Communication Effect

The system of sending information or message from one place to another place is communication.

Understand the meaning of communication and system of communication. Understand about the familiar developments like Mobile, Fax, Computer, E-mail, and Telecommunication.

In ancient times it used to take many days to send a message or information to distant places. But today we can send messages to any part of the world quickly due to the development in the field of communication. The message may be in the form of written piece, sound, picture or movie. Today man uses Telegraph, Radio, Television, Telephone, Fax, Mobile, Videophone, Pager etc., through telegraphy, message can be sent in the form of words. For example: If you want to send a message “Happy Birthday” to your friend. Go to a nearby post office and send the message to his address. This message reaches your friend in few hours. The most common device used for communication is Telephone. We can converse with a person anywhere in the world through a telephone. Depending upon the distance between the communication people, service of the telephone is divided into three categories. The system of sending information or message from one place to another place is known as telecommunication. Through Fax, written material and pictures can be sent. Telephone calls are grouped as local-calls, Subscribers Trunk Dialing, International Subscribes Dialing. Through internet one can access the required information from any part of the world. The modified form of postal service is e-mail.

Speaking through the telephone while driving a vehicle or even walking is not a surprise. Here the mobile phone acts as a receiver and transmitter. The radio waves are set up between the two people, who are communicating with each other. Fax is a modified version of telegraph. The written material pictures can be sent through Fax. For Ex: If you want to send a cartoon story to a news paper, feed the fax machine with your data. The cartoon story written on a paper is transferred to the fax machine at the news paper office through telephone line as it is For this you should know the Fax number of the news paper office.

Every individual needs to be well equipped with the tools to communicate effectively, whether it is on the personal front, or at work. In fact, according to the management gurus, being a good communicator is half the battle won. After all, if one speaks and listens well, then there is little or no scope for misunderstanding. Thus, keeping this fact in mind, the primary reasons for misunderstanding is due to inability to speak well, or listen effectively.

Communication is a process of exchanging verbal and non verbal messages. It is a continuous process. Pre-requisite of communication is a message. This message must be conveyed through some medium to the recipient. It is essential that this message must be understood by the recipient in same terms as intended by the sender. He must respond within a time frame. Thus, communication is a process and is incomplete without a feedback from the recipient to the sender on how well the message is understood by him.

There are a lot of communication barriers faced these days by all. The message intended by the sender is not understood by the receiver in the same terms and sense and thus communication breakdown occurs. It is essential to deal and cope up with these communication barriers so as to ensure smooth and effective communication.

It is of utmost importance not only to communicate but also effectively communicate. Please throw some light on the first instance where Lisa was not suitably promoted. She did give her presentation, she did communicate, then why was she denied her promotion? She did not effectively communicate. The trick is not only to communicate but effectively communicate. And if you can effectively communicate, the world is all yours.

Communication process is a simple process where a message is being transferred from a sender to the receiver. The receiver after receiving the message understands the message in the desired form and then acts accordingly. Not every individual is born with good communication skills; it is inherited in due course of time as the individual passes through the various stages of life. Communication skill is an art which has to be mastered to make one’s presence feel, stand apart from the crowd and emerge as a strong leader in all facets of life.

Don’t always depend on verbal communication at work place. After any verbal communication with the fellow workers, make it a habit to send the minutes of the meeting or the important points through e-mail marking a cc to all the participants. Always depend on planners, organizers and jot down the important points against the date set as the deadline to complete a particular task. During presentations, the addressee must use whiteboards, papers and the participants also must carry a notepad to avoid forgetting any point.

Intra-personal communication skills: This implies individual reflection, contemplation and meditation. One example of this is transcendental mediation. According to the experts this type of communication encompasses communicating with the divine and with spirits in the form of prayers and rites and rituals.

