The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place" - George Bernard Shaw.
This is probably why truly effective communicators outshine, and are even rewarded better than, equally skilled colleagues, and rightly so.
Information has to be passed on in the most functional manner for individuals and teams to work smoothly. Good professional communication operates on three fronts-when it helps people access facts, learn skills and feel valued. Therefore, improving one's skill at communicating enables faster access to greater responsibility and leadership roles. So, how does one enhance these skills?
BREAK IT DOWN
All communication, be it a phone call or a presentation, has rules that make it effective. So, let's break it all down to the basics-oral vs written and formal vs informal communication.
Formal communication is within the organisational structure, channels and rules. These define the direction of flow of information, instructions, feedback and responsibilities. Here, it is easy to know what works and what does not. What definitely does not work is excessive criticism of your boss, peers or subordinates since formal communication resonates long enough to do unintended damage. Be specially careful about what you discuss when you are in a social setting with people who belong to your formal communication structure. It is better to be conservative than be misunderstood. If you are skillful and astute, breaking formal channels may decrease the communication gap. Even so, remember that doing so is a risky proposition and can alienate people easily.
Informal communication includes all that is outside the formal structure and works within social affiliations. It is an inevitable part of workplace dynamics and can help you access information, understand concerns and enhance your professional network. However, such information may not be authentic as there is little or no accountability involved. So, try limiting discussions on critical matters through formal channels.
Now let's consider the other categorisation-oral vs written. Oral communication includes both meetings with individuals (and groups) as well as telephonic conversations. Mastering oral communication helps build relationships and increase your effectiveness in presenting an argument. Written communication includes anything from a handwritten note or a printed report to e-mails and even SMSes.
You can improve your oral communication by simply speaking more. Seek out opportunities to debate or just talk, both within and outside your office. Use English and do so often enough to focus on getting pronunciation and diction right. For the former, refer to dictionaries or listen to others. Read aloud or even sing to yourself to improve diction. Use a few new words every day to improve your vocabulary. If you are talking over the phone, be specific and factual since misunderstandings are common in the absence of non-verbal cues. Avoid getting emotional over the phone and deal with such situations at personal meetings.
Mobile phone etiquette is also critical at the workplace. Ensure that a call does not interrupt a conversation. Apart from an emergency, there is no reason to let a call violate a meeting or a discussion. Wait until everybody is ready to take a break to check your phone. Remember that you can always return a missed call and never be in the wrong. If you do have to return a call immediately, excuse yourself from the room.
Written communication is often easier for most of us since it affords the luxury of reviewing a message. To improve your writing, the first step is to read more. Variety and quality in reading will go a long way. Make sure that you adhere to grammar and standard structures at the least. Be it a report or an e-mail, the reader must understand the message with no room for interpretation. Take time to plan structure, choose readable fonts, opt for an intuitive layout, choose logical headings and subject lines and write concise introductions and conclusions. As in phone conversations, emotional content is better kept for a one-on-one.
Much of the meaning of what is communicated is interpreted within the context it is made. Hence, communication at the workplace is subject to the perception of your role and position, non-verbal signals and your association with others. These are dimensions that can change the context, and thus the impact, of your message. Always keep this in mind. The journey towards becoming a better communicator is endlessly fascinating and exciting. The rewards are more than worth any effort you make.The writer is CEO, Quetzal, a human resource solutions company started by four IIM-A graduates.