5 tips on improving communication

In almost every business and in almost everything we do there is a need to communicate. This is performed on many levels including:

  • Non-verbal communication such as our body language, how we dress, or how we choose and treat our possessions
  • Verbal communication such as telephone calls, addressing meetings, or performing presentations
  • Written communication such as emails and blog articles, notes and post-its, or quotes, reports and invoices

I will leave the first point for another topic and this article will outline 5 tips which can improve your verbal and written communication abilities.

There is some overlap between verbal and written communications. Both are used to convey an idea or a message with the goal that the target audience will receive and understand the intended meaning of the communication. This is true if the target audience is one person, a few people, or several thousand people.

Unfortunately the target audience may understand the message, but receive an unintended and completely different meaning from the wished for sense. Or alternatively, the target audience may understand the sense, but misunderstand the message. An example of each would be:

"As managing director or the Acme Company, I am delighted to announce a merger with the Beta Company and that although we will treat this in the most delicate way there will be some redundancies."

  • Message correctly understood: Our employer the Acme Company is merging with the Beta Company.
  • Unintended sense: The Beta Company will be making some redundancies.

"As managing director of the Acme Company, I am delighted to announce a merger with the Beta Company and that there will be some redundancies. Please be assured that we will treat this matter as quickly as possible."

  • Misunderstood message: Our employer the Acme Company is delighted to be making redundancies and can’t wait to do so.
  • Understood correct sense: The Acme Company will be making some redundancies.

There are 5 areas which will improve the probability of both the message and the meaning being correctly communicated, received and understood. 

  1. Be precise.
    Read and re-read your message. Ensure that there is no room for misunderstanding the sense being conveyed. If necessary, get a peer to proof-read your message before sending it out, and ask him for a summary to ensure the salient parts are understood.
  2. Be concise.
    Short sentences are often better. There is less chance of the meaning being mis-construed by being hidden amongst redundant phrases.
  3. Be factual.
    Stick to the bare facts and do not include vague sentences which can be interpreted in various means.
  4. Do not be emotive.
    Over-use of adjectives can not only mask the intended meaning, but can also convey an unwanted judgment or sentiment.
  5. It’s good to talk.
    Many times I have started to reply to an email, only to reach for the phone and call the other party. Use your judgment as a 5 minute conversation can often arrive at a shared and agreed conclusive which 20 emails over periods of hours can still not arrive at.

Communication is a skill which can be learned and improved on. Before sending any written communications, read it through again, bearing in mind the 5 above pointers. You may be surprised at how much of your message you will change…

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