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Four Powerful Strategies for Effective Communication

Communication is a topic with many writers and speakers. Most people probably have at least one opinion on what matters most with communication. Perhaps that is because communication is a necessary skill for anyone wanting positive relationships or to get something done with others. Often, problems of many varieties boil down to nothing more complicated than a lack of effective communication.

Effective Communication

What is effective communication? For our purposes, let’s define this concept as an engaged, useful exchange of information. ‘Engaged’ is where two or more people are actively participating in the conversation through any means. ‘Useful’ is decided by the communicators, not by any observers.

Communicating is as old as time itself. Because people are very complex, just words alone are only a portion of any message. This is why in-person, verbal communication is the best setting and method for truly understanding the whole message. Because circumstances vary, the communication environments and methods of delivery directly impact the effectiveness of the message. More on that later.

If you want to excel in communication, here are four keys to success.

- Compassionately
- Logically
- With Presence
- Systematically

Let’s explore each area in turn.

Engage Compassionately

Some might scoff at compassion in business but I would argue there are practical reasons for engaging with compassion – even in a business setting. This is not about being overly emotional. Effective communication by its very definition requires a certain level of care. Whether an organization is engaged in offering a product or service, great business results come from great communication.

For two-way communication, I must care about the message you are sending or I must put value on your input to a common concern. Either way, I must care about what you bring to the conversation. This is compassion.

In a more practical way, how is this done? Here is an example.

A parent of a small toddler must care in order to communicate with this child. Often, a two or three year old is not completely articulate. If that child starts feeling ill, it can be challenging to specifically discover what is wrong. If we look at this communication process as an observer, notice how the parent will ask several questions and perhaps even repeat some to fully understand the problem. The healthy parent doesn’t give up until there is an answer.

Now, take this same intent to the workplace or with personal relationships. The compassion that says I must ‘get’ your message and must be sure of it before we move forward is critical to effectiveness.

Here are concrete ways for engaging compassionately.

- Ask as many questions as needed to understand. Do not put an artificial limit on the number of questions.
- Check if this is the right time to engage on this particular topic. Based on the environment, would there be a better time or place? Depending on all the pressures in the setting, will this conversation likely move forward? It is better to delay than do a mediocre job of communicating.
- Use active listening in a common sense way (no parroting). At reasonable points in the discussion, check understanding … in your own words. It is amazing how often two or more people can think they are communicating and they are unknowingly defining words differently.

Engage Logically

Oh, to have piercing logic that never wavers and makes even the most difficult decisions easy. Most of us do not suffer from such a problem but engaging logically helps improve communication. Just as it is essential to engage with compassion, it is equally important to engage logically. Why? The one-word answer is ‘DATA.’

I can feel a certain way about any topic but there is something uncompromising about having evidence. If I am discussing something at work or home and we are genuinely trying to find a solution, engaging logically will help. Logic will ask the hard questions. (Logic with compassion will ask them in a nice way.) Logic will probe and be curious.

Because we have already explored compassion, logic in this case is looking for the weakness in an argument in order to either strengthen the shortfall or find a better solution. In short, this is about effectiveness!

Here is the summary for engaging logically.

- Be curious (not obnoxious).
- In your own words, ask things like, ‘How is that statement possible? What sources support your solution or point of view?’
- Question your own assumptions to see if they stand up.
- Go wherever the questions lead. In other words, ask a logical question and then ask a logical follow-up question and so on. Think of this as scientific exploration.
- If you think it, ask it!

Engage With Presence

For more effective communication, here are two words of advice: ‘Be There.’ It is possible to be compassionate and logical and still miss the point. What is the meaning behind the meaning? What is the big picture? This is not trying to be deeply philosophical but about stand-out communication.

It is possible to care about the conversation and even have logical questions to ask and still have a wandering mind. It can be hard depending on what else is happening but effective communication demands … engagement! Engagement at its core is about being 100% in the discussion. Anything less needs work.

It can be harder to stay focused when the conversation is more important to the other person than to me so here is the pivotal question: Is this relationship important enough that I must genuinely engage even on a topic that is not as interesting to me as another? Think deeply about this from a values standpoint. Trust is never as good as when you need something from someone … later.

Engaging with presence includes the following.

- Think ‘bigger’ than the conversation. What would a fly-on-the-wall view say about the exchange?
- What are the hidden or implied meanings? What is unsaid but plain to a good observer?
- Why are the other conversation participants discussing as they are and what do they need from me? How can I serve them?
- How important is the relationship? If it’s important enough, banish all other brain-meanderings and focus on the topic at hand. If not, politely disengage for more pressing business.

Engage Systematically

One of the biggest obstacles to effective communication is consistency. Most of us instinctively know how to communicate well in a one-time conversation but doing this day after day in good times and in bad is more difficult. What about the day you don’t feel so good? What about when you feel over-pressed with deadlines?

The intent of this section on engaging systematically is not to pretend any of us is perfect. Hopefully, the next several thoughts will encourage you to become even more effective in communication in a more consistent way.

Most of us already have the right intent; it’s just a matter of putting more effort in. We want to understand when we discuss. We hope to have professional and personal relationships built on trust. (When I was a CFO several years ago, I would tell my staff that our most important commodity was credibility. That is another word for trust. This requirement is true regardless of the enterprise.)

The difficulty is life – whether at work or home – is not academic. It can be busy, chaotic, fluid, hard, confusing … and the list goes on. In short, there are many distractions to effective communication. (For example, a parent can understand how difficult it is to have an uninterrupted conversation with a spouse.)

The good news is it doesn't take a lot of change to make a big difference in the consistency department. Engaging systematically requires a certain amount of discipline or – as the name implies – a system.

Here are few simple steps to application and you can think of more.

- Send yourself a blind copy of an e-mail needing follow-up. Use a flagging system in Outlook or other software to revisit e-mails and follow-up. It is amazing how something as simple as, “Just checking in,” builds trust.
- Have a way to write things down for follow-up. Always carry a small notebook or smart phone for notes.
- Look at your list of key contacts and decide on an ideal schedule to visit in person or via video-teleconference (it’s free so no excuses). Schedule the visits. Keep the schedule at all costs!
- Send someone a physical ‘Thank You’ card for an important contribution to a problem. This old method is new again.

Methods of Delivery

Before closing, let me focus a moment on methods of communication delivery. While the four strategies above are the foundation of great communication, the method of communication will definitely impact the effectiveness as well. Please factor this in when engaging compassionately, logically, with presence, and systematically.

There are certain types of communication that do just fine with e-mail (routine notes from a staff meeting for instance). There are others that will fail miserably (performance review – don’t laugh, it happens). A letter may work better for a resignation because it gives the sender a chance to refine thoughts and say everything just so. On the other hand, a letter is a lousy way to teach a new employee (don’t laugh, this gets done too).

There are certain places that work better for different types of in-person conversations. A public hallway might work fine for routine exchanges or planning. It’s a terrible place for talking about sensitive personnel issues. The corporate washroom might or might not be an OK place depending on its acoustics, ventilation ducts (someone hears in another room), and, most of all, the topic of conversation.

Here are questions to wrap up this article.

1. Engage compassionately: If I care, will I hold the conversation in this place and with this method?
2. Engage logically: How can I make our solution stronger?
3. Engage with presence: What is the whole message and what can I learn from the larger environment?
4. Engage systematically: How consistently am I applying the first three keys?

Effective communication is not only essential, it is critical for a group of any size to function well. Further, the business imperatives should be obvious that effective communication will help an organization learn, grow and thrive.

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About the Author

Mike Friesen, Leading Strategies
4829 W Reese Ave.
Visalia, CA 93277

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