1/1/2004 | 4 MINUTE READ

Toward Better Communications

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If you suspect that your batting average in communications falls well below 1.000, here are some tips that may help you.


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If you suspect that your batting average in communications falls well below 1.000, here are some tips that may help you.

Empathy. Before you communicate something, try putting yourself in the listener’s shoes. How is he likely to react to your message and what precautions can you take to ensure that he understands it in the way you mean it? For example, you tell John Smith that he is wanted in the front office. His initial reaction may be, “I’m going to be raked over the coals by the boss.” If this isn’t the case, you should make that fact clear to him.

There is frequently a wide gap between the manager’s experience and that of the employee. Your job: bridge it.

Timing. If employees get the wrong impression from a communication, it may be virtually impossible to eradicate it—even with facts. The answer is to get the facts across before rumor or misunderstanding can distort your meaning.

Credibility. Your words won’t carry much weight with workers if they’re skeptical of your sincerity in the first place. Your actions must support what you say. And should something happen that contradicts what you’ve told them, you owe them a full explanation.

Simplicity. This is particularly important in written communications. Whether you are writing a memo, bulletin board announcement, letter for general circulation or directive, put it in the simplest, most direct language you know.

Repetition often helps make a message stick in the mind. This is especially true of complicated or unfamiliar instructions. If a person misunderstands what you have said the first time, chances are he or she will catch on the second or third time around.

Novelty. On the other hand, sometimes it pays to avoid repetition and instead seek new ways of saying things. Overly familiar phrases will be ignored by your people since they will believe they’ve heard it all before. As one worker said, “As soon as I hear the boss say that he’s counting on us, I tune him out.” It might not be a bad idea to review your own favorite phrases and expressions occasionally and replace them with fresh variations. You’ll stand a far better chance of gaining the attention of your listeners.

Of course, there are other factors involved in communicating effectively, but if you take the above to heart, you should find your batting average improving appreciably.

What Motivates People?

Some people appear not to need outside motivation to do their best. Drawing from some inner need to excel, they show initiative and require no prodding from anyone. Others must have a continuous bonfire under them to keep them moving. The vast majority falls somewhere between these two extremes.

There is no simple formula for motivating people for the simple reason that no two people are exactly alike. But there are some very widespread human desires along with the typical incentives that satisfy them. One or more of these may help you provide just the impetus that one of your own people needs.

Security. Guaranteed compensation, health insurance, retirement plan, assurance of steady employment.

Feeling of usefulness. Defined area of responsibility; idea of where employee fits in the “big picture.”

Social approval. Participation in company plans; friendly relations with management; internal social activities like clubs and athletic teams.

Ego fulfillment. Credit for a good performance; praise when merited; managers who will listen to grievances; receptiveness to ideas; respect for intelligence; recognition.

Competitive success. Awards; prizes; name in internal publications.

Advancement. Promotions, salary increases, better jobs; more authority.

Growth and development. Training aids to help self-training; on-the-job library facilities; company sponsored courses; scholarships; tuition refunds.

Avoid Stilted Speeches

One reason why some speeches sound so stiff and unnatural is that the speaker has used “writer’s words” instead of his or her speaking vocabulary. The ear is used to one kind of vocabulary; the eye, to another. Don’t mix them up. Here are some public speaking pointers:

1. When speaking, stick to spoken words.
2. Use simple words to help the audience understand. Don’t use annually; use every year. Don’t use daily; use every day.
3. Remember: you can’t spell out every long word. Your listeners must understand it as you say it.
4. Avoid adjectives—particularly multisyllabic or hyphenated ones.
5. Avoid negative words. The brain plays strange tricks with them. Say it positively.
6. Bear in mind that the audience must hear and understand in the time it takes you to say the word.

Toward Improved Listening

Many people throw in the towel at the first sign that an oral message will take some effort to understand. Others are the victims of persistent daydreaming. Still others allow themselves to be easily distracted.

In every case, the remedy is the same: concentrate.

How can you strengthen your powers of concentration? By nipping in the bud the three attention robbers most often responsible for lackadaisical listening:

Fatigue. Some years ago, New York disc jockey Peter Tripp went without sleep for more than 200 hours. During his ordeal, doctors and technicians put him through exhaustive tests to pinpoint the precise effects of fatigue. Among other things, his ability to understand oral instructions deteriorated rapidly. This was expected, for listening is not a passive affair. It requires effort to get every point a speaker is making, all the while relating his comments to known facts and logic. Good listening takes energy. If you’re tired, you can’t possibly listen on all cylinders. So be sure you get enough rest.

Lack of incentive. Frequently, we don’t listen because we aren’t sold on the importance of the subject. It’s natural to be most interested in things that affect our health, fortune, security and family. Take advantage of this built-in selfishness by bringing a “What’s-in-it-for-me?” attitude to everything you hear.

Insufficient practice. The more listening you do, the better you become at it. So purposely expose yourself to “hard listening.” Attend lectures, presentations and the like; listen to radio and TV interviews. Sunday mornings are particularly rich in thought-provoking panel shows. Tune them in and listen. The further removed the topic is from your own interests, the more challenging—and effective—your practice sessions will be.


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