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Six Myths of Effective Communication

Communication Process or Effective Communication or Communication Skills are such subjects that has been properly researched and many authors have filled volumes of pages to explain all the nitty-gritty involved in communication and to explain to the world how one can and must communicate with others or group of people. A simple Google search for "Effective Communication" generates 44 million pages. Yet, I believe that the communication process as a whole is governed by certain myths and misnomer. We are preparing this write-up to touch upon some of those myths and provide clarity.

1) Language is critical for effective communication process - In India; we speak more than 18 recognized languages. Have you ever wondered how does a Kashmiri local communicate with his fellow citizen from Southern part of India or our Marathi Maanus (local from Maharastra) communicate with other country men from Eastern India? They don't use common language to communicate with one another or to express their thoughts. Yet, they communicate effectively, if not efficiently. Your ability to read, write and speak any particular language or list of languages comprises only 10% of communication process and the balance of 90% of communication process consists of your body-language, facial expressions, message, context, complexity or simplicity of the message (words, terminologies, and jargons used in the message), listening, perceiving, interpreting and giving feedback. How efficient or inefficient you are during the 90% of the communication processes makes the overall communication process either effective or ineffective.

2) Effective communication means your ability to communicate in English Language - Do you know how does the Premier's of world's top three economies (President of China Hu Jintao; Prime Minister of Japan Yukio Hatoyama and President of USA Barack Obama) communicate with one another on world forum? Mr. Hu Jintao and Mr. Yukio Hatoyama have very limited understanding of English language and Mr. Barack Obama is not known for his proficiency in Chinese or Japanese language. It is an irony for our generation to use "effective communication" and "proficiency in English language" as synonym. You cannot make a defense by saying that the English is a widely used language for communication, because it is not. Chinese is the widely used [add language] for communication purposes, followed by Spanish at number two and English at number three. It is also interesting to note that the number of people that use Chinese for communication outnumbers the total number of people that uses Spanish and English combined. There are many prominent people, head of states, historians, and other celebrities who are very effective and influential in their native language, be it French, Italian, Hindi, Arabic or any other language, but they are not good with English language. Does this mean that they are not effective communicators or they have deficiency in their communication? English is not the only language used for communication but is one among many other languages used for the purpose.

3) Ability to write and speak proficiently qualifies you as an excellent communicator - If you write well in any language then you can become a writer and if you speak well in any language then you can become a good speaker or orator but that doesn't qualify as an excellent communicator. What will you do with your ability to write flawlessly and speak fluently when whatever you write is a piece of irrelevant nonsense and whatever you speak is senseless rubbish? Communication is not just about speaking and writing. It is about understanding the message, context of the message and time of communication.

4) What you communicate is not as important as how you communicate - There is a difference between being a communicator and being a spokesperson and the key difference is related to the ownership of the message. When you communicate, you know what you are communicating, you take-up the responsibility and you also provide clarification, if required. Subject matter expertise is important. Verifying your facts and figures is important. Taking up the ownership is critical. When you are a spokesperson, you pass-on the message prepared by others and are not in a position to provide any clarification and enhancement.

5) People holding command over two different languages cannot communicate efficiently - Language is one of the modes to communicate and fortunately, it is not the only way. While communicating, your message, body-language, facial expression and confidence level, should sync to make it an effective communication. Recently, I went to a laundry shop to check the cost. I can communicate in three languages but the shop-owner didn't know any of those three. Yet, we communicated, verified our message, gave feedback to one another and gave acknowledgement of acceptance of message. Communication across languages and cultures is possible, provided we minimize our self-constructed hurdles. If I decide to not to understand or accept the message then doesn't matter what language or mode of communication the other person uses, I will never understand. It has a lot to do with the willingness and desire of both the parties involved in communication process.

6) "No communication" is good communication - In our personal life as well as in work-life we ignore or curtail many requests for communication. We assume that it is good to not respond to a particular message. We hold the information which is meant to be passed-on to people up or down the hierarchy. "No response" or "No communication" or "No feedback" is not considered as good communication but this in turn strangles and complicates many workplaces as well as family relations that actually require frequent exchange of messages for its very existence.

Key elements required for effective communication

1) Know what you are communicating - Knowing what you are communicating is very critical. While communicating, one must correlate his or her own thought process with that of the sensibility of an individual or group of people that they are communicating with. Communication is not a onetime process but involves many to and fro motions and rounds of clarifications, and feedback and hence subject matter expertise is crucial. If you fail to provide the required clarification then you may risk losing your credibility as a communicator.

2) Know the size and composition of people that you are communicating with - It is important to know the composition, size of group (One-to-one or One-to-many or Many-to-one) and cultural background of your audience and based on that you may be required to either level-up or level-down your communication style. If you couldn't level-up or level-down your communication style based on the need then either you will be considered as incompetent or an idiot.

3) Credibility, Sincerity and Trustworthiness - Do you walk your talk? Are you a reliable and serious communicator or are you an entertainer or publicity seeker? How honest are you in your communication? Are you a habitual liar? Are you authorized to communicate or are you the right person to communicate on the subject or matter that you are discussing or debating about? What's been your background? All these affect your communication process and your credentials as a communicator.

4) Time of communication - Delay in communication or communicating the wrong message at right time is as good as receiving no communication at all. For example, you could have saved your relation or you could have retained one of your high-performer or you could have brought onboard a very talented candidate but you missed it because you mistimed your communication. There is a right time for every communication to be passed on and for every discussion but unfortunately, the right time is not when you decide it to be right. Just as depicted in one joke between a doctor and a patient.

Doctor: I have good news and a bad news to communicate to you.

Doctor: Good news is that we have been able to prolong the life of your father by one day and the bad news is that I forgot to communicate this to you yesterday.

Good communicator knows the right time to communicate.

5) Precise and simple - Complexity and Longevity of Communication Process kills the essence and effectiveness of the message. Message needs to be simple, straight and accurate. At this point, I remember one of my Department Head. When asked to provide highlights or summary of a concept, he sends across a document of 75-100 pages and of which 99% of text and data would be irrelevant.

6) Feedback - Feedback is very important as it ensures that the message has been understood and accepted in the manner it should have been and that there is no conflict of understanding between the sender and the receiver.

Things to avoid

There are few things that one must avoid to ensure effective communication.