Two weeks back, I received an interview request from a group of friends who were working on a project concerning “miscommunication in the workplace”. They were keen on examining the concept of “effective communication” and “miscommunication” and gather some practical tips which students can use to enhance their ability to communicate.
I thought the questions my friends were asking would make an interesting topic for discussion. After all, we do know the dangers of communication – but how prevalent is it, and how can we avoid it? Well, that’s food for thought, and it’s the topic for today’s post! Read on!
Importance of Communication
What is effective communication?
Effective communication essentially means getting your desired message across to the recipient and achieving the desired result. Essentially, it means getting your ideas across and getting the recipient to conceive it as clearly as you do.
We understand that most people engage in one-way communication and assume that is effective communication. Is it true that this is a common issue?
In a way, one-way communication may be effective in certain cases, i.e.: from army officer to recruits, parent to child, gangland boss to runners etc. I’m sure most of us can relate to that. I mean to the case of parent to child. Most of the time, things get done because somebody of “authority” gives the order and subordinate follows.
However, I must maintain that while this form of communication may be effective at certain times, it will not effective all of the time even in the same context of authority-subordinate – the reason being it’s not sustainable, and communication reverts to two-way. As the subordinate and authority figure starts to learn about how each other thinks, reacts and behaves, both will work out a system of communication that will involve a complex set of verbal/non-verbal signals.
For example, the authority will learn to identify the sense of fear and/or what triggers a certain response in their subordinates, and the latter will learn that certain actions, ie, a baby crying, will bring about a certain response. Both will begin with one-way communication – but eventually, effective, sustainable communication will be achieved depending on how well each party’s able to communicate with EACH OTHER.
How Important is Effective Communication in our Daily life?
If I could put a price on the value of effective communication, it would be priceless.
As long as we’re dealing with people, effective communication is essential. Heck, even with animals we are communicating! So unless you’re living only with plants on a desert island do you not need to communicate effectively!
What role does effective communication play when SDE (School of Design and Environment, NUS) graduates enter into the work environment?
A very important role, if that’s what you’re asking. SDE students are uniquely placed to offer their specialised skills, expertise and knowledge to the Real Estate and Property industry. These are skills that provide you with the unfair advantage over rival graduands who’ve studied business and finance.
Yet, without the ability to communicate effectively, all will come to naught if you do not know how to communicate your advantage – skills, knowledge and insight gained over 4 years of training. Essentially, you will be perceived as being ordinary and be overlooked by potential employers.
Can communication be taught?
Yes, it may. But the more important question is, how fast can one learn? Each individual’s ability to learn, internalize and apply varies – and like everything else, their ability to pick up new skills, apply them and improve will determine how successful they are in the arena of communication, work and life.
How common is miscommunication?
It happens all the time. Between parent & child, teacher & student, husband and wife (especially!) – miscommunication happens all the time! The key issue is: how big is it? Of course, ideally, the smaller the gulf in understanding, the better.
What do you think is the weakest link in the communication process (ie, where is miscommunication is most likely to happen?)
It’s hard to identify the weakest link because so many factors are involved. I.e.: The speakers’ ability and skill sets, their level of preparation etc. Then there’re cultural factors and the receivers’ listening ability.
Perhaps, whilst its difficult to identify the weakest links in the context of parties involved, it should be suffice to say that assumptions (on either party) is one of the biggest factors that may lead to/causes miscommunication.
Please provide us with learning tips for SDE students on how to become a better at:
As a speaker, it’s essential to know what your audience needs and/or wants. What’s their current position, and what’s their desired state?
Having background information helps. This may require you to do your homework by conducting some research or surveys. Having relevant work experience in the industry definitely helps by honing your “gut feel” of the people and industry. However, this will take time. In the meantime, the best thing you can do would be to benefit by learning and reading the insights shared by experts in the industry.
Shut up and listen.
Sounds harsh? Well, if it registers in your head, then I think it’s worth it! =)
Too many times receivers are busy thinking about what to say and how to say what they want to say. Whilst it’s okay to come up with a credible response, the attention and brain effort that you expend may cause you to overlook certain key words that may help give you a clearer picture of what the speaker is saying.
Therefore, still those thoughts and silence the sounds in your head by paying full attention to the receiver. Listen out for key words, question for clarification should it be needed.
You’ll be surprised by how powerful this simple strategy can be!
o Giving feedback
Focus on the issue, rather than the person. If somebody does something that’s not to your liking, address it by addressing the issue and how it could be done better – and not how the other person can be a better person!
Nobody likes to be criticised, but most people like to improve. Be kind – there’s no need to shout, scream or screech. Recognise that you will do the same thing had you been taught in the same way and brought up in the same manner – it’s not their fault that they’ve a conception of how certain things should be done – but it’s your fault if you think they’re dumb just because they didn’t do it YOUR WAY!
And what if they keep doing it the ‘wrong way’?
Well, should that happen, then it’s probably time to sit them down and understand the reason for their ‘stubbornness’. Could it be that they didn’t understand the explanations you gave the first couple of times? Or maybe they continue to see value in doing it their own way? Or perhaps, they’ve just been too used to it.
In any case, people like to be dealt with as people. They’re no longer kids, and they demand dignity. In most cases, there’s nothing a little persuasion and negotiation can’t solve. Do it well, and you’ll not only win a new friend and/or colleague, but the loyal and worthy comrade will bend over backwards to help you succeed in your work and life.
Ho Xue Mei & Koh Fei Fei from the National University of Singapore
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P/S: Have a burning question to ask? Drop me your thoughts below and I’ll get back to them shortly!