Interpersonal communication skills: This is direct, face-to-face communication that occurs between two persons. It is essentially a dialogue or a conversation between two or more people. It is personal, direct, as well as intimate and permits maximum interaction through words and gestures. Interpersonal communications maybe:

Focused Interactions: This primarily results from an actual encounter between two persons. This implies that the two persons involved are completely aware of the communication happening between them.

Unfocused interactions: This occurs when one simply observes or listens to persons with whom one is not conversing. This usually occurs at stations and bus stops, as well as on the street, at restaurants, etc.

Non verbal communication skills: This includes aspects such as body language, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, etc., which also become a part of the communicating process; as well as the written and typed modes of communications.

communication like group discussion. Remember you are not the only one speaking in the group discussion; there are other participants as well who are vying for the limelight. You might get only a single chance, and you just can’t afford to miss the opportunity to create that first impression, and as they say first impression is the last impression. An individual might have complete knowledge about the topic assigned to his group, might be well aware of what is happening around him, but if he can’t effectively communicate his ideas to others, he will fail to create his mark. The way an individual communicates his ideas has to be very impressive for him to live up to the expectations of the deciding authorities.

Teddy appeared for an interview with a reputed media house. He had been eyeing for this company for quite a long time. He fared extremely well in the face to face rounds and was looking forward to getting selected in the organization. Unfortunately something else was in store for him. He could not get through the GD Round. He was exceptionally good in academics, had a healthy professional background and even expressed his ideas in his best possible way in the group discussion. The problem was in his communication level. He did try his level best but failed to impress the interviewer and thus lost out on his dream job.

Converting your thoughts into words is an art and one has to master it to win over the trust and confidence of the assessor. One has to very sensibly and carefully choose the right words to share his thoughts with the other participants and make his points clear. Never use slangs, instead go for some corporate jargons or professional terminologies for the desired edge. Also avoid cracking jokes in between as it is considered highly unprofessional. An individual must not stammer in between or chew half of his words. Speak clearly and your voice must never be shaky. There is no one who will beat you there, so why to get afraid of a group discussion?

No one will ever deduct your marks if you greet your fellow participants well. Use warm greetings and never forget the handshake on meeting. These gestures actually help in breaking the ice and create a bond among the participants. Someone has to begin the discussion, so why not you? Take the initiative and start the discussion. Introduce yourself and your team members well. Never believe in personal favors. If any participant is unwilling to speak, do not force him unnecessarily. If someone has spoken well do not hesitate to give him a pat on his back. Such non verbal communications sometimes go a long way in boosting the morale of the participants. Be very confident to win over the trust of the interviewer as well as the other participants.

The pitch and tone must also be taken good care of. You are speaking not for yourself, but for others to listen and respond. Always ensure that you are audible to one and all. Every participant must be able to hear you clearly and understand what you intend to convey. An individual must also learn the art of voice modulation. Don’t keep the same pitch always; learn to play with your tone as per the importance of the word or the sentence. If you want to raise a question to your fellow participants, it must also reflect in your voice. Avoid shouting or being too loud in group discussions. You are here to voice your opinion, not for fighting. Keep your voice polite, soft but convincing. Never sound unintelligent or foolish, as the interviewer has a constant eye on you. Do take care of your punctuation marks and the flow of words. It is no harm to take pauses or breaths in between sentences. Never repeat sentences as it will lead to monotony and others will tend to ignore you. Don’t just speak for the sake of speaking.

Always remember there are other individuals also who are participating in the group discussion. They may not be from the same background as you are, might have an altogether different thought process, but you have no right to make fun of their views. Always respect their opinion. If a participant is speaking, never criticize or oppose him in between. You will get your time to speak, and please wait for your turn. An individual has to be very patient, calm, dignified, sophisticated and above all professional in his approach. The individual who passes the information to others for sharing his thoughts and ideas with them is called the sender. (First Party) The individual who receives the information from the sender and responds accordingly to give him the feedback is called the receiver. (Second Party). In the process of communication the information must reach the receiver in exactly the same form the speaker intends to. If the recipients fail to provide feedback to the speaker, communication is considered to be ineffective and incomplete.

