Mastering Business Communication Skills involves answering the following pertinent questions:
1. What to communicate?
2. What is the objective of communication?
3. How to communicate?
4. Whom to address?
5. When to communicate?
6. How often to communicate?
7. How to get feedback?
8. How to evaluate communication?
It is very essential that one understands the what, how, when, whom and the why of communication.
1. What to Communicate?
Communication skills start with a clear understanding of what to communicate. What do we really want to get across and in how detailed a manner? Are they stray thoughts and ideas or well-organized and sequenced concepts, events, achievements, developments and ideas? Are we communicating our own thoughts and feelings or are we encoding and transmitting the message, thoughts, ideas of another party, say that of a chief executive officer (CEO), planning chief, team leader or an employer?
Good communication skills involve conceptual clarity and being well informed about facts, events, intentions and expectations.
2. What Is the Objective?
Communication is a goal-oriented process. The objective of any communication is to reach out with a message. Communication skills would also relate to the basic understanding of the purpose of communication.
Is it to inform, analyse, reiterate, caution, report or remind? Is it to motivate and win over, influence, inspire and seek response? Information, analysis, persuasion, negotiation, detailing, motivation, counselling and enlisting action and support constitute varied objectives with different implications and hence need different types of communication skills.
3. How to Communicate?
By this, we refer to the numerous methods, types, channels and alternative approaches. Each has its own options and the skill lies in selecting the most appropriate option in any given situation. Will it be oral, written, non-verbal, audio-visual or electronic or a mix of these?
Will the communication be through a formal channel? Will it be direct and face- to-face or indirect? Will it be transmitted through letters or telex or fax or telephone or e-mail? What is the time available and what should be the speed of communication?
What are the costs associated with the available alternatives and how much can the communication budget accommodate? Is the message pre-planned or extempore? Will a soft copy or a hard copy be provided?
Communication skills call for a thorough understanding of choices available and an evaluation of their relative costs, merits and demerits.
4. Whom to Address?
Communication, to be effective, has to be focused, otherwise it gets diluted. The communicator should be clear about the target group or audience and how to reach them. Quite often, they are widely dispersed across different functional, hierarchical and geographical areas.
Customers and prospects maybe spread across different market segments. Employees may be spread across different units and regions. Our targets may have different motivation levels. Taking into account all the relevant factors, one has to decide how to address—will it be direct or indirect communication, will it be open or confidential, will it be general or personal?
Although ‘To whomsoever it may concern’ type of address has limited use, good communication skills involve making messages which are specifically addressed.
5. When to Communicate?
The sense of timing is also very important in any communication. It has to be on time, at the right moment. It should not be too early or too late. Human memory is short. The notice for a meeting or an announcement about an impending event, therefore, cannot be months or even weeks in advance, and that too without further reminders.
Similarly, sharing of information about events, developments and achievements will have to be soon thereafter, for any delay would dilute the significance of the communication.
The other dimension of communication concerns receptivity, i.e., when to allocate time for communication so that receptivity is ensured. Important meetings should be scheduled in such a way that people are receptive and recognize the seriousness of the agenda. Morning meetings and meetings held at the beginning of the week normally provide adequate time for action.
6. How Often to Communicate?
For communication to be effective, it is necessary to take into account not only the timing, but also the intensity and frequency. Will a one-time message be adequate, or is it necessary to follow-up thereafter? Should the entire message be conveyed in one shot, or is it more appropriate to make it phased?
If so, what should be the phasing? Reminding effectively too calls for skills. Too frequent reminders, without appreciating the underlying factors, would serve little purpose and undermine the person’s authority.
7. How to Get Feedback?
Feedback is the final step in any process of communication. It involves carrying back the effect of the communication to its source. Feedback helps to gauge the effectiveness of the communication. Feedback does not come easily.
There is considerable skill involved in obtaining feedback. Often people receive the message and act on it, but may not get back to the communicator. Feedback or response is particularly relevant in market surveys and consumer surveys and studies. Good communicating skill involves understanding what makes people respond to questionnaires, get back to the sender and provide the desired feedback.
8. How to Evaluate Communication?
Communication is a vast and evolving process. The success rate of each method and each process is often varied. On an ongoing basis there is a need to evaluate the effectiveness of alternative methods and approaches. Based on the feedback, it is necessary to take corrective action. A good communicator will have to develop skills relevant to the evaluation of communication.
Communication skills encompass all the areas cited above and the answers to each one of these questions would be situation specific. While there are some general skills appropriate to the process of communication, there is much learning involved in developing specific skills.
General skills relate to the process of communication and the why and what of it. Specific skills, on the other hand, relate to the various methods of communication which are reiterated in the following paragraphs.