If you are looking to position yourself for a promotion you must improve your communication skills. Think about it. Is there a job out there that doesn’t require some type of communication or interaction with someone else? Just to get a job, there is usually written communication (application, resume, vitae) and oral communication (interview, presentation, skill demonstration). Then once in the job, there has to be some type of communication to provide instructions or feedback and to share what has been done. Communication is integrated into every position. So, the better we are at communication, the better we can be at our jobs.
What Is The Purpose of Communication?
Let’s start with the function of communication. The job of communication is to transfer a message from a sender to a receiver. Just as a side note: while we might talk to our pets, or our plants, or our car, for the purpose of this article, we’re going to focus on all of our senders and receivers being human beings.
So, one person transferring a message to another person. Sounds pretty straightforward and simple doesn’t it? From the moment we are born, before we even have verbal language skills, we find a way to communicate our needs. We all communicate every day. From when we wake up until when we go to sleep, we spend our day communicating with others. With all the practice we get communicating, we should all be proficient experts.
So then why is it, that employers cite the need for employees to have communication skills? Recently, GMAC Corporate Recruiters surveyed nearly 1,000 employers who recruit on business school campuses. Communication skills topped the list of skills and abilities these employers look for in hiring new employees.
The remainder of the skills in the top ten were in the teamwork or leadership categories. Since communication and interpersonal skills are foundational elements of teamwork and leadership, excelling in these areas is essential for your success. Businesses want and need people who are great communicators. Great communicators are more employable. And generally speaking, the more employable you are, the more likely you are to be successful.
What Are The Basic Types of Communication?
When we talk about the types of communication messages, we are really talking about identifying the purpose of the message. We are going to focus on the four most common types of messages, or the four most common purposes of our communications. In no particular order, they are informational, instructional, calls to action, and questions.
Informational and sharing messages are designed to provide a status update or to provide an explanation on a topic. These messages require the sender to articulate the topic and all of the relevant details in a manner the receiver can understand. Two examples of information or sharing are progress reports and announcements.
The purpose of an instructional message is to create a modification or change in another’s behavior. Instructional messages are a common tool when conducting regular check-ins with employees or team members and providing guidance on how they might improve their work. Instructional messages are also used when introducing new policies that are to be followed.
Call to Action/Request/Inspire/Motivate/Persuade
There are a variety of approaches we can take when we want someone to do something. We call these types of messages a call to action. We may call someone to action simply by making a request to them or we may choose to use persuasion strategies, such as providing reasons for the action. Or we may make a call to action by tapping into the receiver’s emotions. Inspirational and motivational strategies are frequently used to help create a sense of belonging.
Aside from the occasional rhetorical question, questions seek a response from the receiver. The purpose of asking a question is to continue the communication process. There is an expectation that the receiver will reverse the roles, becoming a sender and shifting us to the receiver role. Questions allow us to gain information. Questions may take on numerous forms depending on their intent. Regardless of how the question is framed, the goal is to further the conversation.
What Are The Methods For Communicating?
There are four primary ways, or methods, that we can use to transfer a message from the sender to the receiver. They are oral/listening, writing/reading, visual images, and non-verbal. Let’s examine each of these in more detail and note how they connect back to desired leadership skills.
Although they are very different skills, I have grouped oral and listening together because they are a matched pair. The sender speaks (oral) and the receiver hears (listening). Direct conversation, telephone conversation, speeches, presentations, and discussions are all forms of oral communication.
Oral communication is our ability to speak clearly and effectively transmit our message to our listeners. Here we need a strong command of the language and be skilled in both pronunciation and enunciation so that our words are clearly understood. In addition, we must be able to vary our tone, pitch and volume to make sure it is appropriate for our audience
For fans of Steven Covey and his Seven Habits, think about habit 5, seek first to understand, then to be understood. Having great listening skills can help you gather more information, reduce conflict, and it goes a long way in building trust with others. All we have to do is treat the speaker as if they are the most important person in the room. What all of this means is that we aren’t multi-tasking, we aren’t planning our response in our head, and we aren’t interrupting. For many of us, this is no small task.
Again, writing and reading are very different skills, but they are another matched pair. The sender writes and the receiver reads. Written communication includes email, letters, newsletters, blogs, articles, reports, promotional brochures, books, and much more.
Effective writing involves careful choice of words, organization into sentence formation as well as cohesive composition of paragraphs. Writing is generally viewed as more valid, reliable and formal than any other mode of communication.
So, while visual images, like written text, are read, I separated them out because this is an ever-growing form of communication. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Today, pictures are just one of many types of visual images that we use in communication. There are also graphs, charts, symbols, icons, emojis, and more. All of them are designed to convey a specific meaning.
Non-verbal communication is the expression of feelings, emotions, attitudes, and thoughts through body movements / gestures / eye contact, etc. While we tend to think just of body language, there are a lot of components to non-verbal. Here are the highlights.
- Kinesics: It is the study of facial expressions, postures & gestures.
- Oculesics: It is the study of the role of eye contact in nonverbal communication.
- Haptics: It is the study of touching.
- Proxemics: It is the study of measurable distance between people as they interact.
- Chronemics: It is the study of use of time in nonverbal communication.
- Paralinguistics: It is the study of variations in pitch, speed, volume, and pauses to convey meaning.
- Physical Appearance: Your physical appearance always contributes towards how people perceive you.
More than any other mode of communication, non-verbal behavior is most closely tied to cultural norms. This leaves it open to the greatest range of interpretation and opportunities for a message to be received with an unintended meaning.
Not a standalone method of delivery, great presentation skills take all of our oral communication strategies, non-verbal strategies, and adds in the ability to incorporate visual aids. Those visual aids may be anything from a white board to a slide deck to physical items. Which means it can include either text or images or both. Regardless the goal is to capture the audience’s attention and make it as simple as possible for them to follow along and understand the message. Presentation skills take practice because we may need to be speaking and doing at the same time.
One interesting note I want to make here is the alignment between the four primary methods for delivering a message, and the top four communications skills employers seek in their leaders. Leader skills include oral communication, active listening, written communication, and presentation skills. That incorporates all the delivery methods in communication.
Does It Matter How I Communicate?
When talking about communication, we often hear the term interpersonal communication or interpersonal skills. Interpersonal simply means between people. Since we have already established that communication is the transfer of a message between two people, it seems reasonable that interpersonal is a related term. Interpersonal skills are our ability to interact with other people. Communication is the primary way we interact with others. That is why communication and interpersonal skills are frequently talked about together.
My Point Is…
Whatever type of job we have, whatever our position, and whatever our career paths may include, communication is one skill that goes across everything we do. Continually developing and expanding our communication skills is essential for growth in work and in life. Communication is a skill that we tend to take for granted. We think that because we understand the basics we don’t need to practice and improve its many nuances. But if you think about the many communication areas that can make or break our success – such as negotiation, compromise, and collaboration – why would you risk being good versus being great? Why wouldn’t you want to be the best employee you can be?
Revised December 2021. First published under The OD Pro in September 2019.