Communication

The magic wand, so handy yet so elusive

Friends, can you just guess why communication is being likened to magic wand? Just follow this write up and you will get your answer. Let me tell you that my purpose is to present the topic in a manner so that the techniques can be practised by one and all, as opposed to any theoretical, academic treatise. Besides, in this episode we shall deal with communication as applicable to exchange of ideas /information/instructions/news etc.

From dawn till dusk we have to exchange our ideas, notify our needs, convey information and receive messages at every step. Whether it is the president of the USA, a Scientist at Indian Space Research Organisation, a farmer in China or just a domestic help in a household in Kerala, everybody is communicating continually. The most amazing part about it is that, most of us communicate instinctively without much understanding about the nuances of communication. Frankly speaking, this is disastrous. Yes, I mean disastrous. That’s why this is a must read story.

I shall try to make the narration as lucid as possible and I am confident that by the time you finish this episode, you will be initiated to the realm of Art of Communication. If you practise meticulously, you will have better command over all forms of communication in future. This will give you an edge over your peers and improve your overall success rating significantly.

Types of Communication

There are four types of communication:

  • Written ( Letters, Emails , Messaging )
  • Verbal (Face to face conversation, Telephonic, Voice mail, Public speaking etc.)
  • Audio visual (Presentation with slides, Video calling, Skype etc.)
  • Through body language( Gestures ,Postures , Smiling , Frowning and the likes)

What is communication, after all? What purpose does it serve in our life to deserve our attention and time? Sure it deserves an answer. In simple terms it is as it were, a medium for transmitting and receiving information, messages, ideas, instructions and also emotions. It is two way traffic. There are two sides involved in this exercise: one who sends the message (sender)   and one who receives it (receiver). The medium that transmits the information is communication.

Now, sender and receiver are two different entities, with different background and dissimilar upbringing and exposure. When the sender sends a message, the receiver interprets it according to his own perception, which may not be what is meant by the sender. There is a definite possibility of such distortion. The reason for the distortion is considered as noise.  Since “noise” can substantially distort the message, it may all together jeopardise the purpose of the communication, hence calls for due attention.

Noise or reasons for distortion of message:

An expression, a word or a phrase may have different connotation in different countries or regions. For instance the way people greet each other when they meet widely vary in different regions. I hope we all know about it hence no elaboration is called for. Similarly words and phrases also have different connotations in different places.

Besides, certain symbols may carry different message to people of different regions due to subjective perceptions of local people. For example, the symbol of “Thumbs up” is widely perceived as a message of encouragement saying “Well done” or “Bravo”.

To millions of Indians, however, this sign signifies “I care a fig for you” or “Go to hell”. It is therefore essential to realise that such possibilities exist and be alert to avoid such blunders, particularly when dealing with people of a different culture.

Then there is psychological Distortion. If one or both the sender and receiver are ill disposed to each other or if anyone or both the parties are emotionally upset or belong to different levels in social status, there exist a possibility of misinterpretation of messages ( at times wilful).

If a colleague gets promoted bypassing his seniors he may attract envy and wrath of his peers; which get manifested in ill feelings and animosity among the aggrieved lot. Any communication to and from this privileged guy often gets misconstrued or misinterpreted due to the psychological barrier.

Written Communication

Most of us in the literate world are used to this form of communication. It is true that we conduct our day to day activities through verbal communication. However, the communications which may require to be referred to at a later date, have to be in written form. For instance, Government circulars, Legal documents, Legislation, Business letters, Commercial contracts, Agreements between two nations etc. etc. Anything people wish to place on record is done in writing. This attribute imparts a unique status to written communication. That’s why we shall delve a little deep to explore the nuances of this form of communication.

Language of  Written Communication

Language for both formal and informal communication should be simple and lucid. Many successful content writers prefer to use simple sentences, avoiding compound and particularly complex sentences to the extent possible. In formal letters it is better to be to the point instead of beating around the bush. It is also better to avoid flowery language and uncommon phraseology. Such things are considered to be aimed at showing off and disliked.