Communication is neither transmission of message nor message itself. It is the mutual exchange of understanding, originating with the receiver. Communication needs to be effective in business.

Communication is essence of management. The basic functions of management (Planning, Organizing, Staffing, Directing and Controlling) cannot be performed well without effective communication. Business communication involves constant flow of information. Feedback is integral part of business communication. Organizations these days are very large. It involves number of people. There are various levels of hierarchy in an organization. Greater the number of levels, the more difficult is the job of managing the organization. Communication here plays a very important role in process of directing and controlling the people in the organization. Immediate feedback can be obtained and misunderstandings if any can be avoided. There should be effective communication between superiors and subordinated in an organization, between organization and society at large (for example between management and trade unions). It is essential for success and growth of an organization.
Communication gaps should not occur in any organization. Business Communication is goal oriented. The rules, regulations and policies of a company have to be communicated to people within and outside the organization. Business Communication is regulated by certain rules and norms. In early times, business communication was limited to paper-work, telephone calls etc. But now with advent of technology, we have cell phones, video conferencing, emails, and satellite communication to support business communication. Effective business communication helps in building goodwill of an organization.

Business Communication can be of two types:
• Oral Communication
• Written Communication

Oral Communication – An oral communication can be formal or informal. Generally business communication is a formal means of communication, like: meetings, interviews, group discussion, speeches etc. An example of Informal business communication would be – Grapevine. Oral communication implies communication through mouth. It includes individuals conversing with each other, be it direct conversation or telephonic conversation. Speeches, presentations, discussions are all forms of oral communication. Oral communication is generally recommended when the communication matter is of temporary kind or where a direct interaction is required. Face to face communication (meetings, lectures, conferences,
interviews, etc.) is significant so as to build a rapport and trust.

Written Communication – Written means of business communication includes – agenda, reports, manuals etc. Written communication has great significance in today’s business world. It is an innovative activity of the mind. Effective written communication is essential for preparing worthy promotional materials for business development. Speech came before writing. But writing is more unique and formal than speech. Effective writing involves careful choice of words, their organization in correct order in sentences formation as well as cohesive composition of sentences. Also, writing is more valid and reliable than speech. But while speech is spontaneous, writing causes delay and takes time as feedback is not immediate.
Advantages of Written Communication

Written communication helps in laying down apparent principles, policies and rules for running of an organization.

It is a permanent means of communication. Thus, it is useful where record maintenance is required.

It assists in proper delegation of responsibilities. While in case of oral communication, it is impossible to fix and delegate responsibilities on the grounds of speech as it can be taken back by the speaker or he may refuse to acknowledge.

Written communication is more precise and explicit.

Effective written communication develops and enhances an organization’s image.

It provides ready records and references.

Legal defenses
An effective and efficient communication system requires managerial proficiency in delivering and receiving messages. A manager must discover various barriers to communication, analyze the reasons for their occurrence and take preventive steps to avoid those barriers. Thus, the primary responsibility of a manager is to develop and maintain an effective communication system in the organization.

Remember effective communication is a necessity in today’s challenging scenario and the above tips definitely go a long way in improving one’s communication skills.

Tips to Communicate Change Effectively to Staff

Like many internal communications, you may find that communicating change is a very demanding part of your role. In today’s environment, change is a fact of life. Companies, resistant to change, risk losing their competitive edge.

The process of change is complex. As human beings we often feel threatened by change. But the irony is that without change we might still all be living in caves. We have to admit that change can be exciting as well as challenging as it stimulates innovation and creativity. Good for business and good for us. The question is, “Is it possible to assist in managing change without all the drama?”

Before engaging in communicating change, it is important to understand the psychology of change and your role in the change process. Change needs to be effectively managed and communicated so that it is embraced rather than rejected.

