Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Importance of Effective Communication

Watching the presidential debates has lead me to think a lot about the importance of effective communication skills at work. After all, how many job postings have you read that call for "excellent written and verbal communication skills" or some variation of that? In truth though, there's more to it than just written and verbal skills we need to consider.

For starters, regarding the debates, in the face of searing opposition those guys are ridiculously smooth. I can't even fathom holding my composure in a forum like that the way they do. Imagine engaging someone whose sole objective is to tear apart every single thing you say for 90 minutes. Now imagine what your body would feel like. What would your body language be in that type of situation? Imagine the way your muscles would tense up. The way your blood pressure would rise and your heart would race. Oh, and then consider that roughly 60 million people are watching you. YIKES!!!

Have you noticed how much commentary there is after the debates about how the candidates looked? In fact, how they look is just as important, and may even be more so, than what they actually say. Do they appear "presidential"? Are they looking at the moderator or audience when they speak? Are they looking down at the podium or looking at their opponent when he is speaking? Are they making hand gestures? Looking at their watch? Shaking their head when the opponent is talking? Sighing, laughing, grunting or making other noises? President Obama got crushed for looking like he didn't want to be there in the first debate and you better believe that his camp spent a lot of time fixing that in preparation for the second one.

As odd as it seems, non-verbal communication is an imperative skill in the work place. The media doesn't latch onto it after these debates for no reason. They talk about it because it's clear messaging being sent to us by the candidates and there are things about them that can be learned from analyzing it. The silent messages you are sending when speaking to someone or being spoken to say as much as the actual words that are being spoken. How are you sitting or standing? Are you slouched in your chair? Do you appear actively engaged in the conversation? Are you making eye contact? Are you prepared to take notes? Are you fidgeting with a pen or something else? Are you actually engaged in something else (multitasking) while someone is speaking to you? Do you check your phone?

Be conscious of the non-verbal messages you are sending. You don't want to go through an entire meeting having not uttered a singular word yet actually having said more than anyone else in the room.