Improve your Communication Skills ( c) 2011 Kogan Page L imited, All Rights Reserved. Alan Barker | Revised Second Edition Improve your Communication Skills ( c) 2011 Kogan Page L imited, All Rights Reserved. Publisher’s note Every possible effort has been made to ensure that the information contained in this book is accurate at the time of going to press, and the publishers and author cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions, however caused. No responsibility for loss or damage occasioned to any person acting, or refraining from action, as a result of the material in this publication can be accepted by the editor, the publisher or the author. First published 2000 Second edition 2006 Reprinted 2007 (twice) Revised second edition 2010 Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study, or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, this publication may only be reproduced, stored or transmitted, in any form or by any means, with the prior permission in writing of the publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction in accordance with the terms and licences issued by the CLA. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside these terms should be sent to the publishers at the undermentioned addresses: 120 Pentonville Road 525 South 4th Street, #241 4737/23 Ansari Road London N1 9jN Philadelphia PA 19147 Daryaganj United Kingdom USA New Delhi 110002 www.koganpage.com India © Alan Barker 2000, 2006, 2010 The right of Alan Barker to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. ISBN 978 0 7494 5627 6 E-ISBN 978 0 7494 5911 6 The views expressed in this book are those of the author, and are not necessarily the same as those of Times Newspapers Ltd. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Barker, Alan, 1956– Improve your communication skills / Alan Barker. -- Rev. 2nd ed. p. cm. ISBN 978-0-7494-5627-6 -- ISBN 978-0-7494-5911-6 (e-bk) 1. Business communication. I. Title. HF5718.B365 2010 651.7--dc22 2009043350 Typeset by jean Cussons Typesetting, Diss, Norfolk Printed and bound in India by Replika Press Pvt Ltd ( c) 2011 Kogan Page L imited, All Rights Reserved. About this book vii 1 What is communication? 1 The transmission model 1; Understanding how we understand 7; A new model of communication 9; The three levels of understanding 11; Conversation: the heart of communication 19 2 How conversations work 21 What is a conversation? 21; Why do conversations go wrong? 23; Putting conversations in context 23; Working out the relationship 25; Setting a structure 30; Managing behaviour 33; 3 Seven ways to improve your conversations 37 1. Clarify your objective 38; 2. Structure your thinking 39; 3. Manage your time 46; 4. Find common ground 49; 5. Move beyond argument 50; 6. Summarise often 53; 7. Use visuals 54 Contents ( c) 2011 Kogan Page L imited, All Rights Reserved. vi Contents 4 The skills of enquiry 59 Paying attention 60; Treating the speaker as an equal 64; Cultivating ease 65; Encouraging 66; Asking quality questions 68; Rationing information 71; Giving positive feedback 72 5 The skills of persuasion 75 Character, logic and passion 75; What’s the big idea? 78; Arranging your ideas 82; Expressing your ideas 86; Remembering your ideas 88; Delivering effectively 89 6 Interviews: holding a formal conversation 91 When is an interview not an interview? 91; Preparing for the interview 92; Structuring the interview 93; Types of interview 95 7 Making a presentation 113 Putting yourself on show 115; Preparing for the presentation 116; Managing the material 117; Controlling the audience 130; Looking after yourself 132; Answering questions 133 8 Putting it in writing 135 Writing for results 135; Making reading easier 136; Writing step by step 137; Designing the document 138; Writing a first draft 151; Effective editing 153; Writing for the web 160 9 Networking: the new conversation 167 To network or not to network? 168; Preparing to network 170; The skills of networking conversations 181; Following up and building your network 188 Appendix: where to go from here 197 ( c) 2011 Kogan Page L imited, All Rights Reserved. If you’re not communicating, you’re not managing. In 2003, the American Management Association asked its members what skills go to make an effective leader. Number one skill – way ahead of the others – was communication (84 per cent). Interestingly, numbers two and three – motivating others (56 per cent) and team-building (46 per cent) – also rely on effective communication. What’s more, 60 per cent of executives who responded listed lack of collaboration as their top leadership challenge. Management is no longer a matter of command and control. Managers must now work with matrix management and networking, with outsourcing and partnerships. We must influence people to act, often without being able to wield power over them. Our success depends, more than ever before, on other people. The new technologies have been a mixed blessing. IT helps us keep in touch but can reduce our opportunities to talk to each other. Many of us have become ‘cubicle workers’, spending most of our day interfacing with a computer screen. Corporate communication can, of course, still be remarkably About this book ( c) 2011 Kogan Page L imited, All Rights Reserved. viii About this Book effective. The MD’s efforts to communicate his latest corporate change programme may fall at the first hurdle; but rumours of imminent job losses can spread like wildfire. If only formal communication could achieve half the success of gossip! Our organisations are networks of conversations. The unit of management work is the conversation; and the quality of our work depends directly on the quality of our conversations. How can we communicate more effectively? How can we begin to improve the quality of our conversations at work? This book seeks to answer those questions. ( c) 2011 Kogan Page L imited, All Rights Reserved. It’s a question I often ask at the start of training courses. How would you define the word ‘communication’? After a little thought, most people come up with a sentence like this. This definition appears very frequently. We seem to take it for granted. Where does it come from? And does it actually explain how we communicate at work? The transmission model That word ‘transmitting’ suggests that we tend to think of communication as a technical process. And the history of the word ‘communication’ supports that idea. 1 What is communication? Communication is the act of transmitting and receiving information. ( c) 2011 Kogan Page L imited, All Rights Reserved. 