Communication is the transfer of information and understanding from one person to another. It is a way of reaching others with ideas, facts, thoughts, feelings, and values. It always involves atleast two people – a sender and a receiver. Communication is what the receiver understands and not what the sender says.
Organisations cannot exist without communication. If there is no communication, employees cannot know what their coworkers are doing, management cannot receive information inputs, and supervisors cannot give instructions. Coordination of work is impossible, and the organisation will collapse for lack of it. Cooperation also becomes impossible, because people cannot communicate their needs and feelings to others. We can say with confidence that every act of communication influences the organisation in some way.
When communication is effective, it tends to encourage better performance and job satisfaction. People understand their jobs better and feel more involved in them. One of the main hindrances for the successful performance of a group or organisation is lack of effective communication. Because, individuals spend nearly 70% of their working hours communicating, writing, reading, speaking and listening. So communication skill is one of the essential qualities required for every individual, whether in a group, work place, family or in any situation. It is worth remembering, “Communication can make or break a relationship”. As such, communication skill is a personality trait to be developed by all. Like other social skills, communication skills can be taught and learned, and they improve with practice.
Before going into the details of communication skills., we should discuss communication: – its definition, objectives, media, principles, types, barriers etc.
Few of the important definitions of Communication given by Management experts are:
• Communication is the interchange of thoughts or information to bring about mutual understanding and confidence of good human relations. (American Society of Training Directors)
• Communication is an exchange of. facts, ideas, opinions or emotions by two or more persons. (Rumania and Summer)
• Communication means Understanding. (C.G Brown)
The dictionary defines communication as a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs or behaviour.
Skill is defined as a learned power of doing something competently and something that is a developed aptitude or ability. Put the two together and it is obvious good communication skills can be learned and that those skills can be used to effectively deliver your message. Human communication is purposive and so understanding is vital in the process of communication.
Any communication involves four essential elements, viz.
- The message
- The source
- The receiver
- The channel
2.0 THE COMMUNICATION PROCESS
The process of communication involves six stages. The first three stages occurring at the sender’s end and the remaining three at the receiver’s end.
2.1 AT SENDER’S END
IDEATION: Step 1 is to develop an idea that the sender wishes to transmit. This is the key step, because unless there is a worthwhile message, all the other steps are somewhat useless. This step is represented by the sign, sometimes seen in an office, that reads, “Be sure brain is engaged before putting mouth in gear.”.
ENCODING: Step 2 is to encode the idea into suitable words, charts or symbol for transmission. At this point the sender determines the method of transmission, so that the words and symbols may be organised in suitable fashion for the type of transmission.
TRANSMISSION: When the message is fully developed, step 3 is to transmit it by the method chosen, such as by memo, phone call or personal visit. Senders also choose certain channels, such as bypassing or not bypassing the superintendent and they communicate with careful timing. Today may not be the right day to talk to one’s manager about that pay raise. Senders also try to keep their communication channel free of barriers, or interference, so that their messages have a chance to reach the receivers and hold their attention.
2.2 AT RECEIVER’S END
RECEIVING: The encoded message sent by the sender is received by the receiver, who tune to receive the message. If the receiver does not function, the message is lost.
DECODING: Step 5 is to decode the message so that it can be understood. The receiver tries to get the meaning or understand from the symbols by the sender.
ACTION: The receiver gets the message and acts or responds in some way.
For effective communication mutual cooperation between the sender and receiver is essential. It is desirable that the receiver pays proper attention, gives feedback or response to the sender so that two-way communication is established. For effective communication, sharing of ideas or thoughts is a necessary condition, which can be achieved only through participation.
3.0 Rule of FIVE for Effective Communication
When communicating any message, one should ensure for effective communication that the receiver:
1) Receives the message
2) Understands the message
3) Accepts the message
4) Uses the message and information in the message
5) Sends feedback to the sender
Communication can be used for any one or more of the following objectives:
• Information • Advice • Order
• Suggestion • Persuasion • Education
• Warning • Raising morale • Motivation
The main goals of communication are to build interpersonal relationship and to influence others.
