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Old Wednesday, December 02, 2009
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Default Communication and Interpersonal Skills

Communication and Interpersonal Skills

The Significance of Communication

Organizations are totally reliant on communication, which is defined as the exchange of ideas, messages, or information by speech, signals, or writing. Without communication, organizations would not function. If communication is diminished or hampered, the entire organization suffers. When communication is thorough, accurate, and timely, the organization tends to be vibrant and effective.
Communication is central to the entire management process for four primary reasons:
·Communication is a linking process of management. Communication is the way managers conduct the managerial functions of planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and controlling. Communication is the heart of all organizations

·Communication is the primary means by which people obtain and exchange information. Decisions are often dependent upon the quality and quantity of the information received. If the information on which a decision is based is poor or incomplete, the decision will often be incorrect.

·The most time-consuming activity a manager engages in is communication. Managers spend between 70 to 90 percent of their time communicating with employees and other internal and external customers.

·Information and communication represent power in organizations. An employee cannot do anything constructive in a work unit unless he or she knows what is to be done, when the task is to be accomplished, and who else is involved. The staff members who have this information become centers of power.
The ability to communicate well, both orally and in writing, is a critical managerial skill and a foundation of effective leadership. Through communication, people exchange and share information with one another and influence one another's attitudes, behaviors, and understandings. Communication allows managers to establish and maintain interpersonal relationships, listen to others, and otherwise gain the information needed to create an inspirational workplace. No manager can handle conflict, negotiate successfully, and succeed at leadership without being a good communicator.
The Communication Process

The goal of communication is to convey information—and the understanding of that information—from one person or group to another person or group. This communication process is divided into three basic components: A sender transmits a message through a channel to the receiver. (Figure 1 shows a more elaborate model.) The sender first develops an idea, which is composed into a message and then transmitted to the other party, who interprets the message and receives meaning. Information theorists have added somewhat more complicated language. Developing a message is known as encoding. Interpreting the message is referred to as decoding.

The other important feature is the feedback cycle. When two people interact, communication is rarely one-way only. When a person receives a message, she responds to it by giving a reply. The feedback cycle is the same as the sender-receiver feedback noted in Figure 1 . Otherwise, the sender can't know whether the other parties properly interpreted the message or how they reacted to it. Feedback is especially significant in management because a supervisor has to know how subordinates respond to directives and plans. The manager also needs to know how work is progressing and how employees feel about the general work situation.
The critical factor in measuring the effectiveness of communication is common understanding. Understanding exists when all parties involved have a mutual agreement as to not only the information, but also the meaning of the information. Effective communication, therefore, occurs when the intended message of the sender and the interpreted message of the receiver are one and the same. Although this should be the goal in any communication, it is not always achieved.
The most efficient communication occurs at a minimum cost in terms of resources expended. Time, in particular, is an important resource in the communication process. For example, it would be virtually impossible for an instructor to take the time to communicate individually with each student in a class about every specific topic covered. Even if it were possible, it would be costly. This is why managers often leave voice mail messages and interact by e-mail rather than visit their subordinates personally.
However, efficient time-saving communications are not always effective. A low-cost approach such as an e-mail note to a distribution list may save time, but it does not always result in everyone getting the same meaning from the message. Without opportunities to ask questions and clarify the message, erroneous interpretations are possible. In addition to a poor choice of communication method, other barriers to effective communication include noise and other physical distractions, language problems, and failure to recognize nonverbal signals.
Sometimes communication is effective, but not efficient. A work team leader visiting each team member individually to explain a new change in procedures may guarantee that everyone truly understands the change, but this method may be very costly on the leader's time. A team meeting would be more efficient. In these and other ways, potential tradeoffs between effectiveness and efficiency occur.

