COMMUNICATION SKILLS

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Communication is the exchange or flow of information and ideas from one person to another. It is important in an organisation as it ensures integration of all members by promoting understanding.  Often, failure to communicate leads to confusion and conflicts.  Effective communication is two-way and it develops through practice.  It is actualised when the receiver understands the information or idea of the sender. This is determined after feedback is sent. An effective communicator has the ability to influence members’ attitudes and actions. The objectives of communication are to inform and ensure understanding for both the sender and the receiver.   The intended action is also taken and members’ thoughts, actions and opinions are influenced.

The communication process
In transmitting messages, the receiver gets both content and context. Content refers to the actual words or symbols of the message (language), whereas context is the way the message is delivered (also called para-language or non-verbal language). A message is said to have been communicated when the receiver understands it (decodes) and sends feedback to the sender. People transmit messages and not meanings (messages are from without, meaning is from within).

Sender      Message        Receiver

Communication process
The following are elements of the Chain of communication
i.    Senders- initiate messages that need to be clear;
ii.    Message- expressed in words, symbols and sounds;
iii.    Information- factual and not personal inferences;
iv.    Language- it should simple, clear and easily understood.   The words used should have the same meaning for both the speaker and listener.
v.    Medium- choose the right medium e.g. telephone, writing or face to face. The latter is more effective
vi.    Receivers- bear in mind the receiver’s experience, background (including culture), personal interest, needs, likes and dislikes.
vii.    Feedback- it is the final part of the chain of communication and helps the sender to establish whether the message was relayed as expected. It includes evaluation, asking questions and encouraging reactions from the receivers.
Use of verbal language has several advantages such as messages can easily be personalised, it is fast and it gives immediate feedback. On the other hand, written communication is preferred in organisations because:
a.    It provides leaders with an understanding of issues;
b.    relays  messages to many people and locations;
c.    provides a permanent record of the message sent.

Effective communication
Effective listening promotes interpersonal relationships leading to improved morale, time saving and avoidance of confusion. Effective leaders are characterised by:
a.    Building members’ self-confidence through accepting, valuing and showing confidence in them;
b.    effective communication;
c.    motivating and maintaining members’ enthusiasm;
d.    positively influencing their members;
e.    promoting members’ self-expression;
f.    fairness in judgement.

How to promote effective communication
a.    Ensure clarity of the message being sent: let it be concise, specific and complete;
b.    Understand the audience characteristics;
c.    Choose an appropriate medium for relaying the message;
d.    Draw and sustain the receiver’s attention;
e.    Maintain congruency in both verbal and non-verbal messages;
f.    Choose an appropriate timing for delivering the message;
g.    Create an opportunity for receivers to give feedback.

Barriers to effective communication
Communication barriers are filters through which messages pass before reaching the receiver and the sender and they muffle the message. Filters can be overcome through active listening and feedback.  Barriers inhibit understanding of message by the receiver as intended by the sender. Effective communication can be realised if the listeners would try to understand before evaluating what someone is saying. Communication barriers include:
• Culture: they include individual cultures, personal experiences and biases that influence the current understanding of issues or ideas. They determine individual reception and analysis of information and can lead to wrong judgement.
• Noise: it interferes with message clarity.
• Individual personality: it hampers effective communication as both the sender and the recipient are preoccupied with the satisfaction of their egos. This could set in confusion and conflict as they become defensive or have feelings of superiority.
• Perception: the sender’s or receiver’s perception greatly impacts on the effectiveness of the communication. This perception could include inconsistency or inability to articulate issues or pre-conceived attitudes about either of them.
• Message: poor choice of words when sending messages may distract the receiver who may concentrate on the fact rather than the idea. Semantic distractions are often caused when a word is used differently.
• Environment: certain stimuli in the environment may compromise the effectiveness of communication by distracting both the sender and the receiver. Environmental distractors include a loud noise, unusual sights and an attractive person.
• Stress: this distorts how issues are viewed as it impacts negatively on an individual’s psychological frames of references i.e. beliefs, values, knowledge, experiences and goals.

Active listening
Hearing is the act of perceiving sound and it is involuntary.  However, listening is a selective activity that involves both the reception and the interpretation of aural stimuli, and decoding the sound into meaning. Listening determines what the receiver accepts.

Listening can be categorised into:
i. Passive listening- the listener is unmotivated and is least interested in the message being communicated.
ii. Active listening- it is purposeful and the listener responds to the words and feelings of the sender for understanding. The listener hears the message, and understands the meaning before verifying the meaning through feedback.

Active listeners are characterised by :
• High level concentration and avoidance of distractions when others are talking e.g. talking, interjections etc;
• Encouraging others to talk  less, being attentive, paraphrasing, probing, avoid dominating discussions and  use of positive non-verbal

Communication;
•    Provision of feedback accordingly;
•    Showing acceptance to the person talking by not being judgemental.

Feedback
This is aimed at ensuring that the original communicator’s intention is understood by the second one. Feedback can be relayed through paraphrasing of the sender’s words, restating his or her feelings and nodding.

Feedback is categorised into:
i.    evaluative- judging the worthiness or appropriateness of the other person’s statement;
ii.    interpretive- trying to explain what the sender’s statement means (paraphrasing);
iii.    supportive- trying to assist the other communicator;
iv.    Probing- attempting to get more information, continue the discussion or to clarify a point;
v.    Understanding- attempting to fully discover what the other communicator means by his  or her statements.

Non-verbal communication
This is communication that does not involve use of words. It is effective in reinforcing the message. Non-verbal cues include:
i.    Eye contact- it conveys interest, concern, warmth and credibility. Do not stare!
ii.    Facial expression- smiling will make a listener approachable and therefore  attract the other communicator;
iii.    Gestures- they make conversation more interesting and facilitate understanding as they attract attention;
iv.    Posture and body orientation- talking while facing the other and leaning forward shows receptiveness and friendliness;
v.    Proximity- maintain a respectable distance otherwise it can inhibit communication;
vi.    Vocal- monotone portrays one as dull and boring thus curtailing communication. This includes tone, pitch, rhythm, loudness and  timbre.

Dr. Kellen Kiambati holds a PhD in business administration with a focus on strategic management from JKUAT and an MBA from KEMU. She is a certified business associate (CBPA) and a member of the Institute of Human Resource Management of Kenya. She is  also the author of business Research Methods and can be reached on kellenkiambati@gmail.com

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