Communicate — yes it is a very common word and we all do it every day at work and at home. This is especially true when it comes to safety and health. Training. Giving instructions. Reporting. One-to-one feedback conversations. Meeting discussions.

We have many forms of communication in the business world, all of which are very important. Face-to-face conversations, virtual conversations via telephone, teleconferencing, WebEx and email.

Communications 101
Let’s start with the basics. Per, communicate has several definitions; for this article I will focus on the following:
  1. To impart knowledge of; to make known: to communicate information; to communicate one’s happiness.
  2. To give or interchange thoughts, feelings, information, or the like, by writing, speaking, etc. “They communicate with each other every day.”
  3. To express thoughts, feelings, or information easily or effectively.
One very basic premise of communication is that the sender has a thought he wants to pass on, and it has to be encoded into a form that can be transmitted to the receiver, either verbally or visually. Once received, the receiver has to listen or read what the sender has sent and decode it into what they think the message is. As you can readily understand, this can lead to miscommunication. “Well, that is not what I meant; how could you think that” would be the sign that there has been a classic communication breakdown.

Personality and/or style
Each of us has a personality and way in which we act. Some people are quiet and reserved and some boisterous. There are leaders and there are followers. Some people are domineering and strive to have control in all situations. A segment of our population tries to influence people through talking and emotions. Some people are very steady, like security and don’t like sudden changes. Rules, regulations and structure drive another portion of the workforce.

It is not possible to thoroughly understand the personality of everyone you communicate with. But there can be some signs to identify that style, even over the phone, in the early moments of a conversation. You will probably have a good indication if the person on the other end of Ma Bell’s line is a dominant or submissive type of person. You should encode your message accordingly to match that person’s style.

Face to face
Many studies have indicated that a large part of face-to-face communication is non-verbal. Some of these non-verbal actions can be the positioning, use of one’s hands and especially facial expressions. The rolling of the eyes while listening to someone is a clear message that you don’t think that what you are being told is correct or important or that you are not accepting. No amount of words on your part will assure the sender of anything else.

The tone and volume of your voice can also truly affect your message. We probably all still clearly remember being addressed in a loud voice by our first, middle and last name by our parents as we were growing up. This was not by accident. It was used to get our attention and as a way of showing dominance in the conversation. You probably do not want to use that tone of voice or address your supervisor or their manager in that manner.

Another thought: when presenting or answering questions after a presentation, you don’t want to whisper or be so meek that the audience cannot hear you. It is important to adjust your voice tone and volume for each particular situation you are in.

One excellent verbal communication tool is known as the “elevator speech.” This is a clear concise message you can deliver about your job, responsibilities, current assignment or project in the time you are on an elevator. It should be in the one-minute range. It is very important to not only do a good job at work but also to be able to sell yourself or your ideas to people. This is an excellent tool.

Virtual communication
In today’s business world we have a tremendous amount of virtual contact via telephones and the Internet. This can be challenging; we don’t have the non-verbal communication advantage. Our only input devices are our eyes and ears. So it is important to try to understand the personality of the person on the other end of the chat or telephone conversation and communicate with them appropriately.

Email communication

Love it or hate it, this popular communication form is not going away in the near future. So it is best to learn and use some email guidelines to use it to your advantage. Here are a few that come to mind.
  • Limit your To’s and CC’s to the vital few that really need your communication.
  • Clearly identify the subject of your email in the subject line — we are no longer limited to eight character DOS names, so explain what your email is truly about.
  • Carefully use the reply all button — this can start and cause an email storm.
  • Use a header method in your email subject line. Indicate what the email purpose is such as: "information only", "action required", "reference", and so on.
  • Be short and concise.
  • Use a non-passive voice — each sentence should have a noun followed by a verb.
  • Do not use ALL CAPITALS unless you want the receiver to think you are yelling at them.
  • Do not use ALL CAPITALS BOLD unless you want the receiver to think you are a raging maniac and screaming at them.
  • Try to wrap up the email chain and bring it to closure as soon as possible.
  • Review your email prior to hitting the send button; you may catch a vital flaw. One example I saw at a recent seminar was from an out-of-town husband to his wife saying, “Having a great time, wish you were her.”
In closing, be sure to use the appropriate communication form and technique while communicating at work, socially and at home. It will serve you well.