Effective Communication for Professional and Personal Success

A two-way process of reaching mutual understanding, in which participants not only exchange (encode-decode) information, news, ideas and feelings but also create and share meaning. In general, communication is a means of connecting people or places.(BusinessDictionary.com)
How do we communicate?
Language, writing and body language probably springs to mind when we think of how people communicate with each other.  However, when we communicate, we are sending (and others are receiving—and vice versa) a multitude of messages with the use of symbols, colors, clothing, tone/pitch/speed of voice, facial movements and even physical surroundings.  All of these (and many more things) communicate information to others.  However, we need to remember that whatever message we are sending has to be interpreted by the person receiving the communication.
Communication is a two-way process between the giver and the receiver, even though the giver and receiver may not agree on the meaning of the information exchanged.
Good communication skills are vital for success at work (and in life). A workforce with effective communication skills is critical for a company or business to grow and be successful. Effective communication is at the heart of an organization’s success and an individual’s success.  No matter how unique a company’s product or service or how talented and hardworking its workforce is, without effective communication at all levels of the organization, a company will not be highly successful. Good communication is important for EVERYONE in the organization—even the ones that think they do not have an impact from a communication point of view (we sometimes hear this from maintenance technicians or facilities staff or others who work mainly on machines or physical jobs).
Most organizations rate good communication skills in a new hire above education, ambition and hard work.  After the hiring process, and once teams are formed, lack of communication between team members or between organizational layers creates conflict and negative feelings.  This leads to poor relationships, low morale, low engagement and reduced productivity and performance.  This lack of or poor communication can also have serious impacts on service delivery and customers. Sometimes it can even result in disastrous outcomes.
Forms of Communication:
Communication can be broken up into verbal, non-verbal and written.
Verbal Communication includes the words spoken and the tone, volume, speed and pitch of speech.
Non-Verbal Communication includes body language and facial expressions, hair and clothing.
Written Communication includes words, spelling, grammar, diagrams, graphics etc. in books, emails, letters, texting and any other media including all forms of social media.
You have probably heard the following statistics:
55% of (face to face) communication is via facial expressions and body language,
37% tone/pitch of voice and just
8% is based on the words spoken.
However, being a good communicator is not necessarily just about dressing well, smiling, using a clear interesting voice, making eye contact etc.  Being an effective communicator is about knowing when to communicate and ensuring that the message you are giving (or wanting to give) is being received correctly by the recipient(s) and that you are receiving correctly the message being given to you.  With poor delivery or poor receipt, the message can be misunderstood and consequences can even be disastrous.
The Giver of the message codes what they would like to communicate.  This could be in the words chosen, the style of clothing, or their facial expression.  The Receiver decodes this message based on how they interpret the words, body language, style of dress etc.
Additionally, there are communication barriers along the way as well.  Barriers to communication can include language, stress, attitude, jargon, lack of attention, culture, generation gaps, bias and conflict.
Feedback is also an essential part of communication.  Was the message you were communicating (sending) received and understood? What impact did it have? The only way you can know this is if you received feedback from the receiver. This feedback enables you to know whether the information you were communicating was received and understood and what impact it had. Communication barriers can make it harder to understand this feedback exactly as intended.
We can probably all think of a time when we communicated with another person and that communication did not go as we intended.  Hopefully those situations were resolved without severe consequences.  Below are some infamous situations when better communication skills could have helped these organizations and even saved lives:
1)     BP Oil Spill – Gulf of Mexico 2010: BP spent a lot of money on expensive commercials apologizing.  BP came under a lot of criticism from the public and the government for spending money on these commercials rather than on the clean up.  BP did not consider the message it was giving and how it would be received. They are still putting out odds about how safe they are today.
2)    Coca Cola “New Coke” 1985: In a bid to compete with a new Pepsi formula, Coca Cola decided to change their formula and create “New Coke”.  However, Coca Cola’s customers were loyal and its customers did not want “New Coke” and began hoarding the original formula.  Coca Cola failed to communicate to its customers or listen to them.  Eventually, Coca Cola admitted it made a mistake and the product was withdrawn.
3)  Tenerife Air Disaster 1977: KLM 4805 and PanAm 1736 collided on the runway killing 583 people.  The captain on KLM was in a hurry to get off the ground and he believed he heard ATC give him clearance to take off.  This event was a major factor in the further development of CRM where communication, leadership and an understanding of human factors works to improve air safety.
As the third example illustrates, in the aviation industry, bad communication can be disastrous and can cost lives. It is vital for us to be excellent communicators in order to keep a safe, secure and customer friendly environment at our FBOs, on our ramps, in our hangars and maintenance shops, in our lobbies and in our offices.
So what can we do to be better communicators?  Here are some tips and things to consider:

When giving a message/speaking (GIVER):

  • When faced with the need to communicate, consider the audience.  Find the right time, consider how to present the message and choose words, tone and body language appropriate to the message and the audience.
  • Prepare the audience and make sure they are ready to receive the message.  Set their expectations – how long will this take, is now an appropriate time, summarize the message in one line.  Think about the effects of the message you are giving on the receiver.
  • Take action when it is needed before something gets out of control.
  • Don’t leave customers or team members wondering what is happening.
  • Be transparent and put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
  • Consider cross-cultural and cross-generational differences.
  • Use T.H.I.N.K before you speak
When receiving a message/listening (RECEIVER):
  • Give the speaker your full attention.  Minimize distractions and quiet your mind (don’t start planning your response while the other person is speaking – just absorb what is being said to you).
  • Ask questions for clarification if necessary.  Restate/summarize what you just heard to ensure understanding.
  • Check with the speaker that your interpretation of the thoughts and feelings of the speaker are correct.
  • If a customer is angry, listen and show empathy.  Don’t try and fix the problem right away.  Instead diffuse the upset customer before discussing options.