The importance of effective communication in the workplace

In our modern world we have come to rely quite heavily on computer technology or information technology which includes the processing of large amounts of data. Data processing or data communications essentially comprises two elements: encoding and decoding. Encoding is the process of putting a sequence of characters such as letters, numbers, punctuation, and symbols together into a specialised format for efficient transmission or storage of data. Decoding is the opposite process. It is the conversion of an encoded format back into the original sequence of characters. Encoding and decoding are used in data communications, networking, and storage.

In this fast-paced century, we are constantly being challenged to become more effective in our communication. Effective communication is also a two-way process that includes transmitting and receiving messages. Our challenge is to receive all the communication signals – both verbal and non-verbal and to interpret these signals as accurately as possible.

Most people pay a lot of attention to the actual words used in communication but research shows that only 7% of the meaning comes from the actual words that are expressed. The way the words are expressed (includes pitch and tone, as well as the spaces between the words) accounts for 38% of the message. Facial expression or body language contributes as much as 55% of the message. Professor Albert Mehrabian pioneered much of the understanding of communication in the 1960s.

Often in communication, we can miss out on important information such as non-verbal queues. How often have you heard people agree with you but when the crunch comes, you realise you do not have their support. Their mouths said yes but they only said yes so that the meeting could end on time and they can get to their next appointment on schedule.

To communicate effectively, we need to pay attention to three key components: listening, clarifying and giving feedback.

The element of listening (or active listening) includes listening to both the verbal and non-verbal communications that is shared by the person speaking. Check how often you want to complete their thought or sentence before they do. Check how often you wish they can get to the point quickly so that you can get to the next thing that requires your attention. To listen well – it is helpful to listen until the speaker has finished speaking without interrupting. Listen to the feelings. Take note of how things were said and the way in which things were said. Then follow up with questions for clarity and your own input. As much as possible check that your understanding is correct.

For example, so what I am hearing you say is that you are not satisfied with the decision that was taken and you have additional concerns that you have not raised before. In other words you are thrilled with the new proposal? By checking your understanding of the message you are checking that you have received the message accurately – in the way that it was intended. Clarifying is an effective tool that can save both the speaker (sender) and listener (receiver) from lots of frustration and communication breakdowns.

The feedback part is normally the end result when we deliver the output of our understanding or the lack of understanding the message. Two-fold feedback is about checking back and forth between the sender and receiver about their understanding. For example, someone asks for feedback on a business project and you say the project looks terrible. What does that mean exactly? The reply is too vague and often people make the mistake of taking this kind of communication personally. Be as specific as possible. It is helpful to start with what worked well or what is working (positive messages first), followed by what needs to be improved or the areas of concern (areas for development) and then to find a way to end off on a positive note. By launching straight into what’s wrong, this approach can kill motivation and momentum. It is harder to come back from this and you have to work even harder to gain people’s trust and get back their support. Constructive feedback (whether it is positive or negative) goes a long way in building trust, respect, and cooperation whereas destructive feedback breaks down people’s enthusiasm, motivation, dignity and creativity.

Here’s an example of a miscommunication between the leadership and managers of a business. The message received from the top down was that employees could dress casually on Fridays and that jeans would be allowed. People then started to dress a little too casually and no longer looked smart on Fridays. The final straw came when one of the managers wore frayed jeans at the knees. Even though it was the latest fashion, it was regarded as unacceptable especially for an international business concern. So the executive leadership pulled the plug and no longer allowed jeans to be worn. Had they in fact communicated exactly what kind of jeans they would have found acceptable, a lot of embarrassment could have been saved and it could have been a win-win situation for everyone in the company.

In simple terms, encoding is the speaking part of the communication and decoding is the response or the behaviour of the message that is being received.

Coding (Sending) + Decoding (Receiving) + Feedback (Clarifying) = Effective Communication

For effective communication, we need to receive as many of the signals being expressed – verbal and non-verbal, ask clarifying questions and check for understanding so that we can receive the message in the way that it was intended. Where there is effective communication, there is ease and this creates a feeling of harmony and belonging. It tends to bring out the best in people. In what ways can effective communication make a difference for you in your life personally or professionally?

April 1, 2016 | By: Nickolette Assy Executive Coach & Director of Nickolette & Associates

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