Communication Tips – Why Written Communication is Not Enough

Ever had the situation where you read an email or a blog post and you quickly dash off a few words in response only to have the person at the other end explode with rage over what you said. The only trouble is that you didn’t mean it the way it was taken. You thought you were saying something very different and you had intended to be constructive… and then all of a sudden you are in the middle of World War 3.

It has happened to many of us at one time or another. But why? When we communicate in writing, we are missing a large percentage of the verbal and non-verbal clues that “flesh out” the message. These messages give richness and texture to what is being said and help provide additional meaning. These clues can totally change the meaning of words from a positive to a negative and visa versa.

Ever heard the saying “it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it”. This truism shows how embedded into our psyche the importance of all the other clues that go around words are. When we take out 75% of the clues, it is hard to get a clear and consistent message.

When you add in the challenge that not everyone is wired to respond to the written word, it can become complex to get your point across. Some people are wired to respond more to sound and others to feeling and movement rather than words on a page. You need to adjust your words to make your communication clearer for all preferences.

In business, how does this play out? I have seen CEOs send “messages to the troops” via email or newsletters, only to find that the words acted more as a demotivator than a motivator. I have seen people dismissed over something that started as a simple email. I have seen performance reviews spiral into disaster over a written comment from an employee or manager.

I have also seen websites with less traffic than they should have, marketing materials binned rather than acted on and product names the subject of laughter and internet jokes… all based on the words that had been selected by the company.

So here comes the heresy. Words on the page are not enough. You need to use the right words in the right circumstances, taking into account all the possible ways that the words could be interpreted. You need to have a clear intention and understanding of what you want to achieve from the communication before you say the first word.

In some situations you will need to ensure your words have extra clarifying features added -images or clear graphic design to illustrate the points you are trying to make. You may even need to explore the addition of video or audio to your message for greater clarity. A professional copywriter can also help you hone your words.

But, even if you do all of this, there will be times when you get “interesting” reactions. If you are caught in the situation where you are on the receiving end of something that seems a bit abrupt or rude, stop and breathe. Pick up the phone or go and see the person to gently let them know that you have interpreted their words one-way, and give them a chance to explain what they intended to say.

Ask for more clarification in a non-judgemental way along the lines of “can you tell me a bit more about why you feel that way”. Teach your team that it is fine to ask for more information and clarification rather than simply reacting.

This of course doesn’t extend to stinging explicit abuse or verbal attacks. In the internet world, this sort of behaviour is labelled as coming from a troll, and even the most perfectly chosen words will sometimes attract troll-like behaviour. Just know that good rarely comes from directly engaging a troll in an exchange of words. If the troll is in your workplace, do not respond but take it directly up with your HR Manager or CEO, as this is inappropriate workplace behaviour and they have a role in ensuring it is stopped.

The bottom line is that words are often not enough to communicate what you need. By taking into account the context, audience, communication preferences and intention then you will improve your written communication and get better results.

The Importance of Communication Skills in Life and Career

Communication skills are the ‘be all and end all’ of any successful relationship or career path. It doesn’t matter if you are extremely knowledgeable about a particular topic. Unless you have the ability to relate it to others so that they understand exactly what you are trying to communicate, you will not find that knowledge useful.

Career:

One needs exceptional communication skills to prosper in each and every aspect of one’s life. Imagine you’re a software developer and wish to become the Project Manager, you need communication skills. The higher in the echelon of corporate ladder you wish to climb, the better you need to have the ability to grasp what the client wants and how you can convey your opinions to them. The higher you go, the more visible you become in the success hierarchy, hence the better spoken you need to become.

Irrespective of whether you work on a part time or full time, blue collar or white collar job, communication skills are the key to be an achiever.

Relationships:

In relationships, communication is the key. No alliance, be it friendship, family love, or life mate love can withstand lack of proper communication. It is the quintessential part of our existence.

If you love someone, you say it to them. You need to be able to express yourself the way you want others to understand you. It’s exceedingly imperative, hence, to work on building your communication skills.

It is not difficult to be a good communicator. You just need to be clear about what you want the others to understand. Don’t let your thoughts cloud each other or overlap each other. Be clear in your concepts.

Remember these points before saying something important:

1) Are you clear as to what you wish to make the other person understand?

2) Get the thoughts cleared in your mind.

3) Talk simply and enunciate.

4) Observe the other person’s reaction. Do they comprehend what you’re saying?

5) Do you feel they’re in agreement with your views on the matter? If not, you might have to change the way you put across that point.

6) Always remember this: you need to talk so that the other person feels it’s a beneficial thing for them, or that you’re agreeing with them.

7) If you’re disagreeing with someone, start off with “I completely agree, but…” or “I understand what you’re trying to say, but there’s another thing I’d like to add…”. You don’t need to necessarily agree with them, but saying things like these will make them feel you’re not opposing their viewpoint.

8) Be sure of your viewpoint, but try to understand the other person’s perspective too.

9) Try to say the other person’s name once in a while during the conversation -“You have a good point there, Mr. Arnold.” People like hearing their name, it makes them feel included, so it puts you in their good books and they try to see your point of view too.

Being a good communicator is a mandatory requirement in today’s scenario. Be it life or love, you need to be able to express your feelings or opinions lucidly. Remember the tips given above, and communicating your thoughts will become a cinch.

Why Written Communication Skills Are Important

As a writer and public speaker, I often ask myself “What is the purpose of writing and speaking?” And I answer, “It is to communicate a point effectively”. So whether we speak, write a speech or memo, the whole purpose is to communicate effectively. Then we have to ask, “What is it that we are trying to communicate?”

Following are some important points to keep in mind when attempting to communicate your point:

  • State your most important point first. That is, what is the basis of your letter, memo, speech or email? State that point in the very beginning so your reader will know what to focus on.
  • When addressing your reader, think about your audience. Who are you actually directing your communication towards? Is it your “in group” that understands your lingo? Is it your professional comrade that understands your jargon? Be sure to only use terms and clich├ęs that are understood by your professional insiders.
  • Use correct grammar and spelling. Your professionalism will carry a lot of weight when it comes to proper grammar and spelling. You will gain credibility among your listeners and/or readers when you communicate in an appropriate manner.
  • Use your ‘active voice’ not your ‘passive voice’. For example, instead of saying “It’s been found that our accounting…” Say instead, “Our accounting records reveal that…” In other words don’t leave the reader hanging as to ‘who’ is doing the processing. Let them know from the start that ‘you know’ who is doing the action!
  • Last but not least, read your letter, email, recording, or speech out loud before you put it out. Check for emphasis on words and the intent of your message.

We have very good intentions when we want to convey a message and the better we refine that message the better the results. You’re encouraged to review the points above for a positive outcome on your next message, whether written, recorded, or spoken. Best to you!

Krystalina Soash is a public speaker, trilingual interpreter and author of “Your Positive Potential: Action Steps for Self-Empowerment”

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