Effective communication is an essential skill, no matter what career path you pursue. For this reason, I set young people a challenge at this year’s Bucks Skills Show.
Sitting back-to-back, one person was tasked with describing a basic image, so the other could draw it onto a blank sheet. It might sound simple, but with no visual clues, you have to provide clear and descriptive explanations in order to get the message across.
It was interesting to see how frustrated individuals became when they were given vague instructions or when the drawings didn’t match. It highlights the difference between talking and communicating.
In this activity, the results are far more effective if the instructor regularly checks understanding and the recipient is willing to ask questions. How often do we do this when we are in a workplace interaction?
Sharing information is part of any job. If we have knowledge in a particular field, there will be a time when we need to help others to understand it. We could be collaborating with colleagues, training new members of the team or delivering customer service.
Challenges can occur because there is a disparity between the levels of understanding. What seems straightforward to one, can be quite complex or confusing to the other.
In the Skills Show activity, the person with the drawing could see the image, they knew the size of the circle and where it was positioned on the page. If they said ‘draw a circle’ with no additional information, the other person could interpret that in many different ways. Assumptions were made and the results weren’t as expected.
If you provide information or instructions to others, how often do you check their understanding?
We could say that it is the responsibility of the recipient to ask questions if they aren’t clear. This certainly helps, but it relies on having the opportunity and the confidence to ask. It simply won’t happen if there’s a sense that they might look foolish, or the conversation is ended before they’ve had the chance to ask.
If you are a senior member of the team, will a new starter want to ask you to repeat a point when they are desperate to make a good first impression?
If you are serving customers and are already looking at the next person in the queue, the person in front of you feels that their time is up, even if they are still unclear.
Language and tone can also prevent others from speaking up. If you use words like ‘obviously’ or lead the conversations with phrases such as ‘well, of course, you are aware that…’ you are suggesting that everyone should know. This reduces the chance that questions will be asked.
Reading Body Language
The students taking part in my activity couldn’t benefit from reading non-verbal clues, but in face-to-face conversations, body language plays a vital role in effective communication.
When we follow what we’re being told, we tend to remain focused; keeping eye contact, nodding and actively listening. A different reaction suggests that the individual may need more assistance, even if they aren’t asking for it. If they look confused, disengaged or distracted, stop; it’s time to focus on them. What can you do to help?
Being able to speak is different from communicating effectively. Be aware that the people you talk to will have a different level of understanding to you. By clarifying understanding and providing them with the opportunity to ask questions, you will increase the chances of successfully imparting information.
If your team could benefit from fresh insight and approaches, please get in touch. Effective communication is part of my customer service training workshops and I can tailor elements to meet your specific requirements.