Methods of Communication

The standard methods of communication are speaking or writing by a sender and listening or reading the receiver. Most communication is oral, with one party speaking and others listening.
However, some forms of communication do not directly involve spoken or written language. Nonverbal communication (body language) consists of actions, gestures, and other aspects of physical appearance that, combined with facial expressions (such as smiling or frowning), can be powerful means of transmitting messages. At times, a person's body may be “talking” even as he or she maintains silence. And when people do speak, their bodies may sometimes say different things than their words convey. A mixed message occurs when a person's words communicate one message, while nonverbally, he or she is communicating something else.
Although technology such as e-mail has lessened the importance of nonverbal communication, the majority of organizational communication still takes place through face-to-face interaction. Every verbal message comes with a nonverbal component. Receivers interpret messages by taking in meaning from everything available. When nonverbal cues are consistent with verbal messages, they act to reinforce the messages. But when these verbal and nonverbal messages are inconsistent, they create confusion for the receiver.
The actions of management are especially significant because subordinates place more confidence in what managers do than what they say. Unless actions are consistent with communication, a feeling of distrust will undermine the effectiveness of any future social exchange.
Oral communication skills

Because a large part of a manager's day is spent conversing with other managers and employees, the abilities to speak and listen are critical to success. For example, oral communication skills are used when a manager must make sales presentations, conduct interviews, perform employee evaluations, and hold press conferences.
In general, managers prefer to rely on oral communication because communication tends to be more complete and thorough when talking in person. In face-to-face interactions, a person can judge how the other party is reacting, get immediate feedback, and answer questions. In general, people tend to assume that talking to someone directly is more credible than receiving a written message. Face-to-face communication permits not only the exchange of words, but also the opportunity to see the nonverbal communication.
However, verbal communicating has its drawbacks. It can be inconsistent, unless all parties hear the same message. And although oral communication is useful for conveying the viewpoints of others and fostering an openness that encourages people to communicate, it is a weak tool for implementing a policy or issuing directives where many specifics are involved.
Here are two of the most important abilities for effective oral communication:
·Active listening. Listening is making sense of what is heard and requires paying attention, interpreting, and remembering sound stimuli. Effective listening is active, requiring the hearer to “get inside the head” of the speaker so that he or she can understand the communication from the speaker's point of view. Effective listeners do the following:
oMake eye contact.
oSchedule sufficient, uninterrupted time for meetings.
oGenuinely seek information.
oAvoid being emotional or attacking others.
oParaphrase the message you heard, especially to clarify the speaker's intentions.
oKeep silent. Don't talk to fill pauses, or respond to statements in a point-counterpoint fashion.
oAsk clarifying questions.
oAvoid making distracting gestures.

·Constructive feedback. Managers often do poor jobs of providing employees with performance feedback. When providing feedback, managers should do the following:
oFocus on specific behaviors rather than making general statements
oKeep feedback impersonal and goal-oriented
oOffer feedback as soon after the action as possible
oAsk questions to ensure understanding of the feedback
oDirect negative feedback toward behavior that the recipient can control
Written communication skills

Written communication has several advantages. First, it provides a record for referral and follow-up. Second, written communication is an inexpensive means of providing identical messages to a large number of people.
The major limitation of written communication is that the sender does not know how or if the communication is received unless a reply is required.
Unfortunately, writing skills are often difficult to develop, and many individuals have problems writing simple, clear, and direct documents. And believe it or not, poorly written documents cost money.
How much does bad writing cost a company annually? According to a Canadian consulting and training firm, one employee who writes just one poorly worded memo per week over the course of a year can cost a company $4,258.60.
Managers must be able to write clearly. The ability to prepare letters, memos, sales reports, and other written documents may spell the difference between success and failure. The following are some guidelines for effective written communication:
·Use the P.O.W.E.R. Plan for preparing each message: plan, organize, write, edit, and revise
·Draft the message with the readers in mind
·Give the message a concise title and use subheadings where appropriate
·Use simple words and short, clear, sentences and paragraphs
·Back up opinions with facts
·Avoid “flowery” language, euphemisms, and trite expressions
·Summarize main points at the end and let the reader know what he must do next
Interpersonal Communication

Interpersonal communication is real-time, face-to-face or voice-to-voice conversation that allows immediate feedback. Interpersonal communication plays a large role in any manager's daily activities, but especially in organizations that use teams.
Managers must facilitate interpersonal communication within teams and reduce barriers to interpersonal communications. Common barriers to interpersonal communication include the following:
·Expectations of familiarity (or hearing what one is expected to hear). After hearing the beginning comments, employees may not listen to the remainder of the communication because they think they already know what a manager's going to say.

