Alan Greenspan once famously told a senator, “If you understood what I said, I must have misspoken.” I recently gave a talk on effective communication and I used this quote to capture the essence of so much communication that is intentionally misleading or misdirecting. Communicating is hard enough without one party working against the process.
I also used the classic Abbott and Costello skit “Who’s on first?” (shown below) as a perfect example of two people discussing the same topic but not communicating at all. Is it any wonder that communication routinely ranks as a serious issue within small and large companies alike?
Webster’s defines communication as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior”. A recent Google search of “effective communication” yielded 52,300,000 results. A search for books on communication through Amazon produced 671,425 results. Perhaps no subject has produced so much “help” with such minimal results.
We communicate for three basic reasons: to inform, to persuade, or to entertain. All of our efforts at communicating fall into three categories: verbal, non-verbal, and written. The Foxwood Associates Leadership Competency Model identifies five core communication competencies for effective communication:
- Active Communication
- Informal Communication
- Listening Skills
- Writing Skills
- Presentation Skills
These competencies form the framework of effective communication for business leaders. Here are some general rules that apply to the exercise of the effective communication competencies:
If you are the “sender”:
- How important is the information you are sending?
- Who needs to know the information?
- How will you share the information?
- What do you want done with the information?
- How will you know if the information was received and understood?
If you are the “receiver”:
- Be present and engaged.
- Be an active listener.
- Ask questions.
- Repeat information back to the sender.
- Get agreement.
Remember, effective communication is the “grease” that makes everything else in business flow smoothly. To a large extent, a company’s success is limited by its ability to communicate information effectively and efficiently. In the absence of information people will tend to make up their own story. The information created by employees, suppliers, and customers to fill an information gap is at best inaccurate and at worst divisive and destructive.
An effective and efficient communication process is essential for the long term success of any organization. Getting there, and staying there, requires continuous evaluation and attention as other organizational processes are developed, modified, and improved.