Thursday, October 28, 2010

Communication Fundas - Part 6

In my last post I talked about my struggle to refrain from use of 'would' and 'could' in my spoken English in an attempt to form simple sentences that is easy on the ear.

But don't get me wrong. These words should be used as and when necessary. 'Would' and 'Could' are thought to be more polite that 'Will' and 'Can'. And, in some cases these words have deadly impact. Especially as one liners.

Sample these:

A: "Everyone is corrupt. How can I not be influenced? When there is easy money to make, why not? Tell me? Would you still hold on to your stupid principles?"

B: "I would!"

A: "The customer is expecting us to deliver in this crazy schedule! Has he gone bonkers? It is not even worth a try."

B: "If I were you I would."

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Communication Fundas - Part 5

Very early in my career I was fortunate to have friends who spoke their mind. They were open with their views without being offensive. They still are.
That Sunday as my friend, Ashish Balaya, and I walked together I said something that was long winded and an extremely complex sentence. Ashish looked at me for a second and said, "Amitabh, why do you always speak in complex / compound sentences?" I laughed it off. But his comment remained with me.
I had arrived in Bangalore from Gwalior - a town in north India. And though I studied in Central School, an English medium school, Hindi was the defacto lingua franca. Whereas in Central Schools in the south of India students would wish their teachers with a "Good Morning, Sir", a student in Gwalior wishes her teacher with a "Namaste, Sir". As a result, all the English I knew was derived not from spoken English, rather from the English books I devoured (I was an avid reader even then!)

Text books can contain sentences such as ... "Would the economy have fared any better without globalisation? Had it been closed to international flows of goods and capital, could it have adopted those productivity-cutting policies and paid no price at all? The answer is no." When you speak, this clearly is not on.

As a result of reading such books my spoken English was full of would's and could's, even when none was required.

That was some 20 years ago. My struggle to speak simple sentences continues. I am more successful with emails though. Once I have written what I wish to say, I re-read my emails and my final version is much superior to my initial draft. The language flow is smoother and easy to read.

By the way, the text I have given as example, above, is from a book called Economics: Making Sense of the Modern Economy, edited by Simon Cox. It is published by The Economist. More on it some other post.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Communication Fundas - Part 4

Have you noticed, how easy it is to be rude when you are talking to a person on phone?
The next time you get one of those annoying cold calls check out your own reaction, and you will know. This heppens because you can get away with rudeness. You don't get to see the other person's reaction and in any case, the caller can't do anything about your being rude; after all, s/he is the one who is intruding, no?
But guess what? It does not take time for this to become a habit. And in no time you appear rude on phone. Even when you do not intend to.
Great communication skills are acquired with constant practice; being firm but polite when talking to total stangers who can do you no harm is a great way to practice your skills.

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Monday, October 4, 2010

Communications Fundas - Part 3

Communication is all about acknowledgement.
Acknowledgement that the other person is worthy of your attention.
This goes not only when communicating face-to-face, but also for written communication.

Let me prove it to you.
What is your first reaction when you see an email with lots of typos? The best you may come up with is: "A casually written mail!"
And the worst: Delete It!

If someone has taken the effort and time to convey something to you in written form, it becomes your responsibility to put in similar effort and time to understand what is written. That's when good communication happens.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

Communication Fundas - Part 2

With Emails and messages making for bulk of business communication, ‘Context’ has become more important of the two components of communication.

You see, context for any communication is set up not only by a preface but also by body language: the tone and volume of the voice, pursed or smiling lips, narrow or smiling eyes, tight or relaxed facial, aggressive or encouraging body posture – communication is not just words exchanged; it is information exchange to achieve a goal.

Because the body is effectively detached from emails, the context that body language sets now has to be performed by written words. And as we all know written words do a miserable job of conveying messages, even though English is a fairly rich language with words that have subtle variation in connotation.

Besides, the issuer and the recipient are separated by space and time. This means that emails can easily be misinterpreted – deliberately or otherwise – to gain time or deflect attention.

I find use of non-verbal cues in emails help (the theory being – non-verbal physical signals can only be replaced by non-verbal characters). Italics, underline, different font, colour and bold letters, are examples of non-verbal cues that can be effectively used.

See the difference.

Please complete the work by today Close of Business.

Please complete the work by today Close of Business.

Emoticons (or smilies) are powerful non-verbal signals that can be conveyed over emails. Smilies have gone beyond figures formed by keystrokes. There are rich varieties available and I find these extremely effective.

Use of emoticons in business mails is generally frowned upon. But do not worry too much about it. Unless, it is proposal or a cold call or a response to a customer complain or such!

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