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Poonam Datta | Founder & CEO

Post graduate in Marketing & Business Management, and with over 25 years of diversified experience with renowned multinationals. IMC is a vision that evolved from her knowledge of how individuals play a key role in business successes.

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The Importance of Effective Communication

People in organizations typically spend over 75% of their time in an interpersonal situation; thus it is no surprise to find that at the root of a large number of organizational problems is poor communications. Effective communication is an essential component of organizational success whether it is at the interpersonal; inter group, intra group, organizational, or external levels.
In this chapter we will cover the basic process of communication and then we will cover some of the most difficult communication issues managers’ face-providing constructive and effective feedback and performance appraisal.

The Communication Process
Although all of us have been communicating with others since our infancy, the process of transmitting information from an individual (or group) to another is a very complex process with many sources of potential error.
In any communication at least some of the "meaning" lost in simple transmission of a message from the sender to the receiver. In many situations a lot of the true message is lost and the message that is heard is often far different than the one intended. This is most obvious in cross-cultural situations where language is an issue. But it is also common among people of the same culture. Communications is so difficult because at each step in the process there major potential for error. By the time a message gets from a sender to a receiver there are four basic places where transmission errors can take place and at each place, there are a multitude of potential sources of error. Thus it is no surprise that social psychologists estimate that there is usually a 40-60% loss of meaning in the transmission of messages from sender to receiver. It is critical to understand this process, understand and be aware of the potential sources of errors and constantly counteract these tendencies by making a conscientious effort to make sure there is a minimal loss of meaning in your conversation. It is also very important to understand that a majoring of communication is non-verbal. This means that when we attribute meaning to what someone else is saying, the verbal part of the message actually means less than the non-verbal part. The non-verbal part includes such things as body language and tone.

Barriers to Effective Communication
There are a wide number of sources of noise or interference that can enter into the communication process. This can occur when people now each other very well and should understand the sources of error. In a work setting, it is even more common since interactions involve people who not only don't have years of experience with each other, but communication is complicated by the complex and often confliction relationships that exist at work. In a work setting, the following suggests a number of sources of noise:
• Language: The choice of words or language in which a sender encodes a message will influence the quality of communication. Because language is a symbolic representation of a phenomenon, room for interpretation and distortion of the meaning exists. In the above example, the Boss uses language (this is the third day you've missed) that is likely to convey far more than objective information. To Terry it conveys indifference to her medical problems. Note that the same words will be interpreted different by each different person. Meaning has to be given to words and many factors affect how an individual will attribute meaning to particular words. It is important to note that no two people will attribute the exact same meaning to the same words.
• defensiveness, distorted perceptions, guilt, project, transference, distortions from the past
• misreading of body language, tone and other non-verbal forms of communication (see section below)
• noisy transmission (unreliable messages, inconsistency)
• receiver distortion: selective hearing, ignoring non-verbal cues
• power struggles
• self-fulfilling assumptions
• language-different levels of meaning
• managers hesitation to be candid
• Assumptions-eg. assuming others see situation same as you, has same feelings as you
• distrusted source, erroneous translation, value judgment, state of mind of two people
• Perceptual Biases: People attend to stimuli in the environment in very different ways. We each have shortcuts that we use to organize data. Invariably, these shortcuts introduce some biases into communication. Some of these shortcuts include stereotyping, projection, and self-fulfilling prophecies. Stereotyping is one of the most common. This is when we assume that the other person has certain characteristics based on the group to which they belong without validating that they in fact have these characteristics.
• Interpersonal Relationships: How we perceive communication is affected by the past experience with the individual. Perception is also affected by the organizational relationship two people have. For example, communication from a superior may be perceived differently than that from a subordinate or peer
• Cultural Differences: Effective communication requires deciphering the basic values, motives, aspirations, and assumptions that operate across geographical lines. Given some dramatic differences across cultures in approaches to such areas as time, space, and privacy, the opportunities for mis-communication while we are in cross-cultural situations are plentiful.
You work in a Japanese company in the US. You have noticed that the Japanese staff explains only the conclusion to Americans when they address a problem, rather than discussion the steps to the conclusion.