2 Improve your Communication Skills In the 19th century, the word ‘communication’ came to refer to the movement of goods and people, as well as of information. We still use the word in these ways, of course: roads and railways are forms of communication, just as much as speaking or writing. And we still use the images of the industrial revolution – the canal, the railway and the postal service – to describe human communication. Information, like freight, comes in ‘bits’; it needs to be stored, transferred and retrieved. And we describe the movement of information in terms of a ‘channel’, along which information ‘flows’. This transport metaphor was readily adapted to the new, electronic technologies of the 20th century. We talk about ‘telephone lines’ and ‘television channels’. Electronic information comes in ‘bits’, stored in ‘files’ or ‘vaults’. The words ‘download’ and ‘upload’ use the freight metaphor; e-mail uses postal imagery. In 1949, Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver published a formal version of the transmission model (Shannon, Claude E and Weaver, Warren, A Mathematical Model of Communication, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, IL, 1949). Shannon and Weaver were engineers working for Bell Telephone Labs in the United States. Their goal was to make telephone cables as efficient as possible. Their model had five elements: • an information source, which produces a message; • a transmitter, which encodes the message into signals; • a channel, to which signals are adapted for transmission; • a receiver, which decodes the message from the signal; and • a destination, where the message arrives. They introduced a sixth element, noise: any interference with the message travelling along the channel (such as ‘static’ on the telephone or radio) that might alter the message being sent. A final element, feedback, was introduced in the 1950s. ( c) 2011 Kogan Page L imited, All Rights Reserved. 3 What is Communication? For the telephone, the channel is a wire, the signal is an electrical current, and the transmitter and receiver are the handsets. Noise would include crackling from the wire. Feedback would include the dialling tone, which tells you that the line is ‘live’. In a conversation, my brain is the source and your brain is the receiver. The encoder might be the language I use to speak with you; the decoder is the language you use to understand me. Noise would include any distraction you might experience as I speak. Feedback would include your responses to what I am saying: gestures, facial expressions and any other signals I pick up that give me some sense of how you are receiving my message. We also apply the transmission metaphor to human communication. We ‘have’ an idea (as if it were an object). We ‘put the idea into words’ (like putting it into a box); we try to ‘put our idea across’ (by pushing it or ‘conveying’ it); and the ‘receiver’ – hopefully – ‘gets’ the idea. We may need to ‘unpack’ the idea before the receiver can ‘grasp’ it. Of course, we need to be careful to avoid ‘information overload’. The transmission model is attractive. It suggests that Figure 1.1 The Shannon–Weaver transmission model of communication source encoder feedback noise decoder receiver channel message ( c) 2011 Kogan Page L imited, All Rights Reserved. 4 Improve your Communication Skills information is objective and quantifiable: something that you and I will always understand in exactly the same way. It makes communication seem measurable, predictable and consistent: sending an e-mail seems to be evidence that I have communicated to you. Above all, the model is simple: we can draw a diagram to illustrate it. But is the transmission model accurate? Does it reflect what actually happens when people communicate with each other? And, if it’s so easy to understand, why does communication – especially in organisations – so often go wrong? Wiio’s Laws We all know that communication in organisations is notoriously unreliable. Otto Wiio (born 1928) is a Finnish Professor of Human Communication. He is best known for a set of humorous maxims about how communication in organisations goes wrong. They illustrate some of the problems of using the transmission model. Communication usually fails, except by accident. If communication can fail, it will fail. If communication cannot fail, it still usually fails. If communication seems to succeed in the way you intend – someone’s misunderstood. If you are content with your message, communication is certainly failing. If a message can be interpreted in several ways, it will be interpreted in a manner that maximises the damage. There is always someone who knows better than you what your message means. The more we communicate, the more communication fails. ( c) 2011 Kogan Page L imited, All Rights Reserved. 5 What is Communication? Problems with the transmission model What’s wrong with the transmission model? Well, to begin with, a message differs from a parcel in a very obvious way. When I send the parcel, I no longer have it; when I send a message, I still have it. But the metaphor throws up some other interesting, rather more subtle problems. Do we communicate what we intend? The transmission model assumes that communication is always intentional: that the sender always communicates for a purpose, and always knows what that purpose is. In fact, most human communication mixes the intentional and the unintentional. We all know that we communicate a great deal without meaning to, through body language, eye movement and tone of voice. The transmission model also assumes that the intention and the communication are separate. First we have a thought; then we decide how to encode it. In reality, we may not know what we are thinking until we have said it; the act of encoding is the process of thinking. Many writers, for example, say that they write in order to work out what their ideas are. What’s the context? A message delivered by post will have a very different effect to a message delivered vocally, face-to-face. Our response to the message will differ if it’s delivered by a senior manager or by a colleague. Our state of mind when we hear or read the message will affect how we understand it. And so on. A one-way street The transmission model is a linear. The source actively sends a message; the destination passively receives it. The model ignores the active participation of the ‘receiver’ in generating the meaning of the communication. ( c) 2011 Kogan Page L imited, All Rights Reserved. 6 Improve your Communication Skills What does it all mean? The transmission model ignores the way humans understand. Human beings don’t process information; they process meanings. For example, the words ‘I’m fine’ could mean: • ‘I am feeling well’; • ‘I am happy’; • ‘I was feeling unwell but am now feeling better’; • ‘I was feeling unhappy but now feel less unhappy’; • ‘I am not injured; there’s no need to help me’; • ‘Actually, I feel lousy but I don’t want you to know it’; • ‘Help!’ – or any one of a dozen other ideas. The receiver has to understand the meaning of the words if they are to respond appropriately; but the words may not contain the speaker’s whole meaning. If we want to develop our communication skills, we need to move beyond the transmission model. We need to think about communication in a new way. And that means thinking about how we understand. There is a paradox in communicating. I cannot expect that you will understand everything I tell you; and I cannot expect that you will understand only what I tell you. (with thanks to Patrick Bouvard) ( c) 2011 Kogan Page L imited, All Rights Reserved.