Communications in Business (Encyclopedia of Business and Finance)
Communication, stated simply, is conveying a message, through a channel, from one person to another; that is, connecting or sharing thoughts, opinions, and intelligence. Communication is a mechanism for all types of interaction and connectivity. It can instantaneously bring people together. It can link ideas and things. It can deliver news and facts. It can impart knowledge. Because communication can be expressed as words, letters, pictures, gestures, signals, colors, and so forth, it is credited with being the single element that has brought all corners of the world closer together. In business, communication is the critical backbone of an organization's ability to operate internally and externally as well as nationally and internationally.
Communication, in its most basic definition, involves a sender (encoder) and a receiver (decoder). The sender encodes a message, deciding what content and relationship codes to use, and sends it via a communication channel (face to face, e-mail, telephone, etc.). The receiver (de coder) takes the message and, in the decoding process, attempts to understand its content and relationship meaning. After decoding, the receiver then may respond, via a communication channel, to the sender with a new message based on the receiver's perception of what the message imparted in terms of information and the relationship with the sender. To be most effective, the feedback loop (the receiver's decoded inter pretation of the original message) should go for ward; that is, the receiver should respond to the sender. This provides the sender with two vital pieces of information: (1) whether the original message was correctly understood as sent and (2) the new message. This allows for early correction of incorrectly decoded messages. The decoding, encoding, and feedback loop continue as the parties communicate.
In the decoding of a message, miscommunication and/or missed communication can occur. In the feedback loop, it is critical both that the sender provide the intended message, and that the receiver clarify how that message was perceived. The greater the number of people involved in the message exchange process and the greater their differences in values, beliefs, attitudes, and knowledge of the subject matter, the greater are the chances that the message will be decoded improperly and a communication breakdown will occur.
Communication is most successful when it is understood by all persons involved in the process. That is, good communication is free from social colloquialisms, intercultural mores, and gender-based styles. Because communication may be conveyed in many forms, it is frequently described in two general categories: verbal and nonverbal. Nonverbal communication includes body language, gestures, and signals. In general, successful communication depends on how well a sender conveys a message to a receiver relying on the six senses (seeing, hearing, speaking, smelling, touching, and tasting) and feedback.
There are several rules for successful communication. The following checklist provides a guide to creating successful communication:
- Make messages clear, correct, comprehensive, and concise.
- Include an action step with deadlines in messages that requires a response.
- Select correct channels of communication based on message content and relationship components.
- Structure the message so as not to overload the receiver with information.
- Develop sensitivity to the receiver's communication style and create the message accordingly.
- Be aware of how cultural patterns affect communication style and take this into consideration in sending and receiving messages.
- Be aware that people operating in a second language may still code/decode messages based on their first culture's communication patterns.
- Enhance listening skills as an aspect of effective use of the feedback loop.
- Recognize that all messages should be received with a positive attitude.
COMMUNICATION TRANSMISSION MODES
Technology-mediated communication has become the norm in today's worldwide business environment. Messages are communicated regularly via e-mail, fax, and phones. People still meet face to face, but they also use express mail and courier services, messaging and paging systems, caller identification and transfer/forwarding telephony (phone, telex, etc.) systems, and many other combinations of message transfer and delivery methods. Signaling, biometrics, scanning, imagery, and holography also have a place in business communication. Additionally, many professionals work in virtual groups using satellite uplink/downlinks, videoconferencing, and computer groupware. In using these technologies, it is important to recognize the limits of the channel of communication selected. For example, e-mail is efficient but does not convey the nuances of a message that can be gained from facial expressions or gestures. The use of multiple channels of communication may be critical if the content is quite complex; thus, a verbal message may not be sufficient. The importance of using the feedback loop becomes more critical as the content and/or relational aspects of the messages expand. Also, as more workgroups operate globally in a virtual medium, cultural patterns must be considered in the quest for clear and effective communication. The expansion of global business combined with advances in technology has created more cross-cultural opportunities. When working in a cross-cultural, multinational/multicultural environment, it is necessary to understand that culture influences people's behavior as well as their attitudes and beliefs. We encode/decode messages with perceptions learned from our cultural filters. In inter-cultural situations, the professional is careful to use the feedback loop to clarify understanding of the received message. Just because a message has been received rapidly or with use of high-level technology does not mean that the receiver has decoded it properly.
