The standard methods of communication are speaking or writing by a sender and listening or reading the receiver. Most communication is oral, with one party speaking and others listening.
However, some forms of communication do not directly involve spoken or written language. Nonverbal communication (body language) consists of actions, gestures, and other aspects of physical appearance that, combined with facial expressions (such as smiling or frowning), can be powerful means of transmitting messages. At times, a person's body may be “talking” even as he or she maintains silence. And when people do speak, their bodies may sometimes say different things than their words convey. A mixed message occurs when a person's words communicate one message, while nonverbally, he or she is communicating something else.
Although technology such as e‐mail has lessened the importance of nonverbal communication, the majority of organizational communication still takes place through face‐to‐face interaction. Every verbal message comes with a nonverbal component. Receivers interpret messages by taking in meaning from everything available. When nonverbal cues are consistent with verbal messages, they act to reinforce the messages. But when these verbal and nonverbal messages are inconsistent, they create confusion for the receiver.
The actions of management are especially significant because subordinates place more confidence in what managers do than what they say. Unless actions are consistent with communication, a feeling of distrust will undermine the effectiveness of any future social exchange.
Because a large part of a manager's day is spent conversing with other managers and employees, the abilities to speak and listen are critical to success. For example, oral communication skills are used when a manager must make sales presentations, conduct interviews, perform employee evaluations, and hold press conferences.
In general, managers prefer to rely on oral communication because communication tends to be more complete and thorough when talking in person. In face‐to‐face interactions, a person can judge how the other party is reacting, get immediate feedback, and answer questions. In general, people tend to assume that talking to someone directly is more credible than receiving a written message. Face‐to‐face communication permits not only the exchange of words, but also the opportunity to see the nonverbal communication.
However, verbal communicating has its drawbacks. It can be inconsistent, unless all parties hear the same message. And although oral communication is useful for conveying the viewpoints of others and fostering an openness that encourages people to communicate, it is a weak tool for implementing a policy or issuing directives where many specifics are involved.
Here are two of the most important abilities for effective oral communication:
- Active listening. Listening is making sense of what is heard and requires paying attention, interpreting, and remembering sound stimuli. Effective listening is active, requiring the hearer to “get inside the head” of the speaker so that he or she can understand the communication from the speaker's point of view. Effective listeners do the following:
- Schedule sufficient, uninterrupted time for meetings.
- Genuinely seek information.
- Avoid being emotional or attacking others.
- Paraphrase the message you heard, especially to clarify the speaker's intentions.
- Keep silent. Don't talk to fill pauses, or respond to statements in a point‐counterpoint fashion.
- Ask clarifying questions.
- Avoid making distracting gestures.
- Constructive feedback. Managers often do poor jobs of providing employees with performance feedback. When providing feedback, managers should do the following:
- Focus on specific behaviors rather than making general statements
- Keep feedback impersonal and goal‐oriented
- Offer feedback as soon after the action as possible
- Ask questions to ensure understanding of the feedback
- Direct negative feedback toward behavior that the recipient can control
Written communication skills
Written communication has several advantages. First, it provides a record for referral and follow‐up. Second, written communication is an inexpensive means of providing identical messages to a large number of people.
The major limitation of written communication is that the sender does not know how or if the communication is received unless a reply is required.
Unfortunately, writing skills are often difficult to develop, and many individuals have problems writing simple, clear, and direct documents. And believe it or not, poorly written documents cost money.
How much does bad writing cost a company annually? According to a Canadian consulting and training firm, one employee who writes just one poorly worded memo per week over the course of a year can cost a company $4,258.60.
Managers must be able to write clearly. The ability to prepare letters, memos, sales reports, and other written documents may spell the difference between success and failure. The following are some guidelines for effective written communication:
- Use the P.O.W.E.R. Plan for preparing each message: plan, organize, write, edit, and revise
- Draft the message with the readers in mind
- Give the message a concise title and use subheadings where appropriate
- Use simple words and short, clear, sentences and paragraphs
- Back up opinions with facts
- Avoid “flowery” language, euphemisms, and trite expressions
- Summarize main points at the end and let the reader know what he must do next