Effective Communication is the thread that binds our society together. Effective communicators are able to use thread to shape the future. To be an effective communicator, one must know how to put words together that communicate thoughts, ideas, and feelings. That is why communicating effectively in the workplace is so important. It helps us better understand a person or situation, enables us to resolve differences, build trust and respect, and create environments where creative ideas, problem solving, affection, and caring can flourish. As simple as communication seems, much of what we try to communicate and others try to communicate to us, can get misunderstood. This usually can cause a conflict and frustration in professional and personal relationship.
That is why it is critical to understand and be aware of the potential sources of communication barriers. Some of these barriers can include language, defensiveness behavior, and misreading of body language. Avoiding these barriers can be very important, because it provides employees with a clear understanding of what is demanded of them, with knowledge of what to do and what to expect. For organizations, such a communication style creates effective performance of staff and, in return, increases customer loyalty and profit. What is effective communication and why is it important? In today’s world, we have to send, receive, and process numbers of messages every day. But effective communication is about more than just exchanging information.
According to Maxwell (1999), “Effective communication requires you to also understand the emotion behind the information” (8). It can improve relationship at work, and in social situations by deepening your connections to others and improving teamwork, decision-making, caring, and problem solving. It enables you to communicate even negative or difficult messages without creating conflict or destroying trust. Effective communication combines a set of skills including nonverbal communication, attentive listening, the ability to manage stress in the moment, and the capacity to recognize and understand your own emotions and those of the person you are communicating with (Cohn, 2007). Although effective communication does not always guarantee success in an organization, its absence usually signals problems.
Culture and Language
The inability to converse in a language that is known by both the sender and receiver is the greatest barrier to effective communication. Language is essential and important to every aspect of interaction in our everyday lives. We use language to inform the people around us of what we feel, what we desire, and question or understand the world around us. We communicate effectively with our words, gestures, and tone of voice in a multitude of situation. That is why language cannot be overlooked when it comes to communication. Believe it or not, some people can be arrogant to believe they can go to foreign countries without knowing anything of the language or culture of the people in the places they visit. When a person uses inappropriate words while conversing or writing, it could lead to misunderstanding between the sender and receiver.
Truly effective communication is conveyed when both speakers speak the same language and the speakers have some knowledge of each other’s language. But, you always have to keep in mind; language, which describes what you want to say in your terms, may present barriers to others who are not familiar with your expressions (Bennett & Olney 1992). Communication with people of different cultures is especially challenging. Cultures provide people with ways of thinking, seeing, hearing, and interpreting the world. Thus the same words can mean different things to people from different cultures, even when they talk the same language. When the languages are different, and translation has to be used to communicate, the potential for misunderstandings increases.
Defensive behavior is another primary barrier to effective communication. Maxwell (2001, p. 39) stated, “Defensive communication occurs when one person in a conversation feels threatened, attacked, or is trying to protect their self-image. It’s a mechanism that people use when they are feeling unsafe and they need the conversation to go astray.” He continued on to say, “When people become defensive there are a number of steps they go through. They first approach the situation from their own perspective, whether or not they feel threatened or falsely accused. They then communicate this perception in a verbal or non-verbal manner” (p.39). People can also respond defensively in a number of different ways. Most times you will see someone being passive and withdrawing from the conversation. Other times you see someone being aggressive and being assertive. You will also notice people who are defensive often cannot empathize with or understand another point-of-view that is different from theirs.
They can be unwilling to take in new information or learn about a new perspective. Understand that from time to time even the best communicators can become defensive in a conversation. But when all the communication carries the taint of defensiveness, it can ruin any kind of communication, especially at a workplace. One way of overcoming defensiveness is to discuss, instead of accuse, and to use positive statements. Being a good listener is another way to taking steps to no longer see the person’s words as an attack, but information that is being strongly expressed is a critical way of overcoming defensive behavior (Cohn, 2007). In addition, asking clarifying questions will help to resolve any remaining uncertainties and further prevent misunderstanding. It is also helps to listen carefully to the other person’s point of view before responding.
We communicate as much or more through body language as we do with words. Body language includes facial expressions, eye contact, and the movement of arms, hands and legs. It is important for a person to understand body language and its affect on others. When it comes to communication, verbal communication is the most important part of communication, but non-verbal communication is as equally as important (McNeil, p. 684). When we communicate things that we care about, we do so mainly using nonverbal signals. Wordless communication, or body language, includes facial expression, body movement and gesture, eye contact, posture, the tone of your voice, and even your muscle tension and breathing. The way you look, listen, move, and react to another person tells them more about how you are feeling than words alone ever can (O’Rourke, 2009).
So next time you are engaged in conversation with anyone, be mindful of your non-verbal gestures, because non-verbal communication can relate a different message to the individual than what you are trying to communicate. Even without speaking a word, you can express your thoughts and emotions. Your stance and body movements have become a pattern and you are unaware and unconscious that you are doing them. A person can create a better communication with managers, co-workers, and others you encounter during the day, by making simple adjustments to your posture, facial expressions and mannerisms.
