Effective communication is more than just words

If you could only improve one skill at this moment, choose to get better at communicating. Communication (listening, verbal and writing) is one of the most sought after skill in the workplace. It doesn’t matter if you are in a managerial position or not, being able to communicate effectively, provides tremendous value to the company.

A good communicator is not only someone who can listen, speak and write well. She also knows which channel to use to get her message across and chooses the right mode of communication to improve its effectiveness. To get the message across, you have to care more than the words you use.

Choosing the right channel

Most of us are familiar with the different types of communication (verbal, non-verbal, written). You probably also understand that communication happens over a channel or medium which transfers information from the sender to the receiver. For example, when you call someone over the phone, you are engaged in verbal communication over a telephone line which acts as the channel between both of you.

Channels like the telephony network enable 1–to–1 communications, whereas radio and television are broadcasting channels that sends information to a number of subscribers (1–to–many). On the internet, sending a private message to someone via your favourite social network is a 1–to–1 communication, whereas publishing a blog post (like this one) is a 1–to–many communication. 

In order to make sure your message is delivered effectively, you need to use the right channel. When conveying private information, you should choose a 1to1 channel. If you need to disseminate information to more than 1 person, use a 1tomany channel. And if you want engagement and participation, make sure they have a way to voice their opinion by using a manytomany communication channel.

Using the wrong channel can distort the message or in some cases, cause a communication breakdown. Only discuss private affairs on a 1–to–1 channel and call for a meeting (many–to–many) if you need inputs and feedbacks from the participants. 

Understand that based on the channel you choose, the receiver will have a certain expectation of the engagement. Don’t call for a meeting if you are not open to their comments and suggestions. That’s an announcement. Choose the right channel based on the nature of the message and the type of engagement you want.

Choosing the right mode

We typically think of communication as an activity where we are engaging and participating in real-time. When you are talking to someone over Skype, both you and the receiver have to be present for the communication to happen. This concept of being present is very much ingrained in our minds and shapes what we think as effective communication. After all, when someone says that a couple has not been communicating, we are assuming they have not spent quality time together in person.

This mode of communication is called Synchronous Communication. It requires both parties (sender and receiver) to be present in real-time. If you need instant engagement from your audience, this is the mode you want. Technologies like Telephone, Skype, Google Hangouts, Whatsapp have made it incredibly easy to engage in synchronous verbal or written communication.

The other mode of communication is Asynchronous Communication. In this mode, communication doesn’t happen in real-time and the receiver may choose to read the message whenever they prefer. We are communicating in this mode when we send an email or text someone on our mobile phones. In fact, at this very moment, you and I are engaged in a form of written asynchronous communication through this post. I’m using my blog as a 1–to–many channel to communicate with you and my readers asynchronously.

For obvious reasons, this mode of communication lacks instant participation but since it is not time sensitive, it can transcend time. Books for example, is a great medium to transfer knowledge across generations. Depending on the nature of your message and intention, asynchronous communication can be more effective.

One of the advantages of this mode is that you get a history or copy of the conversation. This is especially handy in the workplace to improve efficiency and promote accountability. Being able to look back and see who said what is extremely useful in reducing misunderstandings and resolving conflicts.

However, the biggest advantage Asynchronous Communication has over Synchronous Communication is the fact that it does not require the audience to be present in real-time. Again using this post as an example, I do not need to book a venue, invite my audience and give a speech to deliver my message. This blog post delivers the same message to my audience at a time of their choosing. 

This allows us to yield control of the conversation back to the recipients. Too often, we are being dictated by the sender. Mass media have trained us to consume and accept whatever they choose to feed us. The rise of social media has shown that people prefer to engage in conversations on their own terms.

At work, communicating effectively may sometimes mean not communicating at all, or at least not in real-time. Differentiate between the urgent and the important. Realize that Synchronous Communication is expensive and avoid them unless necessary. Don’t call for a meeting to deliver an announcement. Be an effective communicator and send out a memo instead.

Leverage the channel & Respect your audience

To communicate effectively, you must learn to leverage the proper channel to make sure it improves the delivery of the message. Respect your audience by choosing the right level of engagement and yield the power of exchange back to them. 

An effective communicator is someone who cares about the message, the channel to deliver it and the mode of engagement.