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 (25)
  • Yolande wrote Over an hour ago
    Agreed - most of what we do rests on communication in one way or another.

    Yolandé
    Mind Tools Team
  • sgeruso wrote This week
    Communication is key to just about all aspects of life. Work, spouse, children, family and friends.
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi CesarAndres,
    Welcome to the Club. Sorry to hear that your job is on the line.

    As a start, have you spoken with your manager about this situation and developed a clear action plan to spell out all that things you need to do or how you can improve?

    In regards to the customer's perception, what can you do build the relationship with them?

    Why not come over to the Career Cafe area - http://www.mindtools.com/forums/viewforum.php?f=2 - and share a bit more about what is going on and see what ideas and resources you receive from other members.

    Midgie
    Mind Tools Team
  • MichaelP wrote Over a month ago
    CesarAnres, - Good Luck .. I'm sorry to hear about your circumstances and its never too late to improve our communication skills. In many instances a customer complaint is the opportunity to provide a positive surprise. Keep a positive attitude, find out how you can help and move forward together. We all make mistakes! again Good Luck - Michael - Mind Tools Team
  • CesarAndres wrote Over a month ago
    I wish I could have learnt this 4 months ago; actually my job is on the line due my communication deficiencies; it's funny but, just right now I'm feeling down since my reputation before the Customer's eyes is already shattered. However, I hope it's not too late to rescue something from this. Wish me good luck!
  • Michele wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Widhiyo,

    Learning how to communicate effectively can be a challenge. The good news is that these skills can be learned. All of the sources you mention provide good advice and tools to help people become better communicators.

    Thank you for sharing!

    Michele
  • Widhiyo wrote Over a month ago
    Communication is so complicated for me. To understanding more better, I use other resources such as : Communication from John Maxwell, Don Gabor and NLP Model.

    Thanks
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi 360_pratik,
    Thanks for all your questions regarding communication. I encourage you to go through our resources in the Toolkit area for Communication Skills. Additionally, you might consider joining the Mind Tools Club to gain access to even more resources.

    You also seem to touch on confidence issues, and again, I encourage you to take a look at our resources related to confidence. You can search for all articles with 'confidence' in them using the search box in the right hand corner to see the many articles that might help.

    Midgie
    Mind Tools Team
  • 360_pratik wrote Over a month ago
    Why we need to be different in communication for different people?
    Why we cannot be same with all the people in communication?
  • 360_pratik wrote Over a month ago
    Good one, I have doubt, whether I communicate with different genders, whether male, female? The basic idea of communication remains same or it changes as I have seen people communicating effortlessly with people and I always struggle in even the basic one-to-one communication? I think lot from their perspective before communicating?
    Also, how to prioritize what to communicate and what to not? How to gain maturity in it?
Show all comments

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