Reading Nonverbal Communication Cues
A large percentage (studies suggest over 90%) of the meaning we derive from communication, we derive from the non-verbal cues that the other person gives. Often a person says one thing but communicates something totally different through vocal intonation and body language. These mixed signals force the receiver to choose between the verbal and nonverbal parts of the message. Most often, the receiver chooses the nonverbal aspects. Mixed messages create tension and distrust because the receiver senses that the communicator is hiding something or is being less than candid.

Nonverbal communication is made up of the following parts:
1. Visual
2. Tactile
3. Vocal
4. Use of time, space, and image

This often called body language and includes facial expression, eye movement, posture, and gestures. The face is the biggest part of this. All of us "read" people's faces for ways to interpret what they say and feel. This fact becomes very apparent when we deal with someone with dark sunglasses. Of course we can easily misread these cues especially when communicating across cultures where gestures can mean something very different in another culture. For example, in American culture agreement might be indicated by the head going up and down whereas in India, a side-to-side head movement might mean the same thing.
We also look to posture to provide cues about the communicator; posture can indicate self-confidence, aggressiveness, fear, guilt, or anxiety. Similarly, we look at gestures such as how we hold our hands, or a handshake. Many gestures are culture bound and susceptible to mis interpretation
This involves the use of touch to impart meaning as in a handshake, a pat on the back, an arm around the shoulder, a kiss, or a hug.
The meaning of words can be altered significantly by changing the intonation of one's voice. Think of how many ways you can say "no"-you could express mild doubt, terror, amazement, anger among other emotions. Vocal meanings vary across cultures. Intonation in one culture can mean support; another anger
Use of Time as Nonverbal Communication:
Use of time can communicate how we view our own status and power in relation to others. Think about how a subordinate and his/her boss would view arriving at a place for an agreed upon meeting..

Physical Space:
For most of us, someone standing very close to us makes us uncomfortable. We feel our "space" has been invaded. People seek to extend their territory in many ways to attain power and intimacy. We tend to mark our territory either with permanent walls, or in a classroom with our coat, pen, paper, etc. We like to protect and control our territory. For Americans, the "intimate zone" is about two feet; this can vary from culture to culture. This zone is reserved for our closest friends. The "personal zone" from about 2-4 feet usually is reserved for family and friends. The social zone (4-12 feet) is where most business transactions take place. The "public zone" (over 12 feet) is used for lectures.

A "majority" of the meaning we attribute to words comes not from the words themselves, but from nonverbal factors such as gestures, facial expressions, tone, body language, etc. Nonverbal cues can play five roles:
1. Repetition: they can repeat the message the person is making verbally
2. Contradiction: they can contradict a message the individual is trying to convey
3. Substitution: they can substitute for a verbal message. For example, a person's eyes can often convey a far more vivid message than words and often do
4. Complementing: they may add to or complement a verbal message. A boss who pats a person on the back in addition to giving praise can increase the impact of the message
5. Accenting: non-verbal communication may accept or underline a verbal message. Pounding the table, for example, can underline a message.
Skillful communicators understand the importance of nonverbal communication and use it to increase their effectiveness, as well as use it to understand mroe clearly what someone else is really saying.
A word of warning. Nonverbal cues can differ dramatically from culture to culture. An American hand gesture meaning "A-OK" would be viewed as obscene in some South American countries. Be careful.

Developing Communication Skills: Listening Skills
There are a number of situations when you need to solicit good information from others; these situations include interviewing candidates, solving work problems, seeking to help an employee on work performance, and finding out reasons for performance discrepancies.
Skill in communication involves a number of specific strengths. The first we will discuss involves listening skills. The following lists some suggests for effective listening when confronted with a problem at work:

• Listen openly and with empathy to the other person
• Judge the content, not the messenger or delivery; comprehend before you judge
• Use multiple techniques to fully comprehend (ask, repeat, rephrase, etc.)
• Active body state; fight distractions
• Ask the other person for as much detail as he/she can provide; paraphrase what the other is saying to make sure you understand it and check for understanding
• Respond in an interested way that shows you understand the problem and the employee's concern
• Attend to non-verbal cues, body language, not just words; listen between the lines
• Ask the other for his views or suggestions
• State your position openly; be specific, not global
• Communicate your feelings but don't act them out (eg. tell a person that his behavior really upsets you; don't get angry)
• Be descriptive, not evaluative-describe objectively, your reactions, consequences
• Be validating, not invalidating ("You wouldn't understand"); acknowledge other’s uniqueness, importance
• Be conjunctive, not disjunctive (not "I want to discuss this regardless of what you want to discuss");
• Don't totally control conversation; acknowledge what was said
• Own up: use "I", not "They"... not "I've heard you are non cooperative"
• Don't react to emotional words, but interpret their purpose
• Practice supportive listening, not one way listening
• Decide on specific follow-up actions and specific follow up dates

