Communication skills is another basic field that every entrepreneur should master. Even more, communication skills are required for every human being in order to get something from the others. People have been communicating for the past thousands of years. But the way they do it and the theory behind it have not changed that much during that time. Unfortunately, most people do not take time to get familiar with the concept and to study the way people exchange information.
Communication theory is a part of information theory that studies how information is transferred between two groups of humans. Like in any other scientific study, the process is simplified and includes only two actors (sender and receiver). They transfer a single message between themselves and it travels through a medium. In practice communication is a lot more complex, but the basics found with that simplified mode are still valid. Improving your communication skills could lead to more successful career and relationships.
Time to read
Time to read: 10 minutes (based on 150 wpm).
What is communication
Communication is the act of transferring a message from one individual or a group to another individual or a group. The message is transferred following a predefined scheme, called language. A medium is used to transfer the message between the two groups or individuals.
Examples of media are:
- Air for verbal communication.
- Paper for written communication.
- Email for electronic communication.
You can find more information on the topic in Wikipedia: Communication.
Types of communication
Communication differs by type. For example:
- Verbal vs. non-verbal communication:
- Verbal communication can be written or oral.
- Non-verbal communication is body language, appearance, voice tone.
- Formal vs. informal communication:
- Formal communication conforms to predefined rules.
- Informal communication consists of casual talk, sending friendly email to colleagues, hugging a friend when you meet them and so on.
Communication theory studies the verbal-formal and verbal-informal types of communication.
Business communication is the process of sharing information within an organization or outside an organization. It is done usually for commercial benefits.
Examples of business communication include:
- Internal communication between colleagues
- Marketing communication
- Brand management
- Customer relations
- Public relations
You can manage each of those fields better, when you understand communication theory. Having good communication skills in the office, could lead to lot more recognition and success in general.
Many theories try to explain communication, but in summary they all contain similar elements. Once again, consider Wikipedia, if you are curious about details: Communication theory.
- Source – this is what the sending side is trying to communicate.
- Message – the information, concept or generally any communication.
- Sender – the person who encodes the source into a signal. Usually this happens using a language, accepted by both parties. However, this is not necessary.
- Signal – this is what the Sender sends to the Receiver.
- Medium – this is where the Signal travels. It could be air, paper, the Internet and so on.
- Noise – this is any interference over the Medium, which might cause the Signal to be distorted.
- Received signal – this is what the Receiver ultimately receives (potentially changed by Noise).
- Receiver – the person who decodes the signal into the Received message.
- Received message – this is how the Receiver decodes the Received signal.
- Destination – where the message is intended.
Explanation of the theory
The Sender needs to communicate something (Source) to the Receiver. After encoding the Source to a Signal, the Sender sends it over the Medium. During the time it takes the Message to reach its destination, the Signal is potentially distorted by the Noise.
The Receiver picks up the Received signal and decodes it. Then he or she gets the Received Message and passes it to the Destination.
Example using communication theory
Peter wants to ask John to generate a report with the latest sales results for a particular product (Product A).
- Source: Peter needs a sales report on Product A. Peter thinks that John can do that report.
- Message: John, could you please send me a sales report on Product A.
- Sender: Peter.
- Signal: Email message with the same text.
- Medium: Corporate email.
- Noise: Corporate email and other traffic.
- Received signal: Email message with text, changed by Noise.
- Receiver: John.
- Received message: John, could you please send me a sales report on Product B.
- Destination: John has to sit down and do the sales report on Product A.
Possible scenarios where communication skills fail
Probably you all know that miss-communication is responsible for more than a quarter of the failed projects overall. Let us use communication theory on our example and analyze the outcomes.
Let us assume that Peter is fairly sure that John can do sales report.
What if ….
- … Peter has no authority over John? Probably, John will receive the message and do nothing. A better approach was to ask John’s supervisor for help. Or if this happens across departments: Peter should ask his manager to ask John’s manager for help.
- … John is not responsible for Product A at all? Then the whole assumption is wrong and Peter has to find out who can do that.
What if …
- … Peter wrote “John, could you please do a sales report on Product A.” and forgot to specify that John has to send the report back? Then probably John would do the report and upload it somewhere, like he usually does. And Peter will never receive it because he expects an email from John.
- … John is not sure for which time period should he do a sales report? Peter will receive something which is not needed or helpful.
What if …
- … Peter did not have enough time and simply wrote: “John, I need a sales report on Product A”? John will look into the database and send back the last generated report. Peter will not be happy because he wanted a new report with the latest data.
What if …
- … Peter used the corporate instant messenger to send the message and John never uses it. Peter will wait for the report for days and may not receive it.
Message changed by noise / wrong received signal
What if …
- … instead of receiving “Product A”, John receives “Product B”? John will do the report, send it back to Peter. And after that it will turn out that he has to do another report, but for Product A.
- … instead of John, Juliana receives the email? She will most probably ignore it and Peter will wait for days.
Wrong received message
John could receive the signal properly, but fail to interpret it correctly. What if …
- ... John receives the message, creates the report, uploads it to the shared server and replies: “I did it!! to Peter? Peter will not be happy, because he did not receive what he wanted, even though John did what he thought was right.
- … John receives the message and creates a report for Product A, but from Product Line X, which was not intended? Peter will again receive something that was not needed.
I already covered that, but what if John was not the correct person for that request?
Improving your communication skills
If you want to improve your communication skills, you can follow these tips:
- Be mindful of the communication process. If possible, try to break down the different parts and analyze what can be improved.
- Respect the time of the receiver. Do not send him really long messages, but also try to be as specific if possible in order to get what you wanted.
- Use bullets, if you want to list several requests. The receiver can use them as checklist.
- Use bold and italic to emphasize the important parts.
- Make sure that the source is correct:
- Make sure that the receiver can do what you want them to do.
- Check if you are not bypassing the chain of responsibility.
- If you are the receiver and if you see there is something wrong, ask for clarification. That would save both your own and the sender’s time.
- Use the right medium for the message:
- Send a “could I disturb your for second” message over the instant messenger before interrupting your colleague with a question.
- Observe the culture of the company. Some companies prefer written communication, others – written.
- Ask for feedback:
- Add a “please do not hesitate to contact me, if there is anything unclear“.
- Try to get the other party to tell you, what they understood. You will be able to catch a lot of errors.
- Add all relevant information:
- “If you do not know how to do that, I believe that Sarah can help you.“
- “I am going to make a presentation to the board of directors and I need the sales figures.“
- Anticipate noise interference:
- Do not assume that the other person has received and decoded the message correctly. Especially if you are outside and there is loud noise. Or if he or she is not a native speaker.
Communication is what you are doing every day to interact with the other people around you. Communication skills is what could help you achieve more with less and stay competitive in the current dynamic environment. And last but not least, communication theory can teach how to become more efficient when communicating. You will be able to tell the others what you want to tell them. And on the other hand you will understand better what they are tying to tell you.
By getting familiar with the simplified concept of communication theory you can improve your understanding of the whole process. If you keep in mind what you learned in this article every time you have a conversation, you will increase your changes of getting the most out of it. Your career and your relationships will also benefit from the knowledge.