To express or to impress

One of my colleagues once told me that when we communicate it is important that we focus more on expressing our thoughts clearly rather than simply trying to impress. Over the years my own experience suggests this is true - be it at work at home. Communication is the next big key to success.

To express or to impressFortunately communication is not something we have to start learning from scratch. Life begins with a just-born infant communicating its arrival through an ear-splitting wail. And that cry is to draw attention to itself - first step in effective communication. Whether communicating with an individual or a group, we have a higher chance of success if we can quickly draw the attention of our intended audience.

As we grow, we learn to speak and then to write to communicate with others, both far and near. With words and language we add structure to our communication. We learn to distinguish between good words and bad and right words and wrong words. Growing up, I used to wonder why many religions lay down how prayers need to be said in certain specific language(s)/words and why is it important that they are uttered in a particular or specific manner. Then a wise old man clarified to me that when we speak to a person it is more important that we say it in a manner he can understand. In fact we do it all the time: when we, for instance, speak to kids we change the language, accent and the words we use so that it's simple and easy for them to understand. This is precisely what successful people practice at work or otherwise. It invariably works to their advantage.

Writing comes later than speech which indicates the natural order. The best way to communicate is to use speech but a lot of times we also communicate by writing - documenting what's discussed, elaborating what's discussed, sharing what's discussed with others, etc. The most important aspect of written communication is the choice of words. We need to remember we have a chance of instantly re-explaining/correcting in a verbal conversation, but in a written format the receiver forms an impression based on what he reads or sees. Not only the words, but the pictures, drawings and even the colors can create an unnecessary/unwanted noise in our communication. Once a manger sent an email with the text in bold font with red color. An instant impression of the group that received the email was that the manager was in an angry mood. The manager later clarified that it was just some inadvertent press of the PC keys that caused the email 'mis'- formatting and there wasn't any special meaning to it. Similarly a lot of times many of us have a tendency to "quickly" react/respond to certain emails (more importantly the ones related to problems or escalations). In my personal experience, I have seen often times such quick responses turn out incomplete, inappropriate or even incorrect, causing further damage. One approach that helps in such situations is to save a draft of our response and read it again after a few minutes to ensure it meets the purpose of communication.

Speaking and writing are most essential to our communication but there's yet another important form which is silent in nature. Our attire, body movements and facial expressions are no less significant in communicating with others in person. There's a lot of truth in the saying: "First impression is the best impression". This is more so when it comes to body language. An appropriate body language decidedly places us at an advantage when meeting new people and making new connections. It is not just about getting our own body language right. It's equally important to pay attention close to the body language of those we are interacting with. There may be individuals who are introverts by nature. They tend not to speak much. Their body language is likely to be different from those who are more out-going and demonstrative. In such situations, we need to be attentive to their body language so that we can draw them out, persuade them to share their views and opinions. The same holds true when we are presenting or speaking to a group: we need to adjust our pace and style in line with audience requirements. In other words, we need to have a good grasp of the audience, including understanding their body language.

"To be a good communicator, be a good listener first" - being good with speaking, writing and the body language is the best part of communication, but without an ear for close listening, it can easily become a one-way street. For effective communication, it is very important that we are not talking "to" someone but talking "with" someone. We must ensure that everyone in the group is engaged and equally participating to make the conversation successful.

In essence, it is important that our communication is effective. For that we should draw - and hold - the audience's attention, make the right choice of words, use them in a right manner and in the right tone, and make the right impression through appropriate body language, not forgetting to listen carefully to what others (or the audience) say. I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by many successful people and I have read a lot about various other successful people. I noticed one trait they all share: effective communication skills.

Topics: Workplace Tips


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