A major source of problem in communication is defensiveness. Effective communicators are aware that defensiveness is a typical response in a work situation especially when negative information or criticism is involved. Be aware that defensiveness is common, particularly with subordinates when you are dealing with a problem. Try to make adjustments to compensate for the likely defensiveness. Realize that when people feel threatened they will try to protect themselves; this is natural. This defensiveness can take the form of aggression, anger, competitiveness, avoidance among other responses. A skillful listener is aware of the potential for defensiveness and makes needed adjustment. He or she is aware that self-protection is necessary and avoids making the other person spend energy defending the self.

In addition, a supportive and effective listener does the following:
• Stop Talking: Asks the other person for as much detail as he/she can provide; asks for other's views and suggestions
• Looks at the person, listens openly and with empathy to the employee; is clear about his position; be patient
• Listen and Respond in an interested way that shows you understand the problem and the other's concern
• is validating, not invalidating ("You wouldn't understand"); acknowledge other;'s uniqueness, importance
• checks for understanding; paraphrases; asks questions for clarification
• don't control conversation; acknowledges what was said; let's the other finish before responding
• Focuses on the problem, not the person; is descriptive and specific, not evaluative; focuses on content, not delivery or emotion
• Attend to emotional as well as cognitive messages (e.g., anger); aware of non-verbal cues, body language, etc.; listen between the lines
• React to the message, not the person, delivery or emotion
• Make sure you comprehend before you judge; ask questions
• Use many techniques to fully comprehend
• Stay in an active body state to aid listening
• Fight distractions
• ( if in a work situation) Take Notes; Decide on specific follow-up actions and specific follow up dates
Characteristics of Effective Feedback
Effective Feedback has most of the following characteristics:
• Descriptive (not evaluative)(avoids defensiveness.) By describing one's own reactions, it leaves the individual fee to use it or not to use it as he sees fit.
• avoid accusations; present data if necessary
• describe your own reactions or feelings; describe objective consequences that have or will occur; focus on behavior and your own reaction, not on other individual or his or her attributes
• suggest more acceptable alternative; be prepared to discuss additional alternatives; focus on alternatives
• Specific rather than general.
• Focused on behavior not the person. It is important that we refer to what a person does rather than to what we think he is. Thus we might say that a person "talked more than anyone else in this meeting" rather than that he is a "loud-mouth."
• It takes into account the needs of both the receiver and giver of feedback. It should be given to help, not to hurt. We too often give feedback because it makes us feel better or gives us a psychological advantage.
• It is directed toward behavior which the receiver can do something about. A person gets frustrated when reminded of some shortcoming over which he has no control.
• It is solicited rather than imposed. Feedback is most useful when the receiver himself has formulated the kind of question which those observing him can answer or when he actively seeks feedback.
• Feedback is useful when well-timed (soon after the behavior-depending, of course, on the person's readiness to hear it, support available from others, and so forth). Excellent feedback presented at an inappropriate time may do more harm than good.
• Sharing of information, rather than giving advice allows a person to decide for himself, in accordance with his own goals and needs. When we give advice we tell him what to do, and to some degree take away his freedom to do decide for himself.
• It involves the amount of information the receiver can use rather than the amount we would like to give. To overload a person with feedback is to reduce the possibility that he may be able to use what he receives effectively. When we give more than can be used, we are more often than not satisfying some need of our own rather than helping the other person.
• It concerns what is said and done, or how, not why. The "why" involves assumptions regarding motive or intent and this tends to alienate the person generate resentment, suspicion, and distrust. If we are uncertain of his motives or intent, this uncertainty itself is feedback, however, and should be revealed.
• It is checked to insure clear communication. One way of doing this is to have the receiver try to rephrase the feedback. No matter what the intent, feedback is often threatening and thus subject to considerable distortion or misinterpretation.
• It is checked to determine degree of agreement from others. Such "consensual validation" is of value to both the sender and receiver.
• It is followed by attention to the consequences of the feedback. The supervisor needs to become acutely aware of the effects of his feedback.
• It is an important step toward authenticity. Constructive feedback opens the way to a relationship which is built on trust, honest, and genuine concern and mutual growth.

