Do you communicate effectively?

Ted Pollock
Management Consultant

Putting your ideas across and trying to understand the ideas of others-whether spoken or written-probably make up at least 50 percent of most people’s working day.

Where communications are effective, there are few, if any, misunderstandings, grievances, errors, personality conflicts, emotional upsets and so on. In this sense, getting your ideas across is the essence of good personal relations.

The truth is, there is virtually no case where communications are so good that there is no room for improvement. And the improvement can only be made on the level of individual performance.

How do you rate as a communicator? These questions should help you find out.

  • Do you frequently have to explain your letters with follow-up correspondence or telephone calls?
  • Do you favor short, direct words over multisyllabic ones, or do you erroneously believe that your position dictates the use of gobbledygook?
  • Are you dissatisfied with your correspondence until it says precisely what you want it to say?
  • Do you state your ideas within a familiar context? (Compare and contrast the new with what your reader already knows and he’ll grasp it more quickly.)
  • Do you present your ideas and the facts to back them up in a logical sequence?
  • Do you recognize that listening is an active, not passive communication skill?
  • Do you watch speakers for non-verbal clues to their meanings?
  • Before answering a speaker, are you usually certain that you have taken in his point of view?
  • When giving instructions, do you frequently assume more knowledge on the part of your employee than he or she actually possesses?
  • Do you break complicated procedures down to more easily understood sub-steps?
  • Do you speak clearly, without slurring or mispronouncing words?
  • Do you talk too fast or too slowly for comprehension?

WHAT A GOOD REPORT SHOULD CONTAIN

Clearly written and properly angled, a business report can be an unparalleled vehicle of communication within a company.

It can boil a problem down to essentials, offer recommendations, cite the pros and cons of various solutions. It may distill the thinking of the writer and save precious time for the reader. Sometimes, when it is the result of group investigation and thinking, it even offers a convenient summary of departmental effort.

But many reports miss the mark entirely. They’re disorganized, wordy, difficult to understand. Rather than enlightening, they cast an additional layer of mystery over the subject.

These failings could be largely avoided if the report writer knew what the reader was looking for.

What does management seek in the reports that cross its desk?

Primarily management desires the answers to these questions:

  • What is the report about, and who wrote it?
  • What does it contribute?
  • What are its conclusions and recom-mendations?
  • What are the implications for the company?

To get this information, most managers read the summary or abstracts of a report and the sections titled “Introduction,” “Background” and “Conclusions and Recommendations.” Very few read the body or appendix of a report. When they do, it is usually because they are skeptical of the conclusions drawn, or they are particularly interested in the subject, deeply involved in the problem, or feel the urgency of the problem demands full reading.

In one survey, engineers and scientists at the research laboratory of a large company were asked what they looked for in a report. This is how they ranked their informational needs:

Click here to enlarge image

This is not to say that detailed data should be omitted from a report. It has to be included for those who may need it, but obviously it should not be made the focal point of the report. You should emphasize the larger and more important aspects of the work to meet the informational needs of the bulk of readers.

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