Communication is the most vital element in business. In the business world, “You are judged by the caliber and quality of your communication skills”. Today when Corporates complain that many a fresher out of college is not employable, one of the key area is lack of communication skills. Communication is a two way process. A person, with a combination of good Net-working and communication skills is headed for big things. No doubt about that.
We all know that English is a global language and a good knowledge of the English language is important. But then, communication is not about one’s language skills. It is your ability to convey clearly to the other party what you really intend to communicate. It could be oral, written, body language, the tone and tenor. Today many of these things are through text messages, MMS etc. The cradles of communication are endless. Last but not the least, whether oral or written, communication in today’s business world must be short and crisp.
Good communication is more about listening and less about talking. More about absorbing before putting it across. Most often, we listen what we want to hear. Even before the other side has finished, we are ready with our answer. Good communication is about being attentive and avoiding distractions. Good communication is about revising, thinking what is being said and remaining interested throughout. It’s about making notes and not making assumptions. It’s about paraphrasing what the speaker is saying.
Let’s now hear a story about communication. About poor communication skills. Let me caution you that it’s not one of those real life stories. It’s something I picked up from the Net. At first glance I had a good laugh and just put it aside. But later I started thinking about it. There was a learning experience in it. This is how it goes.
A man walks into a restaurant with a full grown ostrich bird with him. The waitress asks them for their orders. The man says, “A hamburger, French fries and a coke,” and he turns to the Ostrich and asks, “What’s yours.” I’ll have the same says the Ostrich. The waitress returns with the order. The man reaches in his pocket and comes out with the exact change, tips included.
Few days later the man and the Ostrich come again and he orders the same stuff. Hamburger, Fries and coke. The Ostrich says I’ll have the same. Again the man reaches into his pocket and comes out with the exact change. This becomes regular, till one day, when the man says, “Today I’ll have a Margherita pizza, Garlic bread and a Coke.” “Same,” says the Ostrich. The waitress brings the order. This time the amount to be paid is different. Without even a blink, the man comes out with the exact change.
The waitress is now very curious. “Excuse me Sir. How do you always manage to come up with the exact change from your pocket?” The man replies, “Few days back, I was cleaning the attic and found an old lamp. When I tried cleaning it, a Genie appeared and asked me, “Hey dude, you can have two wishes. And make it fast, I don’t have all day.” I was dazed and didn’t have much time to think. The first wish I asked was, “Whenever I have to pay for something, I’ll just put my hand in my pocket and the right amount should be there.” The waitress was highly impressed. “Most people would have asked for a lot of money. And that would have gotten over pretty soon. But this is brilliant. You’ll always be rich as long as you want.” The man said proudly, “That’s right. Whether it’s a Coke, a Private jet or a Bungalow, the exact amount of money would always be there.”
The waitress then asked, “And what was the second wish and what is the Ostrich all about?” The man didn’t want to answer. But he pauses and then says with a heavy heart, “My second wish was for a tall chick with long legs who accompanies me wherever I go and agrees with everything I say.”
Well, what is the learning exercise here all about? Where did he err?
When the Genie addressed him as “Dude”, he thought the Genie was one of those Yuppie types, who understands Slang. He should have been careful in his communication. This is the mistake we all make when talking to strangers. We assume things. “He should have said, “A blue eyed blonde, instead of a chick.”
Ok, now on to something serious. This happened a long time back, may be, over forty years ago. Has been circulating the Net, which many people have read but have forgotten its origin and relevance. The characters involved lived a small town.
John, a very honest, respected and retired gentleman, who was an Automobile engineer for over thirty-five years. He was God fearing and any dispute, the people went to him. He was a fatherly figure. He took no sides and was very fair in his advice and disposal of any case.
Susan, who was in a very distressing situation. She wrote to John her unfortunate situation, seeking help. The other characters will evolve as we go along. This is what Susan wrote.
I hope you can help me. The other day I set off for work leaving my husband in the house watching T.V. My car stalled and broke down a mile down the road. I had to walk back to get my husband’s help.
When I got home, I couldn’t believe my eyes. He was in our bed room with our neighbor’s daughter. We have been married for 10 years. When I confronted him, he broke down and admitted that they have been having an affair for the past 6 months. He won’t go counselling and I’m a nervous wreck and need urgent advice. Can you please help?
What would you do if you were John? After all, being John, they would listen to whatever you said. Would you as John, reprimand Susan’s husband. Would you insist that both Susan and her husband go counselling. Would you insist Susan’s husband alone go counselling. Or would you insist that all the three characters involved go counselling. Separately or jointly. Or would you reprimand Susan for not taking care of her husband’s needs. Or, are there other options that you would exercise.
Well, this is what John wrote back. Lemme caution you. A real shocker at that. He wrote.
A car stalling after being driven for a short distance can be caused by a variety of faults with the engine. Start by checking there is no debris in the fuel line. The letter went on.
Now what really transpired? Poor exhibition of communication skills. First let’s analyze Susan. Where did she err? She didn’t get to the subject directly. She started off with her going to work and her husband watching T.V. Then she wrote to him about her car getting stalled. A long and winding letter.
Where did John err? John was an Automobile engineer of repute. A man of great integrity and honesty but a poor listener. No sooner he read about stalling of the car, he read no further.
These are common mistakes we all make. Good communicators come to the subject proper straight away, keeping the communication short and crisp. Multiple topics are written down in Bullet points so the receiver knows that the full text needs to be gone through. And if the subject is critical, an oral follow action is a must. At times, even the best of communicators may slip up when receiving or sending communications. So we need to exercise care.
Then there are intended slip ups, the one’s that arrive with notes in fine print at the bottom. Mutual funds, private Banks, Insurance companies and the like.
To sum up, development of our skill sets are based on individual capabilities. For some these come easily, for others it takes effort. But it is important we realize the major benefits of developing our Secondary skills, which are as important as our Primary skill. And as one goes up the corporate ladder, most often the secondary skill sets come to the fore.