The formal letters must be structured as per on going practice in a country. Letters should be comprehensive to provide all information required to take a decision on the issue in question. Incomplete information leads several exchanges of letters before the issue is settled. Time is costly. In business world a delayed decision may be very costly.

Informal letters need not necessarily be structured. People use personalised style of writing. However, personal letters must bear a touch of sincerity and politeness.

Hypocrisy and one-upmanship in any form may ruin trust and relationship. Make sure that such deterrents don’t creep in written communication.

Language of Short Messaging and old time Telegrams

Decades ago telegrams used to be the only medium of sending urgent messages across the country. Now it is almost defunct but not dead yet. In this category the language has to be crisp and brief. With SMS it is the same. But to go overboard in respect of brevity could cause confusion at the receiving end. At times the message is totally misunderstood. I shall tell you a real life story of old times in this context.

One BDO (Block Development Officer) was posted in a remote village area. One day he received a telegram from home that his wife was sick. The lady was at an advanced stage of pregnancy. So the man got panicky. To make it worse his immediate junior was also on leave on account of his mother’s illness. He sent a telegram to the District Collector which reads, “Wife sick. Arrange substitute.” Prompt came the reply,” Arrange locally”.

It may sound like a big joke, to others but the SDO was not amused at all. He didn’t realise, in trying to be brief, he omitted the word “staff” in asking for a substitute.

The language of Short Messaging is still evolving. Lots of experimenting is in progress. In a number of cases the vocabulary used is not to be found in a dictionary. For elderly people sometimes it is beyond comprehension. The abbreviations used and new words coined are a matter of research for the specialists. But I am sure that young people have no difficulty in decoding the vocabulary. I shall only sound an alarm that before dispatching any SMS please make sure that the message transmits exactly the same thing you want to say, leaving no room for confusion,

Intricacies of verbal communication:

1) Thorough home work is essential: Have alternative plans (Plan A, B,C) ready

It may be noted that, the prime advantage of face to face verbal communication is that one can instantly notice the reaction of the receiving party. The body language of the receiving party says it all, if one knows to read it.This gives sender, an opportunity to defend himself/or change course, before the receiver comes up with a reply.

The handicap is that there is no way to retrieve a spoken word. Therefore in verbal communication, thorough homework is essential; besides, alertness and ready-wit come handy in a bipartite negotiation. The sender can also use (body language) signals to convey his approval/disapproval/reluctance etc.at any point of negotiation to turn the trend of discussion in his favour. The advantage of using body language is that one can transmit his feelings without going on record. However, one should know the limits of displaying his discomfiture or rejection, not to push it too far to reach a deadlock. While planning keep alternative plans to offer, if situation arises.

2) Think Win –Win to achieve your goal:

In any discussion both the parties would try to protect their own interests. Pragmatic approach would be therefore to make a proposal that take care the interests of both the parties. Often people try to outsmart each other and try to manipulate things in their favour at the cost of the other party. If one can create an impression that he is concerned about the interests of the other party and willing to share the gain equally, then and there, the atmosphere of negotiation turns positive paving the path of an amicable settlement. (Illustration 8….warm shake hands)

3) Listening is as important as speaking:

Listening is as important as speaking, no less. Unless you are a good listener you can hardly expect to be a good negotiator. In fact the more you talk the more you expose yourself: and if the other party comes to know all the aces you have, the easier it is for them to handle the discussions in their favour; the vice versa is also true; the more you listen, the more opportunity you get to know the other party, and that helps to steer the discussion/negotiation in your favour.

In order to be a good listener some of the things suggested by Mr Shiv Keera, the eminent consultant and specialist in behavioural science are:

  • Encourage the speaker to talk
  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Pay attention and concentrate.
  • Avoid distractions.
  • Be open-minded, don’t let preconceived ideas and prejudices prevent you from listening.
  • Try to recognise the nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions, eye and hand gestures, making or avoiding eye contact etc. They might be communicating a message different from the verbal

 4) Be precise; avoid loose talks in business meets

It is essential to be to the point and precise in business talks. “Talk less, say more” be the guiding principle. Avoid loose talks, which may lower the speaker in the listeners ’esteem.

