Communication is the process of sending and receiving messages. However, communication is effective only when the message is understood and when it stimulates action or encourages the receiver to think in new ways. You can anticipate problems, make decisions, coordinate work flow, supervise others, develop relationships, and promote products and services. You can shape the impressions you and your company make on colleagues, employees, supervisors, investors, and customers in addition to perceiving and responding to the needs of these stakeholders (the various groups you interact with). Without effective communication, people misunderstand each other and misinterpret information. Ideas misfire or fail to gain attention, and people and companies flounder.
Effective business messages have a number of common characteristics: Provide practical information. Business messages usually describe how to do something, explain why a procedure was changed, highlight the cause of a problem or a possible solution, discuss the status of a project, or explain why a new piece of equipment should be purchased. Give facts rather than impressions. Business messages use concrete language and specific details. Information must be clear, convincing, accurate, and ethical. You must present hard evidence (not just opinion) and present all sides of an argument before you commit to a conclusion. Clarify and condense information. Business messages frequently use tables, charts, photos, or diagrams to clarify or condense information, to explain a process, or to emphasize important information. State precise responsibilities. Business messages are directed to a specific audience. Therefore, you must clearly state what is expected of, or what you can do for, that particular audience. Persuade others and offer recommendations. Business messages frequently persuade employers, customers, or clients to purchase a product or service or adopt a plan of action. To be effective, persuasive messages must show readers just how a product, service, or idea will benefit them.
Nonverbal communication differs from verbal communication in fundamental ways. For one thing, it’s less structured, so it's more difficult to study. Even experts don’t really know how people learn nonverbal behavior. Nonverbal also differs from verbal communication in terms of intent and spontaneity. You generally plan your words: that is, you have a conscious purpose and you think about the message, if only for a moment. However, when you communicate nonverbally, you sometimes do so unconsciously. Without your consent, your emotions are often written all over your face. Verbal communication consists of words arranged in meaningful patterns: that is according to the rules of grammar by putting the various parts of speech in the proper sequence. You then transmit the message in spoken or written form, anticipating that someone will hear or read what you have to say.
Given a choice, people would rather talk to each other than write to each other. Talking takes less time and needs no composing, keyboarding, rewriting, duplicating, or distributing, and oral communication provides the opportunity for feedback. Nonetheless, oral communication has drawbacks. You have far less opportunity to revise your spoken words than to revise your written words. At times written forms are more appropriate and effective: if the information you are conveying is very complex, if a permanent record is needed for future reference, if the audience is large and geographically dispersed, and if immediate interaction with the audience is either unimportant or undesirable.
The changing workplace has brought the following communication challenges: advances in technology, globalization, a culturally diverse workforce, and the adoption of team-based organizational structures. The Internet, e-mail, voice mail, faxes, pagers, and other wireless devices have increased the speed, frequency, and reach of communication. People from opposite ends of the world can work together seamlessly, 24 hours a day. Moreover, people can work away from the office . Technology showcases communication skills—writing skills are revealed in every e-mail message; verbal skills are revealed in audio and video teleconferences. E lectronic communication has limitations; individuals must learn when to use each form. Businesses today are crossing national boundaries to compete globally. A growing percentage of the U.S. workforce is made up of people with diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Employees must understand laws, customs, and business practices of many countries and be able to communicate with people who speak other languages. Traditional management structures are ineffective in today’s fast-paced, e-commerce environment. Instead, organizations use teams and collaborative work groups to make the fast decisions required to succeed in a global and competitive marketplace. Although working in teams has advantages, it also offers challenges, as team members often come from different departments, perform different functions, and come from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Internal communication refers to the exchange of information and ideas within an organization. Internal communication helps employees do their jobs, develop a clear sense of the organization’s mission, and identify and react quickly to potential problems. The official structure (formal communication network) is typically shown as an organization chart that summarizes the lines of authority; each box represents a link in the chain of command; each line represents a formal channel for the transmission of official messages. Information can flow in three directions. Downward flow. Organizational decisions are usually made at the top and then flow down to the people who will carry them out. Upward flow. To solve problems and make intelligent decisions, managers must learn what’s going on in the organization. Horizontal flow. Communication also flows from one department to another, either laterally or diagonally. The grapevine (informal communication network) supplements official channels. People have casual conversations at work. Most deal with personal matters, but about 80 percent of the information on the grapevine pertains to business. Some executives are wary of the grapevine, possibly because it threatens their power to control the flow of information. Savvy managers tap into the grapevine, using it to spread and receive informal messages.