One of the more sensitive areas to manage is your senior management team. They may be driving the change initiative, but may not be so good at communicating ideas in a way that is accessible to all staff. They may not even have a framework for managing the change process. Part of your job is likely to be supporting your key stakeholders and making it easy for them to communicate effectively to staff at all levels.

How can I communicate change and minimise negative aspects of the change process?
There are change management methodologies, which have proven to be successful when implementing changes. These provide a framework for managing the change and change communications process. Select processes that suit you and your company’s culture and that are appropriate to the type of change you wish to implement.

When researching change management, it doesn’t take long to learn about trust. It takes time to win employee trust, which is the foundation of an employee’s commitment to the business. It takes time to build it but only moments to destroy it. Signs that trust has been eroded include lower productivity, poor morale, resistance to change, a strong rumor mill and good staff leaving. A good change management process with effective, honest internal communications can avoid all this and make implementing changes an exciting and rewarding challenge.

Understand the psychology of change
Don’t let the change curve become a roller coaster – Change is a complex issue. Many of us do not embrace the need for change, especially when things appear to be moving along just fine. We are firmly ensconced in our comfort zone and have a sense of wellbeing. In the business world, however, senior management needs to be at least one step ahead in order to maintain their organization’s competitive edge. Senior management may read ‘comfort zone’ as ‘stagnation’ and immediately start planning to innovate and improve.

Prior to announcing any change, someone has obviously thought about the current situation, analyzed solutions, and come up with a plan. This takes time. This plan is then often rolled out to the employees. Being suddenly confronted with a change plan, and feeling left out of the loop, makes many employees feel anxious.

During times of organizational change, employees can become less productive and question their job security. Their response to change is often emotionally charged and if change is not managed and communicated effectively the chances of success reduce significantly.

‘The Change Curve’ graphically describes the psychology of change. It lists stages that employees typically move through during a change initiative. These stages range from Satisfaction (I am happy as I am) through Denial (This isn’t relevant to my work), Resistance (I’m not having this), Exploration (Could this work for me?), Hope (I can see how I can make this work for me), right through to Commitment (This works for me and my colleagues). We mustn’t overlook the fact that when there are significant changes, people may need time to grieve for any perceived or real losses.

To communicate effectively, it is vital to recognize your employees’ mindset at any stage of the process, so that you can support them, validate their feelings and move them through to the commitment stage.

Typically at the start of any change initiative employees experience:

o Fear; e.g. of job loss or of increased responsibilities
o Frustration; e.g. with the process or with lack of information, or even
o Acceptance; e.g. they recognize that change is needed or inevitable.

Understanding the needs of your key stakeholder groups and where they are along the continuum of the change curve enables you to hone your communications plan. Selecting a framework with an iterative approach, allows you to make subtle (or not so subtle changes) so your role in the change process is as effective as possible.

Think strategically and clarify your messages

Why are we changing?

Even when you have the trust of your employees, they won’t get alongside and make changes unless you provide a compelling and logical reason to change. Your strategy should be to motivate staff through inspiration, not desperation.

Having a structured process is only part of your strategic planning. An iterative process that allows you to make continual improvements depending on the feedback you receive is an excellent approach. Acting on feedback demonstrates that you are not only listening to your employees but taking note of them too. This can be a powerful way of engaging staff and moving them through to the Exploration stage of the Change Curve.

Part of a successful change management process must include communicating strategically. This includes ensuring that your management team communicate effectively. A strategic move might be to measure how effective managers are at communicating key messages and to provide some training for those who perform poorly. Roger D’Aprix comments that as soon as some leaders meet resistance they either ignore it or want to squash it. He suggests a more strategic approach; one that embraces engagement through:

o Trust
o Compelling logic
o A match of actions and words
o Involvement of those who are affected
o Communicating a sense of confidence and minimizing fear
o Repetition of the primary themes.

Think about these building blocks when you are crafting key messages to support the change process.

