Last issue, we covered the key factors involved in managing others effectively and identified that the pinnacle for training development and excellent service delivery is the art of good communication.
Communication is often taken for granted as being something of a hygiene factor and that we naturally convey information and all that is included under its umbrella. The reality is that for many of us that is far from being the case and the level of understanding we actually communicate is often far short of that required.
There are many good reference points covering the subject of communication and most of them agree that the process is made up of three basic components, the sender, who delivers a message via a channel, which is then communicated to the receiver. Put more simply, this is a process of encoding and de-coding and, on the face of it, all sounds perfectly straightforward.
In reality, the process, particularly in the fleet arena, requires a more sophisticated approach that takes full account of the important core elements involved.
So what happens when one person tries to express an idea to others?
Let’s explore this in a little more detail. The first thing to appreciate is that, as humans, we are more likely to respond positively to a message that is to some degree attractive or intriguing. Anything of a converse nature will usually result in ‘barriers’ being created and the inevitable outcome of poor or no communication. This literally means sometimes we have to find ways of delivering bad news in a way that is acceptable and that, of course, is never easy.
As mentioned, the process of communication commences with the sender, the person who transmits a message and in our sector this could potentially involve any or all of the fleet-responsible stakeholders from HR, finance, compliance, sales and operational backgrounds.
The message they convey, can be via a number of channels, verbal, email, or hard copy document, and each will trigger a response from the receiver, which will inevitably be influenced by the initial method of communication.
On this note, it is not unusual for electronically driven dialogue to be rather more direct and pull no punches, compared with the same message verbally communicated which will often be of a more conciliatory nature!
Therein lies the initial challenge, that we are generally less likely to ‘tell it like it is’ if we are in face-to-face communications and more likely to take an overly assertive or aggressive stance if communicating electronically.
In addition, the absence of body language in the latter plays a significant part in communication breakdown for obvious reasons – no eye contact, signalling or measurement of demeanour etc.
If we focus on email or other written communications, the sender must choose certain words and phrases or non-verbal methods to communicate and this is called encoding. Specific attention to detail should be exercised when encoding a message and consideration given to the level of detail and content included. This will directly influence how the receiver will interpret the message and how it will affect the future relationship between the sender and the receiver.
For example, a simple message to say ‘thanks’ for help and assistance provided with fleet budget information will be relatively straightforward and unlikely to generate anything in the way of a negative response. By contrast, a message that says the fleet budget is going to be cut by 25% will require a more complex and carefully considered approach if getting the receiver to ‘buy-in’ to the concept is the main objective.
Should I communicate via email or letter, or should I just pick up the phone?
Whether to opt for written or oral communication is influenced by the relationship you have with the receiver of the information. It is also influenced by the urgency and level of detailed content involved and the importance and structure of the response required.
Other considerations are, do you require an immediate response? If yes, a verbal communication is probably best. But if your message contains complicated facts, figures or if documentary evidence is required, then the only sensible option is a written communication. Also, whether your message is being directed internally or externally has a bearing on your choice of communication medium.
Is there any advice on how to organise various communications?
Well the answer, of course, is yes.
First, it is good advice to clearly identify internal and external communication channels, both of which can include a broad range of communications, including:
Written media: Letters, reports, proposals, electronic mail, social media bursts, advertisements, brochures, catalogues, news releases, bulletins, job descriptions, quotations, contracts, SLAs, posters, employee manuals and even electronic bulletin boards.
Oral communication: Telephone discussions, staff meetings, face-to-face talks, teleconferencing, video conferencing, presentations, etc.
Another oral channel, although generally unplanned, is the ‘grapevine’ or ‘corridor language’ most of which is unstructured, based on rumour and anecdote and both of which endorse the fact that “news travels fast”!
When communicating in a meeting, either on a one-to-one basis or in a group, be mindful of your body language. It is said that a typical communication consists of more than 50% non-verbal communication, which includes body language. So, if your body language is sending negative signals to the other person, the communication will probably break down in the process.
As the saying goes, ‘the first impression is the last impression’, hence you should always be careful when it comes to the image you portray.
It is also good practise to create a template that covers all of the likely communications that exist within your business framework. This can be a simple matrix involving a single page or something more sophisticated like an electronic ‘flipper’ page document, but the key message here is always try to use a consistent approach.
How can I be sure my communication will be clearly understood?
This is the really important bit and in the confusing and imperfect world of business, several problems can occur with communications:
The message may never get to the receiver
* A letter goes astray.
* An email that ends in a spam folder due to firewall settings.
* If the message is oral, the listener may forget or misunderstand it.
* Even worse, a message intended for the receiver might be intercepted by someone else.
The decoder may interpret the message incorrectly
Even if the message reaches its intended receiver intact, there is no guarantee it will be understood as the sender intended. The receiver must have the skills and knowledge to decode it and associate meaning to the words and attachments included.
The problem here is that not all of us have identical experiences with interpretation of the subjects and the technical elements that are commonplace in fleet communications and attitudes, abilities, opinions and communication skills in general, all vary.
This plays a part in the eventual outcome, with misinterpretation and personal biases often manifesting themselves.
Great care is therefore required to ensure any communication is structured in such a way that the likelihood of a biased or misinterpreted response from the receiver is minimised.
In summary, here are 10 tips to improve your communications:
1 Use the right communication medium for the task in question.
2 Always adopt a positive and professional approach when communicating.
3 Maintain a neutral position when communicating and never express anger or bias.
4 Be confident in your approach and with your ideas.
5 When communicating in a face-to-face meeting, don’t portray negative body language.
6 Never interrupt the other party in the communication, always ask before interjecting.
7 Think before you speak or respond, make sure you have all the facts.
8 Be a good listener, remember the old adage ‘there is no point talking if no one is listening’.
9 Don’t deviate from the line of communication, stick to the topic in question.
10 Be open to receiving feedback – communication is a two-way process.
Would you like to know more?
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