External communication carries information into and out of the organization. Good communication is the first step in creating a favorable impression. Carefully constructed letters, reports, memos, oral presentations, and websites convey an important message about the quality of your organization. Messages such as statements to the press, letters to investors, advertisements, price increase announcements, and litigation updates require special care because of their delicate nature. Such documents are often drafted by a marketing or public relations team—a group of individuals whose sole job is creating and managing the flow of formal messages to outsiders. The public relations team also helps management plan for and respond to crises—which can range from environmental accidents or sabotage situations to strikes, massive product failure, major litigation, or even an abrupt change in management. Informal contacts with outsiders are important for learning about customer needs. As a member of an organization, you are an important informal conduit for communicating with the outside world. Many outsiders may form their impression of your organization on the basis of the subtle clues you transmit through your tone of voice, facial expression, and general appearance. Top managers rely heavily on informal contacts with outsiders to gather information that might be useful to their companies, either by networking with fellow executives or talking with customers and frontline employees.
Communication is a dynamic, transactional (two-way) process that can be broken into six phases . The communication process is repeated until both parties have finished expressing themselves 1. The sender has an idea. You conceive an idea and want to share it. 2. The sender encodes the idea. When you put your idea into a message that your receiver will understand, you are encoding it: that is, deciding on the form, length, organization, tone, and style—all of which depend on your idea, your audience, and your personal style or mood. 3. The sender transmits the message. To physically transmit your message to your receiver, you select a communication channel (verbal or nonverbal, spoken or written) and a medium (telephone, letter, memo, e-mail, report, face-to-face exchange). 4. The receiver gets the message. For communication to occur, your receiver must first get the message. 5. The receiver decodes the message. Your receiver must decode (absorb and understand) your message. 6. The receiver sends feedback. After decoding your message, the receiver responds in some way and signals that response to you.
Interference in the communication process is called noise which can be caused by a variety of communication barriers. Each person has a unique mental map that represents his perception of reality. Senders use selective perception to choose the details that seem important to them. Receivers can distort details that do not fit into their perception patterns. Language is an arbitrary code that depends on shared definitions. There is a limit to how completely any two people share the same meaning for a word. A restrictive environment can be a formal communication network that limits the flow of information, so communication becomes fragmented. Also, a directive and authoritarian leadership style, can block the flow of information. Physical distractions such as bad connections, poor acoustics, or illegible copy can block an otherwise effective message. Emotional distractions can also get in the way of your message. Deceptive communicators may exaggerate benefits, quote inaccurate statistics, or hide negative information. Unscrupulous communicators may seek personal gain by making others look better or worse than they are. People constantly receive messages via e-mail, express couriers, fax machines, voice mail, websites, regular mail, pagers, and cell phones. Information overload caused by the sheer number of messages can be distracting, making it hard to discriminate between useful and useless information.
Effective communicators work hard at perfecting the messages they deliver. When they make mistakes, they learn from them. The coming chapters present and analyze real-life examples of both good and bad communication. After a while you’ll begin to see that four themes keep surfacing: (1) adopting an audience-centered approach; (2) fostering an open communication climate; (3) committing to ethical communication; and (4) creating lean, efficient messages. Following these guidelines will help you overcome barriers and improve your communication.
Adopting an audience-centered approach means focusing on and caring about your audience, making every effort to get your message across in a way that is meaningful to them. Learn as much as possible about the biases, education, age, status, and style of your audience to create an effective message. When you address strangers, try to find out more about them; if that’s impossible, try to project yourself into their position by using your common sense and imagination. By writing and speaking from your audience’s point of view, you can to help them understand and accept your message.
An organization’s communication climate is a reflection of its corporate culture : the mixture of values, traditions, and habits that give a company its atmosphere or personality. Successful companies encourage employee contributions by making sure that communication flows freely down, up, and across the organization chart. These companies create an open climate in two ways: by modifying the number of organizational levels and by facilitating feedback. The fewer the links in the communication chain, the less likely it is that misunderstandings will occur. In other words, having a flat structure (fewer levels) and a wide span of control (more people reporting to each supervisor) is less likely to introduce distortion than having a tall structure and a narrow span of control. Moreover, flatter organizations enable managers to share information with colleagues and include employees in decision making, goal setting, and problem solving. Still, designing too few formal channels and having too many people report to a single individual can block effective communication by overburdening that key individual. Giving your audience a chance to provide feedback is crucial to maintaining an open communication climate. According to a recent American Express survey, what employees want the most from employers is personal feedback. But many managers are eager to avoid conflict, so they avoid giving frank feedback to under-performing employees until it’s too late.
