Understanding Communication Skills

Why Communications Skills Are So Important

Improve your communication skills
with James Manktelow & Amy Carlson.

The purpose of communication is to get your message across to others clearly and unambiguously.

Doing this involves effort from both the sender of the message and the receiver. And it's a process that can be fraught with error, with messages often misinterpreted by the recipient. When this isn't detected, it can cause tremendous confusion, wasted effort and missed opportunity.

In fact, communication is only successful when both the sender and the receiver understand the same information as a result of the communication.

By successfully getting your message across, you convey your thoughts and ideas effectively. When not successful, the thoughts and ideas that you convey do not necessarily reflect your own, causing a communications breakdown and creating roadblocks that stand in the way of your goals – both personally and professionally.

In a recent survey of recruiters from companies with more than 50,000 employees, communication skills were cited as the single more important decisive factor in choosing managers. The survey, conducted by the University of Pittsburgh's Katz Business School, points out that communication skills, including written and oral presentations, as well as an ability to work with others, are the main factor contributing to job success.

In spite of the increasing importance placed on communication skills, many individuals continue to struggle with this, unable to communicate their thoughts and ideas effectively – whether in verbal or written format. This inability makes it nearly impossible for them to compete effectively in the workplace, and stands in the way of career progression.

Getting your message across is paramount to progressing. To do this, you must understand what your message is, what audience you are sending it to, and how it will be perceived. You must also weigh-in the circumstances surrounding your communications, such as situational and cultural context.

Communications Skills – The Importance of Removing Barriers

Communication barriers can pop-up at every stage of the communication process (which consists of sender, message, channel, receiver, feedback and context – see the diagram below) and have the potential to create misunderstanding and confusion.

The Communications Process Diagram

From "The Mathmatical Theory of Communication," Copyright 1949, 1998, by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Used with the permission of the University of Illinois Press.

To be an effective communicator and to get your point across without misunderstanding and confusion, your goal should be to lessen the frequency of these barriers at each stage of this process with clear, concise, accurate, well-planned communications. We follow the process through below:

Source...

As the source of the message, you need to be clear about why you're communicating, and what you want to communicate. You also need to be confident that the information you're communicating is useful and accurate.

Message...

The message is the information that you want to communicate.

Encoding...

This is the process of transferring the information you want to communicate into a form that can be sent and correctly decoded at the other end. Your success in encoding depends partly on your ability to convey information clearly and simply, but also on your ability to anticipate and eliminate sources of confusion (for example, cultural issues, mistaken assumptions, and missing information.) A key part of this is knowing your audience: Failure to understand who you are communicating with will result in delivering messages that are misunderstood.

Channel...

Messages are conveyed through channels, with verbal including face-to-face meetings, telephone and videoconferencing; and written including letters, emails, memos, and reports.

Different channels have different strengths and weaknesses. For example, it's not particularly effective to give a long list of directions verbally, while you'll quickly cause problems if you criticize someone strongly by email.

Decoding...

Just as successful encoding is a skill, so is successful decoding (involving, for example, taking the time to read a message carefully, or listen actively to it.) Just as confusion can arise from errors in encoding, it can also arise from decoding errors. This is particularly the case if the decoder doesn't have enough knowledge to understand the message.

Receiver...

Your message is delivered to individual members of your audience. No doubt, you have in mind the actions or reactions you hope your message will get from this audience. Keep in mind, though, that each of these individuals enters into the communication process with ideas and feelings that will undoubtedly influence their understanding of your message, and their response. To be a successful communicator, you should consider these before delivering your message, and act appropriately.

Feedback...

Your audience will provide you with feedback, verbal and nonverbal reactions to your communicated message. Pay close attention to this feedback, as it is the only thing that allows you to be confident that your audience has understood your message. If you find that there has been a misunderstanding, at least you have the opportunity to send the message a second time.

Context...

