Communicating is simple. Right? Well, moving your lips may be easy, but effective communication can be mind-numbingly difficult. Even in friendships and marriages. Tough to get it right politics and religion. And yes, the right communication mix and messages are hard in business, too.
It’s strange that as humans we all have been communicating since our infancy but still face communication problems throughout our lives. We often find ourselves stumbling or being misled during the delivery or reception of information.
This happens in our daily personal lives and in our organizations, where barriers to communication become a cause of many problems and can hamper progress and ongoing projects. Misinterpretation of facts, misapprehensions, cultural misunderstanding and our echo chambers are common barriers to realizing a good level of communication.
Because effective communication is so often hampered, its particularly important in business to focus on coordination and specialization of messages, and if possible, determining the responsibilities, capabilities and role of those receiving your messages.
How can we improve our communication at all levels?
I studied journalism and public relations, earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in these fields, so the classic text Effective Public Relations (1952) by Cutlip is burned in my memory. Cutlip cited the seven C’s of communication. They are as pertinent today, in the age of omni-channel communication and immediate feedback loops, as they were when the text was written 66 years ago. Here are the steps, with my commentary.
- Clarity. Be clear about your objective; state your main point early and often. Organize your thoughts. Use precise language. Be concise, or you’ll likely to lose your audience in a social media world. But short doesn’t necessarily mean clear; you can confuse people in 280 characters. Easily.
- If you already have credibility with your audiences, guard it!
- If you don’t yet have credibility, explain why it should be granted. But also understand that in the long run it will have to be earned.
- Invite feedback from the receiver.Asking for feedback and showing that you’ve heard it will help you earn credibility.
- Context. Understand the needs of your audience. You should be sensitive to the needs of a receiver. Understand his or her nature, culture, beliefs, and passions. Pay attention to the environment at the time and place you are communicating, and craft or tailor your messages accordingly. Today, recognize that anything you say or write is likely accessible to the entire world. No pressure!
- Content. Watch your language!Review your messages to be sure you can’t possibly be misunderstood. It takes a lifetime to build a reputation, and one careless Tweet to destroy your reputation and career. Care should be taken to keep the sentences short and simple. Technical words or jargon should be used only when they increase understanding, not to demonstrate your knowledge as an insider.
- Continuity. It is important to be consistent, especially as you are communicating the value and features of a product or service. Disconnected or contrary messages destroy your credibility. In the day of digital footprints, you will be held accountable!
- People love Subject Matter Experts, but be careful if you only play one on the internet.
- Avoid information overload: People will get bored if they are bombarded with too much information.
- Reduce the level of noise as much as possible: Try to speak and interact with someone where there is limited noise or disturbance.
- Practice and review.If you’re making a verbal presentation, practice in front of colleagues, or at least in front of a mirror. If you’ve written something, read it to yourself or others out loud. This really works!
- Channels. Shorten the communication chain.Try to communicate directly with the person concerned. The risk of distortion increases as facts are passed through a third party. More steps; more chances for distortion! Learn about what channel your target audiences use to get information. Adjust your content as necessary to be effective in varied channels.