To build on trust, you need to be honest. Miss the chance to make a compelling case for change, and you will find that employees will concoct their own, usually less flattering, reasons for change. Don’t assume that the negative people will necessarily sabotage your project. They will if you let them, but it is your job to win them over. Converts can become your greatest allies.

‘Walk the talk’, since actions speak louder than words. Engage those who are directly affected. You may not like some of the messages you hear, especially during the Denial and Resistance stages. However, acknowledging people’s fears is one way of minimizing anxiety, especially if you work in an environment of trust and honesty.

Your messages need to accentuate the positive and eliminate (or at last minimize) the negative. Repetition is a powerful tool. People only hear the message when they are ready to hear it. Those of us who are constantly bombarded with information have got really good at screening out noise. So, repeat your key messages until everyone gets it.

Customize and target messages to each your key stakeholder groups. Don’t forget to massage your messages to take into account staff mindset at each stage of the project.

Make sure you see the project through to the end. If this means giving extra support to some groups, or providing additional training, do it. The behaviors need to become embedded.

Sun Microsystems’ ‘Knowledge, Attitude, Action’ model provides a tactical approach based on moving staff from an existing position to a desired one. For example, seek to move:

o Current employee knowledge from ‘I don’t know our strategy’ to ‘I know where we are going’
o Current employee attitude from ‘I’m scared I’ll lose my job’ to ‘I’m excited about my future’
o Current employee action from ‘I just do what I’m told’ to ‘I proactively shape my work to help the company meet its goals.’
Clear, positive messages give a clear and positive direction.

If you do not have a strategic plan, staff may feel demotivated and suspicious. You could spend a lot of time and money on communications, but still find staff uncommunicative or feeding the rumor mill. Think strategically and craft clear messages and make your communications work for you.

Listen
Do staff need to offload and should you let them?
Many change management projects get stuck right into telling staff what changes to make and then start filling them in on all details. This type of insensitive approach can cause employees to feel shocked and ambushed. And this initial shock is often followed by behaviors such as denial, anger, ‘blocking’ and in some cases depression.

Staff need time to come to grips with what the change means to them before they can move on. Since these emotions are an expected part of the change curve, it is wise to provide some avenues whereby staff can have their say. Staff who perceive that they may lose their job, or be relocated, or redeployed need to voice their concerns. Listening to and acknowledging their views will assist them and you.

Part of your role, therefore, is to find ways of listening and listening proactively. You need to create opportunities to hear what people are thinking after any changes are announced. You can use a variety of approaches such as team meetings, interviews, or open forums. It is important not just to gather feedback but to probe deeper so that you really understand the issues and understand how these issues affect each individual. Communication should be a two-way street.

Staff may be exploring their feelings as well as their options, so making comments beginning with ‘but’ or trying to answer their questions does not help them or you to clarify the issues. So listen first and try to get to the heart of the matter and acknowledge what they feel.

Sometimes staff just need a place to let off steam. If you do not listen to staff and allow their feelings and ideas to be heard, then rumor and resentment can grow. Even if you have to communicate bad news, you can manage the process with dignity. Active and empathetic listening is paramount in this process.

Use face to face meetings for sensitive issues, and allow plenty of time to hear responses and to answer questions. If you need to comment, keep your message brief and clear.

Staff may think of additional questions or wish to make further comments once they have had time to assimilate your information. Time may not permit you or other managers to have continual face to face meetings, so you may need to think of other ways to ‘listen.’

Get engagement
I’ll just keep my head down and get on with my job?

Management should not to ignore the people side of change management. According to a Harvard Business Review study, 70 percent of change initiatives are not successful because organizations fail to manage the human reaction to change.

Engagement begins at the top and applies to all levels of management. Research shows that employees tend to trust, and would rather communicate with, their immediate manager or supervisor. The implication is that this level of management plays a vital role in communicating and implementing change. Getting all levels of your management team involved in the planning and shaping of communications will make them better project champions.

Engagement is not just for the management team, it is for the staff too. Engagement takes time and patience. And you need to start at the beginning of the change process.

