Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Keys to Effective Communication

null As I was sitting at my computer trying to get my hero out of a pickle in the latest novel I’m working on, I thought I would take up some specific leadership topics. The first is the art of communication. After honesty and integrity, the ability to communicate effectively is probably one of the most important traits of successful leaders.

The greatest idea in the world is worthless if you cannot communicate it so that it can be implemented. If you lack honesty and integrity, you are not a true leader, but a charlatan. But, if you are unable to communicate, you are a nothing.

There are essentially four objectives of any communication: we wish to persuade, influence, inform, or entertain. At every step in the communication process, the objective must be kept firmly in mind, or you risk getting “off message,” and failing to communicate effectively. Before you write or utter a word, you should ask yourself these two questions:

1. What is the purpose of this message?
2. Who is the audience for this message?

The answers to these questions will help shape the structure of the message, and will help in selecting the method of communications. If your message is to be verbal, you must also keep in mind how non-verbal communication (e.g., body language, facial expressions) will affect how an audience interprets your message. The wrong facial expressions, for example, can negate your message. You must also be aware of how your actions impact the message. Publishing an open door policy, for example, can be undercut if you keep the door to your office closed, and require employees to go through a formal appointment process in order to see you.

There are three key elements in any communication; the medium or means of transmission, the content or message, and the audience.

In order for a communication to be effective, all three elements must be in congruence. If one or more of the elements does not match, you have a communications gap, or misunderstanding of your message.

An example of incongruence of the three elements is in a joke I heard as a young soldier many years ago. There was a sergeant who didn’t like delivering bad news directly. One day, he was told that Private Jones’ mother had died and he was to inform the soldier of the sad news. The sergeant assembled the entire platoon and in his best parade ground voice bellowed,

“Everyone in first platoon whose mother is still alive, take one step to the rear. Stand fast, Private Jones!”

Right message, right audience (for the most part), but the wrong method of communication for the type of message to be delivered. As leaders, when we communicate, we should not make the sergeant’s mistake.