Vandana Mahajan, Senior School Headmistress, MRIS 46, Gurugram, explains how we can be an effective communicator. It takes time and energy to become a great communicator. Though some people start out better than others, you can improve as long as you put in the effort.

“Communication works for those who work at it.” – John Powell

Communication is the process of conveying messages as facts, ideas, opinions, thoughts, knowledge, data, perspectives etc. from one person/group to another in the form of either written messages like sending emails, talking over the phone, or having a discussion with a person or group of people in a personal or a professional setting etc. Therefore, Communication can be verbal, non-verbal, written and visual. Now let us see what is an Effective Communication?

Effective Communication is the skill of exchanging information in a manner that the message is received and understood by the receiver/s with clarity and purpose and without any miscommunication or communication gap. This is an important life skill as words, gestures and actions can build or destroy relationships. Communication or the lack of the same often becomes the deciding factor in the outcome of any human interaction or association, professionally or personally. That is why it is a skill we must learn, master thoroughly.  

No matter your age, background, or experience, effective communication is a skill that builds bridges, mends relationships and facilitates team building. Good communication skills empower you to become effective leaders and manage people and relationships better. The 7 C’s of Communication are Coherence, Concreteness, Courtesy, Correctness, Clarity, Confidence and Conciseness. The seven C’s of communication is a list of principles that you should ensure all of your communications adheres to. Their purpose is to ensure that the person you’re communicating with, hears and understands, what you’re trying to say.

Some of the greatest leaders of all time are also fantastic communicators and orators. Communication is the cornerstone of our interactions with people and has many facets and nuances. Communication can be Assertive, Passive, Submissive, Persuasive or Manipulative, but a good and effective exchange between people is based on emotional awareness, open mindedness, willingness to listen, empathize and acceptance of views and perspectives which are diametrically opposite to ours.

The idea is to reach a common ground and find solutions to be able to work, exist, strive and thrive together. Once messages are communicated clearly, there is little or no room for misunderstanding, misinterpretation or conflict. Clear and concise communication helps to build trust, strengthen personal and professional relationships, boosts teamwork and aids in decision making and problem solving.

So, let’s have a closer look at the finer nuances of an effective, purpose driven and powerful communication.

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen”. Ernest Hemingway

Most of the times we listen to react and not to respond! We do not listen to understand and as the other person is speaking, we are already preparing our reactions/responses in our minds, to what is being said. Listening with an intention to understand the other’s point of view, is the most important aspect of an effective communication as it makes the environment congenial and gives people the courage to speak their innermost apprehensions with faith, trust and openness. In a family where the parent takes a break from his/her work, just to listen what the child has to say, paves the way for a beautiful parent child bond of lifelong trust and love.

Being heard is the most important need of a human being. Sometimes, the only thing people want, is that someone just listens to them with all their attention and heart.

As rightly said by Peter Drucker, “The most important thing in Communication is hearing what isn’t said.”

It is important to remember that ‘Map is not the territory’ when dealing with difficult people whom we find difficult only because they think, act and behave differently than us. But it is these differences what actually pave the way for great teams to work together and find solutions to the seemingly most difficult problems in the world. Unfortunately, we are so wrapped up in our own ideas of right and wrong that we don’t truly listen to what others have to say. We often are guided by our limiting beliefs, stereotypical genesis and ecosystems.

Active listening involves paying close attention to what the other person has to say and builds relationships and deepens human connections. Understanding the emotional state of your audience, their interests, likes, preferences etc. helps you to decide the type of interaction you ought to have with them. With this understanding you can persuade them to your way of thinking.

An effective communicator is someone who conveys their message thoroughly and is receptive and responsive to others’ input. Those who are strong communicators speak in a clear, direct manner, using easily understood language. Asking open ended questions during the course of a conversation, makes way for a congenial atmosphere of mutual trust which helps in understanding the situation with an open, inquisitive and receptive mind. They also lead to conversations that are meaningful, concise and mutually satisfying.                    

Asking the right questions makes the communication flow with empathy and consideration.

Therefore, it is helpful if we ask questions to the listeners like, I hope what I am saying is making sense to you? Or instead of assuming that the other person has understood your perspective, asking them to rephrase and say the same thing in their own words to understand if there is any communication gap, also helps. This is especially useful in the context of a classroom where encouraging students to interact and engage in healthy discussions is critical to their learning. This makes them involved and engages them positively.

Another important ingredient of an effective Communication is ‘being Assertive and stating your opinions, needs and wants’ in a way that respects the rights of other people as well. There is a fine line between being assertive and being aggressive.