TYPES OF COMMUNICATION
Written communication usually takes the form of letters, memos, reports, manuscripts, personal correspondence, notes, forms, applications, resumes, legal and medical documents, and so on.
Spoken communication includes, among other things, presentations, verbal exchange (e.g., one-on-one, to a group), and voice messaging. Speaking distinctly, with appropriate speed, as well as paying attention to voice inflection, tone, resonation, pitch clarity, and volume are important to the way a spoken message is received. Frequently, the way a spoken message is delivered is as or more important than the content of the message (a good example is a joke that has perfect timing). More than 90 percent of what a message conveys may actually be based on a positive attitude and nonverbal elements.
Nonverbal communication includes body language (e.g., facial expression, eye contact, body stance or sitting position, distance between sender and receiver, gesturing), which can send signals to the receiver that are much stronger than the message itself. If a picture truly speaks louder than a thousand words, communication by means other than the spoken and written worduch as colors worn, signals or mannerisms reflecting personality or preferences, gesturingan make a big difference in the message that is conveyed.
Communication in a society, whether personal or business, is critical. Individuals or organizations depend on it to function. Most businesses need both internal and external communication to be productive. Internal communication is communication that is exchanged within an organization. Usually it is less formal than communication that goes to those outside the business. Informal communication may range from chats in the hallway and lunchroom, team and group meetings, casual conversations over the phone or e-mail, and memos and preliminary reports to teleconferencing, brainstorming idea sessions, department or division meetings, and draft documents. Informal communication also includes the grapevine, gossip, and the rumor mill; these communication channels rely on people passing on messages to co-workers, friends, and others. If accurate, they can be very effective.
External communication usually refers to messages that extend beyond the business organization. Because it reflects the organization's image, external communication is usually more formal. External communication is an extension of the organization and can be an important channel for marketing the company's image, mission, products, and/or services.
The selection or type of business communication takes many factors into consideration, including (1) the nature of the business (e.g., government, commerce, industry, private or public organization manufacturing or marketing firm); (2) the mission and the philosophy of the organization (open verses limited or closed communication patterns); (3) the way the business is organized (e.g., small or large company, branch offices, subsidiaries); (4) the leadership styles of the organization's managers and supervisors the (democratic, authoritarian, dictatorial, pragmatic, etc.);(5) the number and types of personnel as well as the levels of employees (hierarchy or status of positions, managerial or laborers, supervisors or team leaders, etc.); (6) the proximity of work units (closeness of departments, divisions, or groups that depend on information from each other); and (7) the need for communication (who needs to know what, when, why, and how for informed decision making to take place).
Every group (from an organization, to a family) has a communication system or network. Some are very effective and efficient while others are just the opposite. Even if communication appears to be (or is) nonexistent within an organization or group, the group has a communication system. That is, poor or nonexistent communication still conveys a message: no communication is taking place or there is a lack of exchange of information or messages within the group.
Without realizing it, most people communicate with others (verbally as well as nonverbally) according to a dominant style. Essentially, people communicate in one of four basic styles: (1) directly or authoritatively (an in-charge person or one who is a driving force to get things done); (2) analytically or as a fact finder (a person who plans, researches, and analyzes the facts and weighs the alternatives carefully); (3) amiably or as a coach (a supportive team builder who gets people to work together toward a common goal); and (4) expressively or flamboyantly (a cheerleader with a positive attitude who has lots of ideas and motivates others toward taking action). Communication styles are developed over time and with practice. They may also reflect cultural norms. It is important to understand one's own communication style as well as those of others in order to maximize one's communication interactions.
BARRIERS TO COMMUNICATION
Effective communication relies in part on eliminating as many communication barriers as possible. Some of the ways to avoid common barriers to communication include the following:
- Stay focused on the topic.
- If timing is important, adhere to the deadline.
- Be willing to use communication strategy appropriate to the situation; listen, negotiate, compromise, modify, and learn from feedback.
- Avoid relying on the grapevine as a source of facts even though it may have been an accurate communication channel in the past.
- Be sincere, empathetic, and sensitive to others' feelings; one's voice, actions, and other non-verbal cues speak loudly.
- Seek out information about unknowns, especially when cultural and gender differences are involved.
- Be tactful, polite, clear, prepared, and, above all, let a positive attitude guide all communication.