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Improving Organizational Results through Effective Communication: The Overview
By Rich Meiss • Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Communications:  The 3-S Model Overview

Improving Organizational Results through Effective Communication-  Article 1

Almost nothing impacts our ability to get results through people and get along with people more than our ability to communicate and listen.  These ‘people skills’ are critical to the success of any people leader, manager or coach.  This overview article takes a look at three critical aspects of good organizational and interpersonal communications:  communication skills, communication style, and communication systems.

This “3 S Model” comprises a complete look at what makes communications work in both personal and organizational life.  The first S, Communication Skills, looks at the people skills and attitudes needed to make communications work between individuals.  An example of a communication skill would be paraphrasing – stating back to another person what you heard him/her say.   The second S, Communication Style, includes information on how personality affects communication.  For example, one personality type needs lots of information, while another only needs an overview of the situation.  The third S, Communication Systems, deals with the methods of communication used in organizations today, which include written communications, phone and voicemail, and electronic communications. Each of these 3 S’s is further explored in a separate article in this series.

Before looking at the 3 S’s of communications, however, we should first explore a research study that sheds light on the impact of communications.   Three factors affect this impact:  the verbal (words), the para-verbal (voice tone), and the non-verbal (body language).  While each of these plays an important part in creating clear communications, the impact each has is quite different.  In an often-quoted study by Albert Mehrabian at UCLA, the following statistics were arrived at in terms of the total IMPACT of communications:

Verbal – 7% (Our words account for a small % of the impact of communications)
Para-Verbal -38% (Voice tone is a big contributor to communication impact)
Non-Verbal – 55% (Body language is the major component of communication).

These statistics are very important in the study of communication skills, as our face-to-face communications depend on all three aspects working together.  They also impact our understanding of communication style and systems.  For example, some styles of communicators are very expressive with their non-verbals, while others tend to be more reserved.  The ability to appropriately read and respond to these varying styles can greatly affect the quality of communications.  And in communication systems, when we are using the telephone to communicate, we are operating with less than 50% of the total impact of communications – the words and voice tone that we use.  With email and other forms of electronic communication, we are only using about 7% of the total impact of communications - our words. 

So it becomes critical that we choose the correct communication method, and minimize the use of a method that will not allow maximum impact.

Communication Skills

Most of the time when people talk about “good communications” or “poor communications” they are talking about the skills of the communicator, and to be sure, these are very important.  Good communication skills start with an attitude of “wanting” to be a good communicator.  We have to value the other person, and want to understand his/her position before communicating our own position, and then look for a win-win solution.  When this win-win attitude is in place, the skills of good communication tend to follow.  Good communication skills include both listening skills and sending skills. 

Listening skills include the following:
            Creating an appropriate environment – to minimize distractions.
            Giving good eye contact – to indicate interest in the speaker.
            Avoiding interruptions – to allow the speaker to finish his/her thought.
            Utilizing para-verbal sounds – to encourage the speaker to continue.
            Using appropriate body language – to signal feelings/understanding.
            Asking questions – to insure clarity and understanding.
            Paraphrasing the speaker’s thoughts – to insure understanding.

Sending skills include these:
            Being specific, clear and concise – to generate understanding.
            Aiming at the present or the future – to create ownership and accountability.
            Sending congruent messages – to avoid misunderstandings.
            Avoiding negative “trigger” words – to minimize hard feelings.
            Using “neutral” words – to express bad news.
            Sending “I” messages – to express feelings and emotions.

To further your understanding of effective communication skills, read the second article in this series titled Communication Skills:  Becoming an Effective Sender and Receiver

Communication Style

The study of personality or behavioral styles and how it affects good communications is fascinating.  Human beings are all born with a basic behavioral style that they use throughout their lives.  This style affects how they do tasks, make decisions, solve problems, and how they interact with others – including how they communicate.  Although there are many models of understanding behavioral style (or personality), the three most popular include the DISC system, the MBTI, and Social Styles.  For purposes of these articles we will be using the DISC system.