5.0 Media of communication:
Communication is possible through a vast variety of media. For communication to be effective, the communicator has to be very careful and judicious in the choice of media, which will depend on the factors like the urgency of the message, the time available, the expenditure involved and the intellectual and emotional level of the receiver. Available media of communication can be broadly classified into six groups:
I. Written communication
II. Oral communication
III. Face-to-Face communication
IV. Visual communication
V. Audio-visual communication
5.1 Written communication includes letters, circulars, memos, telegrams, reports, minutes, forms and questionnaires, manuals etc.
Merits and limitations of written communication.
It is accurate and precise.
It can be repeatedly referred to.
It is a permanent record.
It is a legal document.
It facilitates the assignation of responsibilities.
It has a wide access.
It is time consuming.
It is costly.
Quick clarification is not possible.
5.2 Oral communication includes face-to-face conversation, conversation over the telephone, radio broadcasts, interviews, group discussions, conferences and seminars, speeches etc.
Merits and limitations of oral communication are:
Saves time and money.
More powerful means of persuasion and control.
Speaker gets immediate feed back.
Helps to promote friendly relations.
Useful at assemblies, meetings etc.
Not suitable for lengthy messages.
Cannot be retained for a long time.
Does not have any legal validity.
Greater chances of misunderstanding.
Cannot assign specific responsibilities.
5.3 Face-to-Face communication is another form of Oral communication in most of the situations.
Facial expressions and gestures help to communicate better and it is almost perfect.
Particularly suitable for discussions.
Difficult to practice in large-sized organisations.
Not effective in large gatherings.
Ineffective if the listener is inattentive.
5.4. Visual communication includes printed pictures, posters, slides, film strips etc. But visual communication alone is not enough. It can be effectively used only in combination with other media.
5.5 Audio Visual Communication that makes use of telecasts, short films on cinema screen and videotapes is the latest medium of communication. It is a combination of sight and sound and most suitable for mass publicity and mass education.
5.6 Silence can effectively communicate a number of responses. “Silence is more eloquent than words”- is not a meaningless adage. Silence can very effectively convey such responses as disapproval, anger or indifference.
6.0. Principles of communication: (6 Cs)
The six principles of communication discussed below are of fundamental importance and relevant to all media but they are most important to ‘written communication’.
(A) Clarity: – Use Simple words and concrete expressions. Prefer active voice than passive voice. Avoid usage of ‘Jargons’ and ambiguity.. Jargons refer to special language of an organisation. Eg., CGM, PGM, DGM, DE, SDE, JTO, EE, AO, DA etc.
Use short sentences whether in oral or written communication. Long sentences seem to be complex. It is a very common trend in our correspondences to combine two or three sentences into a long sentence. As a convention, if a sentence runs beyond 30 words it is better to split into two sentences.
(B) Completeness:- While answering a letter make sure that the receiver is not in any doubt about anything contained in it. Check for the five “W” questions- Who?, What?, Why?, Where? and When? to ensure completeness.
(C) Conciseness:- Be as brief as possible since brevity in expression effectively wins the attention of the reader. Brevity should not be at the cost of appropriateness, clarity correctness, completeness or courtesy. Organise well, include only relevant facts and also avoid repetition.
(D) Consideration: – Show consideration to the reader/listener. Adopt ‘you’ attitude than ‘we’ attitude. Emphasize positive, pleasant facts.
(E) Courtesy:– Following principles help to promote courtesy which demands a friendly behaviour towards others. Answer the letters promptly as far as possible, omit irritating expressions, especially personal attacks and apologize sincerely for an omission or thank generously for a favour.
(F) Correctness:- Give correct facts, send the message at correct time and in correct style through appropriate media -Telegram, Fax, E-mail, Telephone etc.