A Planning Form for Constructive Feedback
Instructions: Before the feedback session, answer these questions:
• what is your purpose in giving the feedback
• what specific actions do you want to reinforce or correct? what are the consequences of the action?
• what do you want to accomplish in this discussion
• what specific information do you need to learn; what questions do you need answered
• what issues of timing, location, advance preparation, or other logistics do you need to consider to get the most out of the discussion

Observe the basic principles of communication
• use open ended and close ended questions appropriately
• use eye contact, encouraging gestures
• focus on the situation, issue, behavior, not the person
• maintain the self-confidence and self-esteem of others
• maintain constructive relationships with your employees, peers, managers
• use active listening techniques such as stating your understanding of what you are hearing
• make sure you summarize
• lead by example
What pitfalls do you need to watch out for and how will these be overcome from your experience, what potential pitfalls will you need to overcome in order ot achieve success in giving constructive feedback? How will you overcome these pitfalls

Evaluating the Feedback Session
1. State the constructive purpose of your feedback
2. describe specifically what you have observed
3. describe your reactions
4. give the other person an opportunity to respond
5. offer specific suggestions
6. summarize and express your support

How well did the manager:
• focus on the situation,
• issue or behavior, not on the person
• maintain the self-confidence
• and self-esteem of the other
• maintain constructive relationships
• with your employees, peers, and managers
• take initiative to make things better
• lead by example

Communication and Stress:
Enhancing Communication Skills
Communicating during times of stress is not always easy. Individual differences in personality, communication styles and skills, and expectations all play a part. Sometimes it is best to let issues rest for awhile before trying to communicate. Other times, lack of communication can interfere with regular daily living. After all, the family is a team and communication is essential for the farm and family to function. In addition, without communication, individual family members may be unaware of differing expectations and perceptions of the stressors in their lives.

For many farm families, stressful situations bring about issues not previously addressed. For example, two-generation farm families may need to communicate about equity and decision-making powers within the family. Often in two-generation farm families, the older generation maintains a great deal of decision-making power. However, in times of financial stress, younger generation family members may feel the need for more equitable decision-making power. This perceived inequality could lead to problems and miscommunication if not resolved.

Similarly, the family operates systematically with each member maintaining different roles and responsibilities. However, often during stressful times, individual differences and values may raise concern that can lead to strained relationships.

For example, many women play the role of peacemaker in the family. However, during difficult times, farm women report feeling a great deal of stress as they maintain the role of peacemaker within the family. Similarly, often one family member oversees the family and farm finances. This person may have vast experience with operating the farm and family expenses, but in bad times, finds it difficult to know what to do, or which way to turn. In this example, the family member may feel as if it is his "job" to find a way out of the current situation on his own. But, feeling backed against the wall, he may begin to resent the lack of support or understanding by other family members. Thus, understanding individual issues and perceptions of the same situations is extremely important.

In short, the lack of communication can lead to increased stress, strained relationships, and problems. Conversely, effective communication can help farm families pull together, understand one another, and cope with the short- and long-term stressors.

Coping Through Communication
First, recognize individual communication styles and skills. Some people process information internally. Once they have a clear understanding of an issue, they can share their thoughts with others. Others process issues aloud, and talk through problems to generate solutions.

Understanding individual communication styles may help family members to use different communication strategies. Just as important to family functioning, are the issues of when, what, and how to communicate, and with whom. For example, should there be a set time each day or week to discuss important issues? Should family members ask when there might be a convenient time to discuss concerns? What do children need to know about family stressors? This last question is very important.