The DISC model helps us understand HOW we go about doing tasks, making decisions, solving problems, and relating with people, including how we tend to communicate.  The model consists of four styles:  D for Dominant, I for Interacting, S for Steady and C for Conscientiousness.

DThe Dominant or directing style individual has a need for control and challenging activities.  His/her style is determined, straightforward and motivated by competitive opportunities.  This person’s communication style is direct and assertive.  They tend to be loud and confident, and might need to work on their listening skills because they are impatient for results.  They like to communicate directly, and appreciate it when others do the same back to them.

IThe Influencing or interacting style needs to interact or persuade others to their point of view.  This person tends to be casual, talkative, and eager to please.  Their communication style utilizes lots of words and lots of gestures.  They tend to speak with lots of emotion and volume.  The interactive style person enjoys talking so much that they often need to work on their listening skills, but they like people and enjoy many friendships.

SThe Steadiness or supportive style individual has a high need for security and stability.  He/she is predictable, accountable, and typically low-key.  Known as a supporter, this type of individual prefers to listen and do things for others rather than talk and come up with new ideas.  They tend to be more reserved and quiet.  The supporter usually needs to work on being more assertive and verbal.

C The Cautious or calculating style has a high need for accuracy and caution.  They want to make sure things are done right, according to their high standards.  This calculating style needs to think things through and do them right, so they tend to speak only after careful thought.  Their speech is usually slow and calculated.  They can be good listeners, especially when listening for facts.  Calculating style people often need to work on being more open and friendly.

Each of us is a combination of all four of these styles, but we all have a preferred style by which we communicate and live our lives.  It is this combination and diversity of styles that makes understanding and communicating with human beings so fascinating – and so frustrating.  The third article in this series, titled Communicating with Style:  How to Get Enhanced Results with People, gives lots of tips on how best to understand each style and communicate effectively with them.

Communication Systems

Within families, teams and organizations, the systems that are used to interact can also greatly affect the quality of communications.  Besides face-to-face communications, these systems include written communications, voice communications (telephone and voicemail), and electronic communications (email).  Using these systems properly can insure high quality communication and effective human relationships. 

With all the voice and electronic means of communication today, written communications are almost a thing of the past.  However, many of the principles of good writing also apply to voice and electronic communications.  (Although this topic could encompass a whole host of subjects - including proper use of grammar, spelling, punctuation and more - many of these are topics covered in formal education, so they won’t be discussed here.)  There are some simple principles, however, that make written, voice, and electronic communications more effective:
            - Identify the subject of your communication early on
            - Tell the receiver up front what action or response you are requesting
            - Give the receiver enough details to enable their response, and let them know  
              where they can get more information if needed
            - Let the receiver know how to contact you – electronically, by phone,    in person
            - Only communicate with those who will be directly affected
            - Use the most appropriate form of communication to get across your message

Recognize that with written and electronic communications, the only tools you have available to you are the words that you use (except for emoticons in email), so choose your words carefully.  The UCLA communications study (mentioned earlier) indicates that only 7% of the impact of communications happens through the words.  The methodologies of written or electronic communication are useful and appropriate when you are communicating factual, detailed information.

 However, there are times when choosing face-to-face or phone communication may be more appropriate than written communication.  These situations include when there are strong emotions involved, when a dialogue would be useful, when you are giving corrective feedback, and/or when you are communicating a highly technical message.
The fourth article in this series, titled Communication Systems:  Making the Most of Written, Phone and Electronic Communications, will provide additional tips on these topics.

Excellent communicators understand that appropriate communication skills, style and systems all have to be working in harmony to promote quality communications.  Use this information to insure that your communication efforts are giving you, your team and family, and your organization the results you deserve!

© Copyright 2008.  Meiss Education Institute.  All rights reserved.



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