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It is hard to imagine a world without communication. From humans to ants, communication is vital for functioning. Hence its importance in business cannot be undermined. According to Murphy et al it is the "life blood" of any business (Murphy et al, 2009). Without communication it is very difficult to get your point across or to make a difference. To some the skills of communication come naturally while to others it needs a lot of practice and learning. Luckily effective communication techniques can be mastered if one puts his mind to it. Communication has many realms to it. Though ancient communication gave more importance to written and oral, now days, along with that, non-verbal communication has also gained precedence. With the advent of new technologies frequently, the means to communicate is constantly evolving. This makes it essential to keep up with the pace of change.
In today's volatile and highly dynamic work atmosphere to have good communication skill is important to survive and climb the ladder of success. It is essential to understand business communication and its practices thoroughly before venturing on to actual practice.
Stages of Communication
Effective communication can be divided into a few distinctive stages. These stages are not absolute and can change from one situation to another.
Every communication starts with an idea that forms inside the sender. The sender then converts this into a communicable message. This can be either oral or written. This is encoding.
The sender then picks a communication channel to deliver the message. The channel used depends on various factors like what is the location of the receiver, is there a requirement for a permanent record or is it casual, what is the size of the audience, how soon should the message reach the receiver, how complex is the message etc (Krizan et al, 2008).
The receiver at the other end received the communication. This process can be referred to as decoding. Here listening skills and comprehension plays a very important role. If the communication is unclear it is the duty of the receiver to ask the necessary questions and clarify it.
If a response is expected from the receiver by way of a reply or action, the receiver has to carry that out. The sender can explicitly ask for a response if necessary. The response is as important as the initial communication.
The message send by the sender and the response of the receiver depends not only on the words and medium used but also on the non-verbal aspects of the process.
Verbal Vs Non-Verbal Communication
Business communication can be broadly divided in to two - verbal and non-verbal. Both forms are highly important to make the communication effective. The way these two are handled could make or break relationships. Non-verbal communication generally refers to eye contact, facial expressions and elements, posture, gestures and tone of voice (Stuart et al, 2007). It can also be stretched to include etiquette. Though many times difficult to understand, non-verbal communication is considered to be of great importance in communication and most times it is given more credence than verbal communication. If the person is saying one thing and his expression and body language another, it is most likely that people will go with the non-verbal aspect of the conversation. This is a very common fact and need to be considered and understood while communicating. Again with non-verbal communication, culture plays an important role. What is considered a gesture of goodwill or an acceptable habit in one country may be considered offensive in another. For example chewing gum in public is considered to be rude by the Dutch while it is a common practice of the Americans. Similarly when Westerners consider staying silent during a meeting as rude and a sign of being ignorant, the Japanese consider it a sign of success and respect (Guffey et al, 2010). Indian and Middle Eastern cultures consider the left hand as unclean where as in Europe and USA this is not the case. The list of cultural differences in non-verbal communication is quite long. It is quite impossible to learn them all. What a successful businessman usually does is to read up and understand these differences before a meeting or a trip to a country outside his own.
The importance given to non-verbal communication does not make verbal communication any less important. In a highly technologically savvy world a lot of the communication takes place just verbally through letters, faxes, emails and chats. Hence having a good vocabulary and the good sense to use it properly is very essential. Similarly, cultural differences creep in for verbal communication as well. For example, the Americans generally tend to keep their business letters short and to the point and do not favor the use of poetic language, where as the French use a certain extend of poetic language even in their formal letters (Chaney and Martin, 2007). These differences exist from country to country not only in the style of communication but also in formats of letters, emails and other forms of written communication. A clear understanding of these differences will make it easier to infer the written communication more clearly and accurately. In case of oral communication it is highly appreciated by people from other cultures if the person is able to at least greet in their local language. While dealing with other cultures it always helps to speak in short and clear phrases and check back with the person with regard to the level of understanding. But any sort of communication's effectiveness also depends on the medium used.
Just like words and gestures, the medium used for communication plays an important role in the whole process of making it effective. Before selecting a medium for communication it is essential to figure out the importance of the communication and the extent of its reach. A message that has to go to the whole organization cannot be communicated by a face to face discussion. It needs to be done either by means of a group email or memo or though public address. It is also essential to have a mental picture of the reaction of the receiver from the communication. Some things that are sensitive in nature may need to be communicated by a one on one meeting and not through an email. To communicate to the masses, companies generally rely on advertisements. The medium used can be the new papers, television and radio, door to door, billboards or even flyers. This has to be done after a lot of planning and study or else there is very chance the advertisement will not appeal to the public. It is essential to make sure that it does not contain any material that may be offensive to one class of people or which may be considered immoral in one country. The person carrying the message is also of key importance in mass communication. For example, Madonna's hit number "Like a Prayer" was used by Pepsi in its commercials which aired during family oriented programs. But when the real video, which was highly graphic came out, Pepsi was threatened with boycott and hence had to yank the commercial (Forbes, 2007).
Communication Gone South
When there is a discussion about effective communication it is also important to get an inkling about things that has not gone so well due to wrongful communication in the business world. When Nardelli took over as CEO of Home Depot, there was almost immediate demoralization of the employees and which in turn led to consumer dissatisfaction and complaints. This was all caused by his communication style which was commanding and which was not acceptable to the new breed of people. He also managed to infuriate the shareholders with his arrogance (Bloomberg Businessweek, 2007). This is a classic example of poor communication skills causing negativity in the business. An American ad company took down a large billboard which was found offensive by African-Americans due to the message in it (Bloomberg Buisinessweek, 2011). These are just two examples of the effect of bad communication. There are many more that have led to people losing jobs, companies losing market share, employee unrest and even companies going out of business.
It can thus be said that effective communication is the essence of every business's success. There is a great need to have the skills to communicate successfully and if such a skill is not inherent, it is essential to acquire it. This can be done by having a clear understanding of the steps involved, the medium used and learning to used words and expressions in a very controlled and thoughtful manner. Conquering the business world is much easier with effective communication.
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