Effective Communication
Effective communication skills are essential for academic (not to mention other) advisors. Providing information in a meaningful way serves as a basis for decisions, which can have a profound influence on a student's entire life. Advisees are not simply deciding what courses they will take or what they will major in; they are also deciding, if only indirectly, their futures.
• Let your advisees tell their story first; do not interrupt their sentences, offer advice, or give suggestions (unless asked to).
• Do not bring up similar feelings or problems from your own experience and try not to give the impression that you want to jump right in and talk.
• Appreciate the emotion, voice intonation and body language behind his/her words. Obviously, this is not possible through email, but there is nothing wrong with a phone call or a personal visit!
• Establish good eye contact and use affirmative head nods and try to avoid nervous or bored gestures and fight off external distractions.
• Listen carefully and check your understanding. Paraphrasing what advisees have said or asking a question can help clarify meaning and determine that you're on the same page. Ask yourself whether or not advisees have asked the right questions. Too often, situations such as the following occur:
o Student asks a question and the advisor responds. The advisor then answers the question, but it wasn't really what the student wanted to know-the student asked the wrong question. In such cases, communication often fails, the student may feel embarrassed or confused and therefore stop asking questions. As an associate, you can help keep communication going-try to listen carefully to both what your advisees say and what they do/how they react. Asking questions and checking understanding are two ways to help keep communication going.
• Use open-ended questions and similar techniques that enable you to discuss topics with advisees rather than allowing only “yes” or “no” responses.
• Talk to your advisees about their backgrounds and experiences, get to know their interests and philosophies, what progress have they made toward their goals, how do they hope to achieve them, and what do they plan for the future. Such a discussion will provide you with helpful information, and it will reflect your concern for advisees as individuals.
• Always keep notes about what decisions have been made and why. A quick review before seeing students again will help you recall specific details. This is another important way to demonstrate your interest in students as individuals.
• Respect your advisees as people and show them that you respect them. One way to do this is to make a sincere effort to do an effective job of your advising. Another is to allow your advisees to open up about their feelings and to be respectful and considerate regarding their ideas, choices, fears and concerns.
• Encourage your advisees to make informed decisions. They are adults, and, more importantly, they must live with their decisions. Help them to understand how to get the facts about a subject (such as choice of major or sophomore standing). Encourage them to reach out to faculty, staff, alumni and fellow students and to seek out appropriate resources, prior to making final decisions.
• Know enough to recognize when an advisee needs help. At times, you may find that one or more of your advisees needs help beyond your capability. In such cases, you need to realize your limitations, and know how to make a referral to the advisor or other appropriate resource/office.
• Be available. If you expect to be able to truly help your advisees, you need to be there for them. You cannot provide, even the most, basic support to an advisee if the advisee cannot find you. Be sure to give your advisees your email address, phone number or other way to reach you and your advisor.
And remember:
• Most communications have both an intellectual and an emotional component. Listen for the emotional message. If the emotional part of the message seems to be out of proportion or inconsistent with the intellectual part, you may need to examine this discrepancy before a rational decision can be made.
• Effective approaches to academic advising go beyond informing and begin to involve some counseling skills including helping and empowering.
• Respecting advisees does not mean that you must agree with all of their decisions. The advisor's role is to help them make realistic decisions. If advisors have reason to believe that students will fail or are making a poor choice, they should honestly discuss this perception with them.

Here are some examples of active listening skills for associates:
• Let your advisees tell their story first; do not interrupt their sentences.
• Relax and try not to give advisees the impression you want to jump right in and talk.
• Appreciate the emotion, e.g. voice intonation and body language, behind your advisees' words.
• Establish good eye contact.
• Use appropriate facial expressions.
• Use affirmative head nods.
• Avoid nervous or bored gestures.
• Fight off external distractions.
• Periodically, check your understanding of what you hear, not what you want to hear.
• Ask clarifying or continuing questions to demonstrate that you are involved in what is said.
• Constantly check to see if advisees want to comment or respond to what has been said to them.
• Take notes, if necessary, where certain facts and data are important.

Barriers to Good Listening by Associates/Advisors
• Judging what was said rather than listening for understanding; evaluating.
• Name calling; always find something of value in what the person has said.
• Analyzing, solving, or ignore advisees issues or concerns
• Changing the subject or redirecting the conversation.
• Assuming that communication has happened.
• Advisors have the power and backing of the institution, information and experience.
• Advisors can think they know what is happening with students and therefore not listen.
• Advisees can be afraid of bothering the advisor or embarrassed for not knowing how to solve/identify a problem.

Put What You've Learned Into Practice
• Consciously work at listening.
• Realize that it takes 21-30 days to change behavior.
• Make a 30-day plan.
• Make a commitment. Write down your objectives.
• Find a friend to work with you.
• Discuss the topic of listening with others.
• Observe others listening.
• Tell people that you are working on listening

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