5) Accept criticism gracefully

In any discussion/negotiation, possibility of an adverse criticism by the other party can’t be ruled out. The criticism may be just or unjust. Be mentally prepared for such a situation.   The only way to face this situation is to have patience, stay focussed, stay cool, allow the speaker to say what he has to say, note the points and prepare your defence. You may then start with a polite question “Why do you feel that way?”

Or say,” Can you elaborate a little?“

Or say, “Are you sure you have evidence to substantiate what you are saying?

Instead of challenging, give him an opportunity to rethink and retreat: don’t put your foot down and challenge.

6) Discuss but don’t argue

In a discussion/negotiation, one must try to fathom how far he can go. Crossing the limit may lead to an argument. And also realise what the Management Gurus say :

You can never win an argument and that

The best way to win an argument is to avoid it and also that

Arguing is, as it were, fighting a losing battle: If you lose you lose; if you win, then also you lose.

The essence of all these is that in an attempt to win an argument you may lose an order, even a valuable client; you may even convert an ally to enemy; you may end up in breaking up a relationship . In trying to win an argument you may damage your own interest. So in a tense situation retreat gracefully or change course smartly.

It is interesting to note what Cyrus Ching had said with regard to egoistic and argumentative type of people ,”I learned a long time ago never to wrestle with a pig, you get dirty , besides the pig likes it”

7) A few tips on conducting a discussion:

  • Do a thorough homework
  • If possible collect information of the members on the other side
  • Be on time for the meeting
  • Listen carefully an take notes
  • Ask questions for clarification
  • Be openminded.Don’t be prejudiced by preconceived notions
  • Your submission should take into consideration of what has been stated by the other team
  • You don’t have to accept the counterpoints in to-to
  • Discuss the issues but don’t argue
  • Be prepared to yield as a strategy not necessarily to give in
  • Retreating could be strategy to disarm the opponent. Target is to win the game not the debate

Audio visual communication

This form of communication blends verbal communication with visual images projected on a screen. This form is usually deployed in making a presentation before a small group of listeners. This is widely used in academic, scientific and commercial world to introduce a new concept, a new idea, a new product.

This form of communication combines the advantage of both, written and verbal communication. Here the visuals assist the speaker to systematically present the topic with a visual support. Seeing is believing. When the audience can see illustrations or images that elucidate the spoken words, it becomes more vivid and hence trustworthy. This form of communication is very popular now- a- days with academic circle, marketing community, consultancy organisations, advertising agencies etc.

Skype or video calling

Skype is an application for communicating with people located geographically apart over the internet using video and voice calls. Advantage of this version of audio visual communication is that the interacting people can see each other while talking. This makes it possible to watch each other’s reaction or response. This provides both the parties the advantage of face to face verbal communication. Besides, it has the advantage of showing visuals displaying products or explaining a project etc.

Body Language

The magical communication aid
Body language is a form of communication whereby someone can convey definite messages without saying a word. Most fascinating fact about it is that the sender leaves no evidence behind as to what was conveyed unless it is done under video recording.

Whether it is public speaking, a class lecture or a seminar or one to one conversation, people always use body language. Most common instances are:

Declining or accepting an offer with a hand gesture or movement of the head
Confirming or denying a statement by oscillating head sideways (like a pendulum)
Expressing joy or pleasure in meeting someone with a sincere smile and sometimes extending an arm to touch or handshake. An emotional meeting can also lead to an embrace.
Put on a frown to express suspicion, discomfort or displeasure
Showing the palm with a stern look to ask/order someone to stop
Making faces to ridicule someone
Frown with a stare to brow-beat someone etc.

Affection

Affection

However, there are innumerable types of signals emitted by humans through gestures and postures, under different kind of stimuli ( without uttering a word) to denote aggression, arrogance, annoyance, fear, hatred, greed, malice, and to insult, ignore, irritate and ridicule etc. and positive emotions like happiness, pleasure, satisfaction, joy etc.

