Effective Communication

April 16, 2013

What are you doing about it?

Alison Epperson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Health Ed.
Murray State University

Communication today is an extremely broad topic that can cover a vast array of information dissemination. A majority of our communication today takes the form of person-to-person, email, phone conversations, and texting. While technological advances have certainly created significant benefits via quicker routes of information dissemination, they have certainly not gone without their share of notable shortcomings.

Facebook, Twitter, texting, email. Instant, spontaneous, and silent, these forms of communication are effective in reaching the target audience quickly, but run the risk of unintentionally offending the receiver. All forms of communication implies a certain “tone.” As a result, we’ve resorted to adding smiley faces 🙂 to represent positive communication, and ALL CAPS and bold, to underscore a point, while Italics may be used for sarcasm.

Likewise, responding with a simple “K” often implies anger, disappointment or an end to the conversation. Furthermore, electronic methods of communication can often lead to carelessness, and as a result, we may find ourselves saying things that we would not normally say in person, lends itself to dishonesty, increases spelling and grammar errors.
As a society, we’ve grown so attached to portable devices that we sometimes are upset and may respond inappropriately when we are interrupted. We carry portable devices to meetings, lunches, doctor’s appointments, etc. By doing so, this non-verbal communication can send a message that we are closing ourselves off and unreceptive to others, or “too busy.” Sadly, most of us cannot go a full day without utilizing our cell phones; even to the point that if asked to be without it, or not allowed to access it, physical feelings of anxiety or nervousness can arise.

From time to time, it may be useful, or even necessary to really take a hard look at your own personal habits as well as those with whom you work, or supervise. Take a few minutes to just consider the following:

  • How many times have you had an encounter with someone and thought “how rude!”
  • Do you really listen, or are you just hearing?
  • Do you stop to think before you respond?
  • How many times have you fired off an email as a reaction and then realized it could have been received as abrasive or impolite and you later felt regret or found yourself having to explain/apologize?

In terms of your staff, oftentimes, the counter workers, office workers, supervisors, scorekeepers, etc. are a first point of contact. The way they greet or respond to your customers/participants is very impressionable. Taking the time to politely and fully speak to a patron exemplifies true customer service. You want them to feel as though they are comfortable and welcome in your facility or involved in your programs. A few ways to reflect upon whether or not your staff is practicing customer service would be to think about the following:

  • How often do you evaluate your staff on their ability to really be helpful?
  • Are you with them when they are working with customers/participants?
  • Are comment/suggestion/customer satisfaction cards readily available to the persons who utilize your programs and services?
  • How many of you have implemented, or ever tried the ‘secret shopper’ approach to determine if you are really as customer services oriented as you may think you are?
  • Do you have policies in place for your staff to not be distracted by their phones, iPads and laptops?

Another point worth considering may be the differences in communication styles in, and among the various generations who have now found themselves blended in the same workplace. I would be willing to bet that misunderstandings and frustrations have occurred based solely on communication methods.

Consider the differences between the Baby Boomers and the Generation Xers. Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and Generation X (1965-1980) have been through land lines busy signals, dial-up email, and snail mail, all of which required time and patience. Generation Y (1981-2000) probably don’t even know what a busy signal is because they are so used to immediate response times.

With regards to communication and technology, there are some key differences to consider about each of the 3 major generations in the workplace today (either as students or professional staff).

Baby Boomers:

  • Often see technology as a learning process;
  • Tend to have more regards for authority, tradition and hierarchal structure.

Generation X

  • Experienced the innovation and technological advances as they’ve grown up (i.e. some were in schools without computers, while some learned on the early computers);
  • Later Generation Xers start the trend of spending less “one on one time” with others as video games and VHS/DVD movies are available for in-home use, etc. thus resulting in less personal communication.

Generation Y

  • Prefer digital learning and communication as that is all they have known;
  • Expect people, and services to be available 24/7 and want immediate responses
  • And, by in-large are products of helicopter parents who have held their hands for far too long, which can oftentimes hinder their acceptance of responsibility, created poor work ethic, or a lack of accepting consequences for certain behaviors.

As a final thought regarding strong communication skills, think about the word “need.” If you “need” to get groceries or gas, that is in fact a necessity. However, when using the word “need,” it can imply a demand and may also spark a defensive response from the receiver. Instead, consider using phrases such as “could you please,” “when you get time,” If you don’t mind.” These statements make a request, but take into consideration other’s time and schedules.  Here’s an example “I need you to go make me 20 copies of this waiver today.” Versus, “When you get a free minute today, would you please make 20 copies of this waiver.” Say aloud those statements to yourself and think about in which manner you would like to be addressed.

Effective communication skills go a long way and can enhance a working environment, relationships and a higher quality program. The bottom line is to remember how you would like to be treated or addressed.

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