Saturday, February 05, 2005

Facing Today's Communication Challenges


The Value of Communication Skills
As an employee, you have surely felt the pressures and faced the challenges in today’s workplace. But how do all those pressures and challenges affect your ability to prepare and deliver a presentation before management? How do they influence the information you include in a report to guide co-workers through a major project? How do they drive the chief executive, who is considering the next step for an expensive, new launch of a product or service, as he or she reads your proposal? How do you determine what your readers already know and what they need to know? Aware that you will have your audience’s attention only once as you address a critical issue, how do you capture their interest?


Causes and Effects
The seven causes of communication threats and their inevitable effects, listed below, only begin to explain the myriad obstacles confronting professional communicators.

1. Information Age
With print and electronic information available on demand at unprecedented levels, the employee must have the wisdom, organizational skills, and efficiency to carefully choose and modify the data necessary for the desired results.

2. Global Economy
The global economy, resulting in part from advances in communication, has created a need for multilingual employees well versed in the conventions of international business and adept at balancing social conformity with commercial efficiency.

3. Technological Dynamism
New information technology systems are introduced to business before most employees fully explore the earlier versions they are replacing. The net effect: continual relearning of basic technical skills, which undermines the time spent on creative project development and problem solving.

4. Specialized Labor Force
The departmentalization and decentralization of business—now more than a generation old—continues to create a demand for employees who are experts in specific areas of the corporation. These subject-matter experts must articulate their knowledge in terms that non-technical audiences in their organization can understand.

5. Shifting Consumer Interests
All of the cultural and technological changes force us to modify our lifestyle and, therefore, generate demands for new products to solve new problems. These realities instill in businesspeople a distrust of stability and insatiable quest for something newer, better, faster, and easier.

6. Intensified Competition
More corporate mergers and acquisitions across the globe mean more competitive threats in the marketplace. Thus, organizations obsessively focus on cutting costs while improving quality, and bringing products to market faster while ensuring their value. These harsh realities spawn an unprecedented need for staff with exceptional communication skills.

7. Continual Downsizing
Regardless how deep employee layoffs go, management still needs existing staff to carry the entire load of the business—meaning that remaining staff require not only experience, expertise, and creativity, but communication skills characterized by purposefulness, comprehensiveness, structure, and precision.


Communicating Well at Work
So what does it mean to be a good communicator? Let’s start with this proposition: A corporate communicator should generate, process, and exchange information effectively (quality) and efficiently (speed). Note that this definition does not limit itself to writing or speaking. We should be mindful of the fact that principles of good communication cross over to all language skills, including reading and listening. As you browse through this website to collect tips for improving your communication skills, consider times in your personal and professional career when you experienced breakdowns in clear communication.

What caused these breakdowns? Environmental distractions? Time pressures? Personal biases? Political pressures? Irrelevant personal agendas? Poorly trained staff? Linguistic misinterpretations?

And what was the impact of the communication breakdown? Lost time? Lowered productivity? Lost business? Managerial changes? Staff turnover?

Finally, what did the involved parties do to resolve the problem? Nothing? Create temporary stopgap measures that created other problems? Develop new systems? Fire off new communiqués? Hire new communicators?

People read work-related writing to know or do whatever they document tells them; therefore, we should express the business at hand and not necessarily our emotions—especially negative emotions such as anger. Employees at all levels of any size company need good listening skills to avoid confusing messages. They must listen carefully to receive instructions from supervisors, listen to their teammates while collaborating with them, and listen to customers to respond accurately and give feedback to management. Managers must also listen to upper management for policies and procedures to pass on to subordinates, and they should listen to subordinates who are reporting their activities and organization results.

In short, all employees must also write well because their documents stand in for them when they are absent. Their memos, letters, e-mails, reports, and proposals represent their thinking.

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