Ethics are the principles of conduct that govern a person or a group. Ethical communication includes all relevant information, is true in every sense, and is not deceptive in any way. By contrast, unethical communication can include falsehoods and misleading information (or withhold important information). Every company has responsibilities to various groups. However, what’s right for one group may be wrong for another. When people must choose between conflicting loyalties and weigh difficult trade-offs, they are facing a dilemma. An ethical dilemma involves choosing among alternatives that aren’t clear-cut (perhaps two conflicting alternatives are both ethical and valid, or perhaps the alternatives lie somewhere in the vast gray area between right and wrong). An ethical lapse is making a clearly unethical or illegal choice. How do you decide between what’s ethical and what is not? You might ask yourself: Is this message legal? Is this message balanced? Is it a message you can live with? Is this message feasible? Some companies lay out an explicit ethical policy by using a written code of ethics to help employees determine what is acceptable. In addition, many managers use ethics audits to monitor ethical progress and to point up any weaknesses that need to be addressed.
A good way to make your messages more effective is to send fewer of them. Think twice before sending one. Holding down the number of messages reduces the chance of information overload. The key to overcoming distractions is control. For physical barriers, exercise as much control as possible over the physical transmission link. For emotional barriers, recognize the feelings that arise in yourself and in others as you communicate and try to control these emotions. You can overcome listening barriers by paraphrasing what you’ve heard, viewing the situation through the speaker’s eyes, and resisting jumping to conclusions. When speaking, you can help the audience by connecting the subject to their needs, using clear vivid language, and relating the subject to familiar ideas. Many companies provide employees with opportunities for communication skills training. Even though you may receive training on the job, don’t wait. Start mastering business communication skills right now, in this course. Lack of experience may be the only obstacle between you and effective messages, whether written or spoken. People aren’t “born” writers or speakers. Their skills improve the more they speak and write. Perhaps the best place to begin strengthening your communication skills is with an honest assessment of where you stand. Try to figure out what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. Then, as you progress through this course in the months ahead, focus on those areas in which you need the most work.
Achieving Success Through Effective Business Communication
Stronger Decision Making Improved Stakeholder Response Clearer Promotional Materials Steadier Work Flow Increased Productivity Enhanced Professional Image Quicker Problem Solving Stronger Business Relationships Effective Communication
Characteristics of Effective Messages Practicality Clarity and Conciseness Persuasion Factual Basis Precision Recommendations
Basic Communication Verbal Nonverbal Structure Intent More Spontaneous Less Control Conscious Purpose More Control Nonverbal Verbal Less Structured Harder to Classify More Structured Easier to Study
Receiving Sending Usage of Business Communication Channels Listening 45% Writing 9% Reading 16% Speaking 30%
Communication Challenges in Today’s Workplace Advances in Technology ( e-commerce ) Workforce Diversity Globalization Team-Based Organizations
Internal Communication Official Structure Formal Chain of Command Up, Down, Across Formal Power Lines The Grapevine Informal Networking Unofficial Lines of Power
Planning for Crises is an important function of External Communication Formal Contacts Marketing Public Relations Informal Contacts Employees Managers
The Communication Process Channel And Medium Six-Phase Process Phase 1: Sender Has an Idea Phase 3: Sender Transmits Message Phase 2: Sender Encodes Idea Phase 6: Receiver Sends Feedback Phase 4: Receiver Gets Message Phase 5: Receiver Decodes Message Situation
Communication Barriers <ul><li>Perception and language </li></ul><ul><li>Restrictive environments </li></ul><ul><li>Distractions ( noise ) </li></ul><ul><li>Deceptive tactics </li></ul><ul><li>Information overload </li></ul>
Overcoming Barriers Open Communication Efficient Messages Audience-Centered Approach Ethical Communication
Audience-Centered Approach Biases Education Age Status Style
Communication Climate Corporate Culture Flat Tall High Low Level of Feedback Overall Structure More Open Less Open
Make Ethical Choices Ethical Dilemma Ethical Lapse Recognize Ethical Choices Motivate Ethical Choices Ethical Communication Business Principles
Efficient Messages Concise Business Communication Develop Communication Skills Minimize Distractions Send Fewer Messages
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