Depending upon the purpose and channel there are 5 different types of communication as below.
Downward Communication, Upward Communication, Horizontal/Lateral Communication, Grapevine Communication and Consensus.
7.1 Downward Communication:-
Downward communication refers to exchange of ideas with subordinates and people at lower levels. Unfortunately, even with the help of elaborate techniques and skilled staff assistance, management has done a poor job on many occasions. Colourful booklets, expensive multimedia presentations and elaborately planned employee meetings often fail to achieve employee understanding. The key to better communication lies not just in colour, action, and electronic aids, but in more human oriented managers who are sensitive to human needs, prepare carefully and anticipate problems.
Objectives of downward communication are:
• To give specific directions to subordinates.
• To explain policies and organisational procedures
• To appraise the subordinates, of their performance.
• To give the subordinates information about the rationale of their job.
There are four cornerstones that act as prerequisites to a solid approach.
• Managers need to develop a positive attitude.
• Managers must continually work to get informed –seek out relevant information of interest to employees, share it and help employees feel informed.
• Managers need to consciously plan for communication and do this at the beginning of a course of action.
• Developing trust between senders and receivers is important in all communication. If subordinates do not trust their superiors, they are not as likely to listen or to believe management’s messages.
Oral and written media can be used for downward communication.
Essentials of downward communication are:
• Adequate information
• Clear about how much to communicate
• Delegation of authority to lower levels
• Pass on to the correct person.
Limitations of downward communication are:
- Under communication:- Sometimes superiors act in a presumptuous manner – Incomplete instructions will lead to unsatisfactory performance.
- Over communication:- Too much talk by superiors lead to leakage of confidential information.
- Delay:- By the time message reaches lowest level it may have lost its relevance.
- Loss of information: – When it comes to lower levels unless fully written. Experiments showed that only 20% of communication, sent downwards through 5 levels of management, finally gets to the workers level.
- Distortion:- In long lines of communication, information is not only lost but also distorted.
- Resentment by subordinates:- Built in resistance – because subordinates do not get opportunity of participation in decision -making.
7.2 Upward communication
Upward communication refers to exchange of ideas with superiors and people at higher levels
A main objective of upward communication is feedback, which gives employees, opportunity to vent their problems and grievances, constructive suggestions, easier introduction of new schemes and greater harmony and cohesion among the personnel at different levels. If the two way flow of information is broken by poor upward communication, management loses touch with employee needs and lacks sufficient information to make sound decisions. Management needs to” tune in” to employees in the same way a person with a radio tunes in. This requires initiative, positive action, sensitivity to weak signals and adaptability to different channels of employee information. It primarily requires an awareness and belief that upward messages are important.
Essentials of upward communication are:
• Superiors get close to subordinates
• Keep line of communication short
• Prompt redress of legitimate grievance
Limitations of upward communication are:
• Reluctance to express themselves
• Fear of criticism as weakness
• Great possibility of distortion
• Depressed superiors feel insulted.
7.3. Horizontal/Lateral communication
Horizontal communication refers to exchange of ideas between people of same level
7.4. Grapevine communication is an informal channel of communication.
• Decisions unanimous
• Quite familiar in politics
• It can be applied among officials also.
8.0. Barriers to communication:
Even when the receiver receives the message and makes a genuine effort to decode it, there are a number of interferences that may limit the receiver’s understanding. These obstacles act as barriers to communication, and may entirely prevent a communication., filter a part of it or give it incorrect meaning.
There are a number of factors, which act as barriers to effective communication. Some of them are:
• Wrong choice of media.
• Physical barriers – Noise, time and distance.
• Semantic – Interpretation of words, by-passed instructions, denotations and connotations.
• Different comprehension of reality- Abstracting, slanting,
• Socio-psychological barriers – Attitudes and opinions.
• Filtering – Sender manipulating information so that the receiver will see it more favourably.