Recently the world has witnessed some exemplary expressions of body language displayed by President Trump and President Kim Jong-un during their historical meet in Singapore. We saw aggression, stubbornness, domineering, defensive yet assertive postures.

The world also witnessed some grand show of nonverbal communication among World leaders during the G-20 summit. President Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel before going to Singapore. One can watch some such display on U Tube. ( Titled “G-20 Body Language “and others)

An intriguing aspect of this form of communication is that often, the person concerned is oblivious to the signals he is sending. This possibly happens when the stimulus comes from subconscious strata of our mind. Whatever the reason, while in a face to face communication body language goes a long way to set the trend of the meet and its outcome.

The person sending the signals exposes his feelings and reaction to others;
On the other hand, a person knowledgeable in body language can use it to influence the listeners, without going on record and read the mind of listeners to his advantage.
Knowledge of Body language is for sure a big advantage in face to face verbal communication (this includes Skype/video conferencing).

Despair

Despair

Frustration

Frustration

Extreme Joy

Highly agitated

Aggression

Enjoyment

That is why some experts hold that the body language is the most powerful means of communication. You can say a lot without uttering a word through our gestures and actions. Still, since these gestures and postures may vary from region to region and even from person to person, it can’t be treated as an exact science. However since we communicate much more through our pose and posture than spoken words it is important to have a clear understanding of the signs and movements people use to convey an unspoken message. The reason for this has been discussed earlier.

And you know what? When a person meet another, be it in a party, a social gathering, or in an interview others watching him make out an impression about him in the first thirty seconds, ( yes , you have heard it right 30 seconds) even before he has uttered a word.

Surprisingly, this first impression is usually everlasting. In certain cases like in a job interview or while marketing a product , your fate can be sealed in the first thirty seconds if your body language sends signals of lack of confidence or nervousness through drooping arms ,sagging shoulders, wringing of hands , frequent clearing of throat etc.

Here are some samples of body language to be avoided

  • Hands in pocket
  • Crossed Arms or legs
  • Carrying files or documents across the chest
  • Wringing hands
  • Tapping feet
  • Slumped posture
  • Rocking legs
  • Scratching head
  • Biting nails
  • Straightening ties

Aggressive postures

  • Staring
  • Hands resting on the waist
  • Leaning over some one
  • Making a fist
  • Standing too close

Domineering posture

  • Looking over the top of your specs
  • Smirking
  • Head tilted back while talking
  • Keeping eyes closed while talking
  • Looking down your nose

Denoting anger, displeasure

  • Pursed lips
  • Frowning
  • Making fists
  • Stare with bulging out eyeballs
  • Grinding of teeth

Silly gestures that can seal your fate

  • Wiping face on shirt’s sleeve
  • Cleaning ears or nails in public
  • Doing an undoing jacket buttons while in a meeting
  • Thumping of table in excitement in a formal meeting
  • Slumping on a chair or sofa
  • Chewing gums or biting pen or pencil
  • Yawning in a meeting
  • Sneezing in public without covering the nostrils with a handkerchief
  • Attending telephone calls while in a meeting
  • Thumbs up and any gesticulation having derogatory connotations

Being Naughty

Enough of negative body language. Now, let us look at positive signals that our body sends and receives.

Positive gestures and postures that help building one’s personality

Open hand gesture
A genuine smile( helps to melt the ice)
Carrying documents and files on one side of the body
Chin up stance
Waiving to a departing visitor
Standing up while receiving a Superior
If a visitor comes in when one is attending a telephone call , it is a polite gesture to stand up , smile and gesture him to take a seat
Make eye contacts while talking or listening
To encourage a speaker, it is polite to lean forward while listening and occasional nodding in acceptance

I think the episode is getting too lengthy to hold your attention. In fact one can write books on each form of communication. This is an introduction to justify why I call it a magic wand !