·Preconceived notions. Many employees ignore information that conflicts with what they “know.” Often referred to as selective perception, it's the tendency to single out for attention those aspects of a situation or person that reinforce or appear consistent with one's existing beliefs, value, or needs. Selective perception can bias a manager's and employee's view of situations and people.

·Source's lack of credibility. Some employees may negatively size up or evaluate the sender based on stereotypes. Stereotyping is assigning attributes commonly associated with a category, such as age group, race, or gender to an individual. Classifying is making assumptions about an individual based on a group he or she fits into. Characteristics commonly associated with the group are then assigned to the individual. Someone who believes that young people dislike authority figures may assume that a younger colleague is rebellious.

·Differing perceptions caused by social and cultural backgrounds. The process through which people receive and interpret information from the environment is called perception. Perception acts as a screen or filter through which information must pass before it has an impact on communication. The results of this screening process vary, because such things as values, cultural background, and other circumstances influence individual perceptions. Simply put, people can perceive the same things or situations very differently. And even more important, people behave according to their perceptions.

·Semantics and diction. The choice and use of words differ significantly among individuals. A word such as “effectiveness” may mean “achieving high production” to a factory superintendent and “employee satisfaction” to a human resources specialist. Many common English words have an average of 28 definitions, so communicators must take care to select the words that accurately communicate their ideas.

·Emotions that interfere with reason. Tempers often interfere with reason and cause the roles of sender and receiver to change to that of opponent and adversary.

·Noise or interference. Noise does not allow for understanding between sender and receiver.
Organizational Communication

The formal flow of information in an organization may move via upward, downward, or horizontal channels. Most downward communications address plans, performance feedback, delegation, and training. Most upward communications concern performance, complaints, or requests for help. Horizontal communications focus on coordination of tasks or resources
Organizational structure creates, perpetuates, and encourages formal means of communication. The chain of command typifies vertical communication. Teamwork and interactions exemplify lateral or horizontal efforts to communicate. Coordinating efforts between colleagues or employees of equal rank and authority represent this channel of communication. Feedback from subordinate to superior is indicative of upward communication. For example, status reports to inform upper levels of management are originated in the lower or mid-range of most organizations.
The marriage of people to electronic communication equipment and databases that store information is a formal network. Formal communication networks provide the electronic links for transferring and storing information through formal organizational channels.
Informal channels, known as the grapevine, carry casual, social, and personal messages through the organization. The grapevine is an informal, person-to-person communication network of employees that is not officially sanctioned by the organization. The grapevine is spontaneous, quick, and hard to stop; it can both help and hinder the understanding of information. For these reasons, managers need to stay in touch with the grapevine and counteract rumors.
Like interpersonal communication, organizational communication can be blocked by barriers, such as the following:
·Information overload
·Embellished messages
·Delays in formal communications
·Lack of employee trust and openness
·Different styles of change
·Intimidation and unavailability of those of rank or status
·Manager's interpretations
·Electronic noises

Improving Communications

Communication touches everything that takes place in an organization and is so intermingled with all other functions and processes that separating it for study and analysis is difficult. Because communication is the most time-consuming activity that a manager engages in, improving management strongly depends on improving communication. One-way researchers are trying to improve communication skills for organizations is through instruments that assess managers' writing and speaking effectiveness.

The responsibility to strengthen and improve communication is both individual and organizational. Senders should define the purpose behind their message, construct each message with the reader in mind, select the best medium, time each transmission thoughtfully, and seek feedback. Receivers must listen actively, be sensitive to the sender, recommend an appropriate medium for messages, and initiate feedback efforts.

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