner. She said, “Why don’t you walk in a straight manner? It is easier and more pleasing to the eye.”

The young crab replied, “Mother, if you could show me the straight way to walk, I promise I will follow you.”

The mother crab decided to show her child the right way. But as much as the crab tried, she could not walk straight. She finally realized that her child learnt to walk from her; all her effort was in vain, and that she should not have reprimanded her child without any basis.

In business communication, always ensure that you make educated statements about a subject – be it written communication or verbal communication. In other words, ensure that you are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) in what you say and deliver. By doing this, you can go a long way in paving the way for a successful career. This is because such individuals come across as those who can communicate effectively under all odds, are decisive and is consistent in thought and action.

Workplace communication skills are hence a cluster of intelligent thought, effective words and powerful actions.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” ~ Stephen Covey

Business Communication: Effective Questioning

Here is a well known anecdote that reinstates the importance of effective questioning in verbal communication:

Two young men were walking home after having attended a religious service by a renowned priest. One man said to the other, “I wonder whether it would be alright to smoke while praying.” The other replied, “Why don’t you ask the priest?”

The next day, the first man went up to the priest and asked, “Father, may I smoke while I pray?” The priest replied, “No son, that is disrespectful.”

The young man went back to his friend and recounted what the priest had said.

The second man replied, “I am not surprised. You asked the wrong question. I shall give it a try.”

Saying this, he went up to the priest and asked, “Father, may I pray while I smoke?” The priest replied, “By all means, my son. By all means.”

What is the learning point of this story?

Communication skills consist of effective questioning methods. It is an understood fact that you can elicit the desired response by asking the right questions. This would require a certain amount of tact and presence of mind. With practice, you can get better at asking the right questions. By mastering the art of effective questioning, you would be able to consistently communicate, and hence improve your verbal communication in an effective manner.

Business Communication: The Reader’s Perspective

Here is a story that will highlight the importance of clarity in written communication:

A blind boy once sat at the side of a busy pavement with a hat placed in front of him. He had a hand-written sign that said: “I am blind. Please help.”

Passers-by hardly took notice of the boy and there were only a few coins in his hat.
A man who was passing by stopped beside the boy. He took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them into the hat. He then looked at the signboard, took it and wrote a few words on it. “Here you go”, he said and placed it where everyone could see, and then walked away.

Soon the hat began to fill up. The young boy was pleasantly surprised and happy. Later that day, the man who changed the signboard came by. He asked the boy, “How are things?” The boy recognized the man’s voice and said, “Hey mister, were you the one who changed my sign this morning? What did you write?”

The man said, “I wrote what you wanted to really tell them. It was the same thing that you meant, but only written in a different way.”

He had written: “Today is a beautiful day. But I cannot see it.”

This short story indicates that communication can be made more effective by exploring a different perspective. You can see more results if you do so. This is especially true in written communication. In business communication, it is essential to think from the perspective of the reader. This will improve clarity and help the reader to understand better.

The Art Of Listening

Here is a witty story on an important aspect of communicationeffective listening.

In a small town, a police officer curbed a speeding motorist. After pulling over to the side, the man began, “Officer, I can explain…” “Quiet!” replied the police officer hastily, “I’m taking you in for speeding within residential limits”. The man protested, “But officer, please listen! I…” The officer was in no mood to listen. “I asked you to keep quiet! You’re coming with me.”

A few hours later, the officer looked towards the offender and said, “You’re lucky today. The chief’s at his daughter’s wedding. So he’ll be pleasant to you when he gets back.

To this, the man replied, “Don’t count on it. I tried to tell you – I am the groom…”

This humorous story helps to drive home the importance of listening skills in effective communication. Listening to the other person while he/she speaks can avoid communication gaps and consequently, any problems that may arise out of it. If the officer would have listened to the offending motorist’s explanation before taking him in, he would have been able to avoid a lot of problems for everyone involved.

Hence it is important for us to improve our listening skills. Listening is a step above hearing. This is when you not just simply hear with your ears what the other person says; it is when you assimilate the idea or thought that is being conveyed and internalize it. With practice, you can effectively improve your listening abilities. This is a vital step towards improving your communication skills.

“It is the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes