The Basics of Communication
In any interaction, whether with internal or external customers, there are four things you can do to ensure good, basic communication:
Watch. It is not enough to just look at the person you are speaking with, you must also pay attention to how the person is reacting and what nonverbal signals are being sent. What kind of impressions are you forming that may or may not be accurate based on how the person is dressed, behaving, or speaking? A good communicator will observe without judging, waiting for more information before making an evaluation.
Hear. Listening is not just hearing the words, but paying attention to them. If you are focused on how you want to respond to the speaker, you will not hear what is being said. If you are daydreaming, you will miss entire passages. Stay focused, listen, hear, and understand what is being said.
Open your mind. We are bombarded daily with information from many sources. In order to sort through and make sense of all of it, we must keep an open mind to new ideas. Effectively working with people depends on thinking creatively and using new information in ways that improve and/or enhance current processes.
Understand. When we are conversing with our customers and colleagues, we need to clarify the information we are receiving to make sure the message we are hearing is the message that is being sent. Paraphrasing or parroting the information will help us understand and clarify the meaning with the speaker.
Dr. Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus at UCLA, determined that communication happens as follows: (http://www.businessballs.com/mehrabiancommunications.htm)
7% of the meaning is determined from the actual words that are spoken.
38% of the meaning is determined by the way the words are said.
55% of the meaning is determined by facial expression.
Given this information, it is important to understand the role nonverbal communication has in communication as a whole. This applies even when speaking on the phone. Tone, pitch, and volume in your voice will provide your listener with more information than the words you are speaking.
Tone refers to the characteristic style of your voice. You can convey a lot of information by the tone of voice you choose to use. For example:
- A conversational tone.
- A business tone.
- A sarcastic tone.
- A condescending tone.
- A hushed tone.
- A jubilant tone.
- A soothing tone.
- A harsh tone.
Think of it like this: a baby cannot understand the words you speak, but will react to the tone of voice you use when you speak, just as a person who does not speak the same language you do will react to the tone of voice you use. It is not true, however, that if you speak louder, a foreigner (or baby) will understand what you are saying better than they did before.
Pitch refers to the modulation of your voice while speaking. A monotone voice is hard to listen to because it is boring, just as a sing-song voice is difficult to listen to because of the repetition of the variations in pitch. The key is to find a pitch pattern between these two extremes. Pitch can be utilized through a variety of techniques, such as:
Inflection. Your voice should go up and down throughout the conversation, emphasizing certain words or forming questions. Be careful that you do not develop a sing-song speech pattern, however.
Pace. As you speak, pay attention to the speed with which you are talking. Using a variety of speeds, slower when making an important point, faster when you want to move the conversation along, will help to keep your listener interested and help them determine what is most important.
Feeling. Using a warm and feeling voice will give your customer a sense of being liked and respected. Conversely, if your voice is cold and unfeeling, your customer will pick up on that as well, and will form a negative opinion.
You can practice using proper pitch by recording your voice and listening to it to hear where the pitch is off and then re-recording it. Try recording a conversation you are having with a friend and then listen to it, paying particular attention to pitch.
Some people are more naturally soft-spoken than others. Some have excellent radio announcer voices without even trying. The volume of your voice, along with the tone and pitch, will either push your customers away, or draw them in. It is important to be aware of how the volume of your voice is affecting those you are speaking to. Watch for these signs:
- People back away from you, frown, or look around to see who is listening when you talk. You might be talking too loudly. Try lowering your voice a bit and watch to see if the listener relaxes.
- People move closer, turn their heads so their ears are pointed at you, or cup their ears when you talk. You might be talking too softly. Try raising your voice and watch to see if the listener reacts appropriately.
- If you have been told your voice is too loud, or too soft, practice speaking in more moderate tones.
Another thing to keep in mind when moderating the volume of your voice is the space you are speaking in.
- Is it outdoors with a lot of traffic or other distracting noises?
- Are you talking in a crowded restaurant?
- Are you presenting in a large conference room?
Louder voices are needed when there is a lot of distraction, but not so loud that you become a distraction for others in the area.
- Are you having a private conversation in a corner of a break room?
- Are you in a one-on-one meeting in your supervisor's office?
- Are you chatting as you walk down the hall in the office?
Use softer voices in smaller, less crowded areas.