The situation in which your message is delivered is the context. This may include the surrounding environment or broader culture (corporate culture, international cultures, and so on).

Removing Barriers at All These Stages

To deliver your messages effectively, you must commit to breaking down the barriers that exist in each of these stages of the communication process.

Let's begin with the message itself. If your message is too lengthy, disorganized, or contains errors, you can expect the message to be misunderstood and misinterpreted. Use of poor verbal and body language   can also confuse the message.

Barriers in context tend to stem from senders offering too much information too fast. When in doubt here, less is oftentimes more. It is best to be mindful of the demands on other people's time, especially in today's ultra-busy society.

Once you understand this, you need to work to understand your audience's culture, making sure you can converse and deliver your message to people of different backgrounds and cultures within your own organization, in this country and even abroad.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

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Comments (14)
  • Michele wrote This month
    Hi _Beulah,

    Welcome to the club!

    I agree. Communication is the foundation of everything we do.

    Come join us in the forums. We can point you to great resources to help you develop your communication skills.

    You can access the Career Cafe forum here:

    http://www.mindtools.com/forums/viewforum.php?f=2

    We look forward to "see"ing you over there.

    MIchele
  • _Beulah wrote This month
    Its my pleasure to begin my training with Mind Tools on communication. Because life is really about communicating. Thank you.
  • Yolande wrote This month
    Elmindo, have you had a look at our material about presentations? You may also want to read through this conversation we had on the forums. Another member asked a questions about presentation skills and there are references to materials and also general tips and ideas. The link is: http://www.mindtools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=8544 Please don't hesitate to give your input or ask another question.

    Yolandé
    Mind Tools Team
  • Michele wrote This month
    Hi Elmindo,

    We are pleased that you found this resource helpful.

    Being able to communicate effectively is a key skill that will serve you well in all situations where you need to convey information to ensure that your messages are understood.

    We have some great resources here that will help you design and deliver your presentations. Here is one of them:

    http://www.mindtools.com/community/pages/article/DeliveringGreatPresentations.php

    You can find more in the "Communications Skills" Skill Area.
  • elmindog wrote This month
    My message needs to be direct To my own difficulties.

    I want to learn the correct way to keep a direct dialogues, because I want to put in practice everything that I am learning here.
    I am sure, this kind and subject, will help me to be the best in my presentations.
    Correct Communication and objective is the best way to improve in my carrier.

    Elmindo P Goncalves
  • Ahamad wrote This month
    SIR I WANT TO IMRPOVE MY ENGLISH I HAVE SOME PROBLEM THATSWHY I DO NOT PROPER SPEAK AND THER IS ONE PROBLEM IN ME I TALK SOME SO I THINK NEXT THING WHAT I SPEAK SO PLS HELP ME SIR..
  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    Thanks Glenn...will & have look.
  • Glenn wrote Over a month ago
    Viewed video on "coaching" blind golfers, on USBGA SITE. tALK ABOUT DETAILS! The coaches are to b commended!
  • GeorgeFrederic wrote Over a month ago
    Hi to everybody,
    I have checked the source of the "communication process" scheme above, namely Shannon's and Weaver's The Mathematical Theory of Communication (ed. 1964) and found nothing like that. In this book (ed. 1964) both Shannon and Weaver use a "communication process" scheme that, in my opinion, is quite different from that used in the present article. Could you please, clarify this point?
    Thank you so much for your help.
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Nadja and Mayleen,
    If you want to cite this article, the author is Mind Tools. Depending on the type of referencing system you use, you might include different bits of information.

    I use the Harvard Referencing system at the University where I teach, so would reference this article as:

    Mind Tools (2015) Understanding Communication Skills (in italics). [online] [accessed 12 January 2015]

    Mayleen, I believe that we can all constantly work on and be aware of how we communicate and what we might do to improve our communication. We are constantly communicating with others in so many different ways and we can make adjustments to ensure our messages are understood.
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