Communicating in a way that does not make the other person feel threatened or devalued, is an art that we master with time, experience and will. It is a learning journey that is sure to reap rich dividends if we put in effort at understanding differing opinions with an open mind.

Another important ingredient of an effective communication is Story Telling as people tend to understand situations better when woven in relatable stories. Whether it is about persuading people of something, or inspire them to do something, or open up about a difficult topic, stories tend to ease them out and make them come out of their closed zones and express vividly.

This is also something that I have experienced and practised thoroughly with my children and students. Whether it is about motivating them to have a clear vision and a strong purpose in life or inspiring them to cultivate ethics and virtues in their personality, I go extra mile.  If they want to  open up about their apprehensions or to become valuable members of the community, storytelling makes them shed their fears, inhibitions and insecurities as it makes them feel hopeful and gives them the courage to speak with an understanding that they are not alone or unique in their vulnerabilities. We are all human, and our stories of overcoming life’s challenges, trials and tribulations, inspire others in a huge way. After all, we are all survivors in this game of life in our own special way!

A key feature of an effective communication is knowing when and how to vent out your feelings in a calm, composed and dignified manner. You don’t have to be an expert communicator to know that venting out in a wrong manner and at the wrong time, is a sure recipe for disaster. When you are angry or upset, let the feeling calm down and then take stock of your thoughts before venting out. Thoughtless words and actions or gestures can come across as abrasive and condescending and derail even the best intended communications and, in the bargain, hurt sentiments and demotivate people to express honestly.

An effective way of doing measured venting out is by writing down your thoughts before an interaction which helps you to stick to the main agenda and the prospective outcome by giving clarity of thought during a discussion. This also helps you to stay focussed on a few key points around which the topic of conversation should ideally revolve, in order to not let the communication wander and go haywire to unnecessary and controversial details. Venting out your honest displeasure or inconvenience, without hurting the sentiments of others, is a wonderful life skill that we can all cultivate with practice.

Furthermore, Humour breaks down barriers, reduces stress and tension and builds rapport instantly putting people at ease and helping the situation ease out. But it is a tricky thing and can get you into trouble if not used properly. If humour is used appropriately, it can turn out into one of the most powerful and effective tool in your communication arsenal. Hence usage of humour should be done judiciously.

Right ‘Humour’ can help you make a point without antagonising people and without sounding overly aggressive or arrogant. One interesting way to do is to use self-deprecating humour and poke fun at yourself thereby helping people relax and accept you as one of them. Example, if your senior calls you into their office, and you are a bit confused. The moment you enter the office, you understand, that, that was  not the best of the days for you! But you know how to   immediately ease out the tension and bring it down to a comfortable level. In fact here I am also reminded of a personal anecdote. Once I was reprimanded by one of my mentors for a late submission of work by my team. I could sense a certain tension in between us after the conversation.. Next day as I met her, I told her that my son was very happy that there is someone who can scold his mom as well! She burst into laughter and the strain of the last few hours vanished in seconds! So yes, right humour eases out tense situations in a whisker😊

Effective Communication involves active listening, compassion, cultural awareness, trust quotient and a level of personal connection to get the message across undiluted and understood as it has been expressed. It requires a positive body language, transparency, honesty, personalisation, empathy and many more positive traits.  No matter how bad the situation is, approaching the same with a conversation with the resolution to reach an acceptable and mutually beneficial solution surely helps.

Make your communication fit for purpose. Communications where people ‘talk’ a lot but ‘say’ a little, lack confidence, intent and sensitivity.

A good communication essentially is one where your attitude comes forth and involves listening with empathy and builds rapport, where the message is right-less is more. Effective communication also involves telling people what they do not want to hear and therefore, to be congruent and mean what you say.

The foundation for an effective communication is the relationship you have and/or are able to build with your audience by creating rapport and mutual trust in order to avoid miscommunication, and respond to criticism, without becoming critical. It has the quality of managing confrontation without conflict and address conflict resolution as a way forward by understanding the destructive power of defensiveness. Thoughtful and deliberate communication saves time as frustrating communication gaps are covered by productive and interesting communications. Conversations that are aimed at understanding, problem solving and conflict resolution help in making strong connections as they are based on empathy and intuitive listening.

In Conclusion, when communication is effective, it leaves all parties involved satisfied and feeling accomplished. If messages are delivered clearly, there is no room for misunderstanding, which decreases the potential for any type of conflict. Therefore, Effective Communication is one of the key life skills we need to imbibe, practice and cultivate for maintaining healthy and productive relationships at work, at home and in the larger world.

Author: Vandana Mahajan, Senior School Head Mistress, MRIS 46, Gurugram.