A person can also assess how people walk, how they carry themselves and how their faces appear during the day. Facial expressions are important and can convey different messages, and because you can’t hide your face, you have to be very careful of how you use it (Bennett & Olney 1992). Hand gestures can be a great way to communicate and many people do communicate using their hands. But hand gestures have also caused many arguments. The way you dress, your clothing can dictate an illusion of your status as well. Others can look at what you wearing and from that, they can decide if they will offer you a job or engage in a conversation with you. Even though sometimes you may be sending the wrong signals, you should still take note of them so you can assess situations more confidently instead of relying on the perceptions of others. Knowing how people view you is necessary in order to make changes.
Skill in communication involves a number of specific strengths. One of those strengths involves listening. Listening is the one of the most important aspects of being an effective communicator. Successful listening means not just understanding the words or the information being communicated, but also understanding how the speaker feels about what they’re communicating (Maxwell, 1999). The greatest barrier to effective communication is poor listening skills; people not listening or not being present to what’s being said. Many people are poor listeners, even in everyday life. They tend to listen and think about something else at the same time. Rather than carefully attending to what the other person has said, many people think about their response while the other person is talking. If both parties are listening poorly, or not listening, miscommunication is likely to occur. Research by (Caputo, Palosaari, & Nicholas, 2003) states, “People are likely to misunderstand each other, become defensive, take actions, or come to conclusions based on wrong information. In addition, they tend to interpret things to coincide with the views that they already have.
For this reason, they assume they know and understand what other people are saying, because they assume that it corresponds to their own expectations about what the person is likely to say or should be saying”. Since people in conflict tend to develop hostile and distrustful images of the other, their interpretation of things and what the other side says or does is also likely to be hostile and distrustful. Showing respect to the speaker is a crucial element (Cohn, 2007). Such poor listening makes good communication almost impossible. No matter how much care one person or group takes to communicate their concerns, values, interests, or needs in a fair, clear, unthreatening way, if the listener is not willing to receive that information in that way, the communication will fail. Effective listening can:
* Makes the speaker feel heard and understood
* Creates an environments where everyone feels safe to express ideas, opinions, and feelings, or plan problem solve in creative ways.
* Save time by helping clarify information, avoid conflicts and misunderstandings
* Relieve negative emotions. (Cohn, 121)
Another important element of communication is creating effective feedback. Feedback is essential in communication to know whether the recipient has understood the message in the same terms as intended by the sender and whether he agrees to that message or not (Middleton, 2011). And the one area that consistently gives both managers and employees difficulty is the need to give and accept effective feedback. What is feedback? Feedback is communication to a person or a team of people regarding the effect their behavior is having on another person, the organization, the customer, or the team (Maxwell, 1999). Giving effective feedback is one of the most crucial elements you can to do help employees improve performance.
The key elements of successful Feedbacks are:
* Evaluative: Making a judgment about the worth, goodness, or appropriateness of the other person’s statement.
* Interpretive: Paraphrasing – attempting to explain what the other person’s statement means.
* Supportive: Attempting to assist or bolster the other communicator.
* Probing: Attempting to gain additional information, continue the discussion, or clarify a point.
* Understanding: Attempting to discover a completely what the other communicator means by their statements. (Maxwell, 1999)
Feedback establishes a connection between what employees are doing and how others perceive actions. Although most would rather not receive feedbacks, there is a need to get across that no feedback can be much worse. According to Maxwell (2001), “Giving feedback is not about dishing out criticism” (24). Unfortunately, this often proves to be the case when one finds themselves under pressure. It is at these times that emotions get in the way of effective communication. If feedback is provided on an ongoing basis, it establishes a connection between what employees are doing and how actions are perceived by others. Acquiring the skills of good communication is not difficult. Using them when it really matters is the difficult part. “A strong leader understands that verbal as well as nonverbal communication skills are a part of everyday life. It is important for every leader to understand, and to practice, the fact that effective communication skills should be a major part of everyone’s personal development” (Cohn, 2007).
Effective communication requires paying attention to an entire process, not just the content of the message. When you are the messenger in this process, you should consider the potential barriers. Being aware of how your own attitude, emotions, knowledge, and credibility with the receiver might impede, or alter whether and how your message is received is vital. An effective communicator can identify the barriers, which in return gives you the better chances of success. A good communicator will also be able to persuade people, influence others, negotiate effectively and provide valuable feedback. You can also inspire, motivate and encourage your staff and employees. You can convey your ideas better to your boss, you can make interesting conversation and network easier and speak to group of people with self-confidence and credibility. The better your communication skills, the greater success you can achieve. The importance of communication skills cannot be understated.
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Caputo, J. S., Palosaari, J., Pickering, K., & Nicholas, J. (2003). Effective communication. Twickenham, Eng: Dramatic Lines.
Cohn, MD, MBA, FACS, K. H. (2007). Developing Communication Skills. Journal of Oncology Practice, 3(6). Retrieved from http://jop.ascopubs.org.
Maxwell, J. C. (1999). The 21 indispensable qualities of a leader: Becoming the person that people will want to follow. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson.
Maxwell, J. C. (2003). Thinking for a change: 11 ways highly successful people approach life and work. New York: Warner Books.
McNeil, M. M. (n.d.). Communication: The Key to Effective Leadership. Journal of Educational Administration, 47(5), pp.684 – 687.
Middleton, D. (2011). Students Struggle for Words. Wall Street Journal, 03(3).
O’Rourke, J. S. (2009). Effective communication. London: Dorling Kindersley. Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. A. (2011). Organizational behavior: Global edition. Boston [etc.: Pearson.