Executive Coaching Articles

Seven Steps to Clear and Effective Communication

Joel’s coaching focuses on effective ways to communicate your value and contribution to leadership. If you ever wondered why you are not receiving due recognition for your work and value to the company this program is definitely for you.

Rick Esker, Director, Mobility Alliances Group,Cisco Systems

As Cool Hand Luke put it, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” If you’re feeling that failure-to-communicate syndrome, there are ways to turn it around.

Poor communication, whether it involves customers, the media, or stockholders, can be one of the most common and costly problems for any organization. That’s a lesson Exxon executives learned the hard way in March of 1989 when one of their oil tankers, piloted by a drunken captain, spilled 35,000 tons of crude oil into the pristine waters of Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Exxon experienced the ultimate “failure to communicate,” and we’re still talking about it more than 20 years later.

Recent research has suggested that written and verbal communication is involved in 90% of all business transactions. Whether you’re just making small talk or closing the biggest deal of your corporate career, the art of communicating clearly and effectively is one area of executive expertise that should not be taken lightly or, even worse, overlooked.

At its most fundamental level, effective communication is the exchange of thoughts, information, ideas, and messages between people or groups. But it’s not communication unless the transmission is understood. Communication can happen verbally, nonverbally, in writing, and through behavior as well as by listening and using feedback.

No matter who or what audience you must address, the art of communication can be a daunting task. Here are seven steps to clear and effective communication  for even the most difficult conversations.

Do you, or one of your employees, need help with communication skills?

  1. Stay on Message: Be clear exactly what ideas you are trying to express or the message you are trying to convey to the other person or group. What do you most want them to understand?
  2. Make It a Two-Way Conversation: Try to really hear and understand where others are coming from. What are they trying to say? What messages are they trying to get across to you? Ask yourself, “Do I really understand them?” Pay special attention not just to what they are saying, but to what isn’t being said.
  3. Making Sense Of It All: Always ask yourself, “Does what I’m saying make sense? Does the feedback I’m receiving make sense? What is the perspective they are trying to get across? Does it make sense that they have this perspective?” When both parties in the conversation are truly able to say they understand or that “it makes sense,” clear and effective communication has been achieved.
  4. You’re Responsible for Any Failure to Communicate: Remember, as the primary communicator you are 100% responsible for the other person’s understanding of the communication. In other words, if you don’t feel that you are being understood, you have not completed the job of communicating. You must re-communicate your position to ensure that you’ve been properly heard.
  5. Can You Hear Them Now?: Do you really hear what others are saying? To really listen requires your full attention and being able to feed back to them exactly what you have heard them say.
  6. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition: An equally effective way to make sure others understand exactly what you are communicating is to ask them to repeat back their interpretation of what has been said or asked of them. In order to guarantee the results or reaction you want, you need to make sure that your audience can give you a clear explanation of what is being required of them.
  7. Respect Your Audience as You Respect Yourself: To be a clear and effective communicator, you must first recognize that your message is not just about you or what you want. It’s about “what’s in it for the audience.” You must both believe in your message and sincerely care about the needs and the unique perspectives of those you are communicating to if you truly want to be heard. After all, they took the time and trouble to hear what you have to say, so it’s equally important to recognize and respect that we each have different perspectives based on our positions, motivations, and needs.

The virtually endless benefits of clear and effective communication are not hard to achieve as long you as keep your message simple enough to be understood, interesting enough to be remembered, and, most importantly, respectful enough of others to be respected.