• Selective perception.
• Emotions – How the receiver feels at the time of receipt of a communication influence how he interprets. In an emotional state of worry, excitement, fear etc., we will not be able to convey or accept
messages in their real sense.
• Language – Words mean different things to different people depending on age, education and culture.
• Source of communication – biased notion.
• Faulty transmission
• Poor retention.
9.0. Communication Skills
Communication skills encompass a variety of strategies and techniques that aid. interpersonal interaction. Using good communication skills is not a matter of simply being ‘nice’. Rather, communicating well facilitates information sharing, perspective-taking, and genuine understanding. When communication flows well, conflict is more likely to be resolved in a collaborative fashion, rather than escalating to destructive levels. Key elements of effective communication skill are: (1) Active Listening Skills arid (2) Feed Back Skills.
9.1. Active Listening Skills:
Listening is making sense out of what we hear. This requires
i) Paying attention
ii) Following – to give indication to the speaker that you are with him or her.
iii) Reflecting – to ask the speaker whether you have correctly understood him by repeating what you have heard in your own words.
Active listening requirements: –
Listen with intensity, acceptance, empathy and willingness to take responsibility. Many of us have bad listening habits. Human brain can handle things at a speed four times the speed at which one speaks. Hence, at the time of listening, our lazy mind will be wandering in other matters like vacation, friends, selecting a vehicle etc, etc. In such occasions, we will not understand the message correctly. An active listener concentrates intensely on what the speaker is saying, summarize and integrate what has been said. If ways to develop active listening skills are:
Make eye contact.
Exhibit affirmative head nods and appropriate facial expressions.
Avoid distracting action or gestures – look into the watch, play with pencil, shuffle the papers etc.
Ask questions – ensures understanding
Paraphrase – Paraphrasing means repeating the matters told by the other person in our words. Eg. Do you mean? You cannot paraphrase if your mind is wandering.
Avoid interrupting the speaker. Do not over talk.
Make smooth transitions between the roles of speaker and listen.
9.2. Feedback Skills
The Feedback can be positive or negative depending upon the situations.
Positive Feed Back Vs Negative Feed Back
If positive, feedback is likely to be given promptly and enthusiastically. Positive feedback is always accepted, because every body likes to hear good things about them.
If negative, feedback is often avoided, delayed or substantially distorted. Negative feedback often meets resistance. Should we avoid negative feedback? No, we should be aware of the possible resistance and at the same time, the negative feed back should be used at a circumstance in which it is likely to be accepted. Experiments show that negative feed back is most likely to be accepted when it comes from a credible source or if it is objective in form.
Ways to develop effective Feed Back Skills are:
Focus on specific behaviors.
Eg. Your attitude is not correct, I liked your work etc. are not specific. At the same time, the following are specific. Eg. You came half an hour late in yesterday’s meeting and this attitude of you is disturbing me. Your work last week has increased the revenue by 20%. That is good.
Keep feed back impersonal
General and impersonal feed back especially, when it is negative. Avoid counter productive words like stupid, incompetent etc.
Keep feed back goal oriented.
Make feed back well timed
Feedback is effective only when it is given immediately. In some cases well-timed means some what delayed.
Remember, every successful communicator requires both transference and understanding.
A breakdown in communication usually takes place due to lack of organizing and planning beforehand. A few basic guidelines will result in successful communication whether it is written down or spoken.
10.0 How to plan written communication?
• Assemble the information you need.
• Check and double check that the information is accurate.
• Make notes to form an outline.
• Prepare a draft copy.
• Read the draft and amend where necessary.
11.0 How to plan spoken communication?
• Make notes on what you intend to say.
• Choose the right time to say it.
• Select your words carefully.
• Make sure the information is given to the right person.
• Try to judge the other person’s reaction.
In this age of information explosion, knowledge is power and communication is the tool/instrument for transferring knowledge and wielding power.