Steve Lemmex suggests a two part strategy. The first part involves managing resistance to change. Key strategies, at this stage, include being open, honest and giving people time to express their feelings and to come to grips with the implications of the change.

The second part involves being patient and ensuring staff are ready for the Exploration stage. This is when you involve staff by asking them to explore the ‘what, why, when and how’ things need to be done. This inclusive approach maximizes buy in and validates your staff skills. It encourages engagement. Involving people and letting them take ownership drives acceptance and commitment. In addition, staff often find innovative ways to make things work that managers would never have thought of.

Getting engagement often requires sensitivity, especially if there is bad news for some. Make the best of difficult situations, even if this means acknowledging what has not gone well. Where there is loss, (staff leaving or projects being abandoned) give staff time to grieve. Acknowledging loss gives closure and allows people to move on.

If you are working on a project that has experienced communications problems you may want to signal a radical change and commit to improving communications from this point forward. Once you are certain of support for really effective and open communication, why not formally bid farewell to the old way and welcome a new beginning with a celebration.

Tackle issues honestly and positively. Try to view circumstances dispassionately as emotions can cloud issues. As staff become actively engaged in improving their circumstances, they will feel empowered and positive.

Getting the right message to the right audience
So what’s this got to do with me?

People are really good at hearing what they want to hear and screening out messages that they either don’t want to hear, or are not ready to hear. This makes your role in internal communications a complex one, particularly in times of change. When significant changes are being planned, you not only need to understand each stakeholder group but you also need to take into account individuals and how they may react on a personal level to the changes. You have to get the message and the language right.

You will have clear messages that support the planned changes and assist in moving the project forward. However before communicating these messages, conduct a systematic audit of your audiences. Consider their needs, the way change may affect them and their current mindset. Then adapt your messages to ensure each group understands each message as you intend them to, so that subsequently, each person acts or thinks in the way you desire.

Repetition is important. You don’t want to bombard staff with information, but you do want to keep up momentum, and you do want staff to receive the right information at the right time. Consider using a variety of ways to send and receive information and messages. Use push and pull strategies. Some information will need to be pushed out to staff, whereas other information can just be there for when staff need it.

If you are the intermediary in some of the communications, make sure you respond in a timely manner to all interested parties.

Get the right people involved in communicating the change initiative. This sends a strong message to staff. Engaging people who have an in-depth understanding of the way your business runs, who are team players and who staff respect will make your communications tasks so much easier. They can smooth transitions, provide context for their teams, model the right behaviors and act as project champions for you. So when your staff ask, ‘What’s this got to do with me? Your team has all the answers.

Communicate, communicate, communicate
Nobody told me

Human beings often screen out what they don’t want to hear, or what they are not ready to hear. No matter how vociferous you have been, you will always find someone who says, “Nobody told me!”

So what implication does this have for internal communications? Three strategies spring to mind:

1. Get sign off from staff to say they have received and understood information. At some stage you might need proof.
2. Take an iterative approach, so that key messages are repeated. Try delivering the same message through different channels, or presenting it differently, to prevent boredom setting in.
3. Make sure your strategy includes preparing people to receive information. Listening is often overlooked. Listen proactively, acknowledge emotions and ideas and receive feedback. Get staff actively involved and engaged to help them be receptive to your messages.

Communication can be about timing. Staff who are informed in advance are more likely to be excited and motivated than staff who find out about developments accidentally or through the media. It is not surprising that staff feel shocked or become angry if they find out about significant changes through a media announcement. They may feel they have lost face (which can be devastating, especially in some cultures). We all concede that there are many occasions when staff simply cannot be informed of everything. But what can you do to assist? One avenue may be to organize a staff briefing that occurs at the same time as a public announcement. You need to get your timing right, so you don’t make a bad situation worse by appearing to be insensitive or tardy.

When staff become aware of impending change, this is the time when leaks spring and the rumor mill fires up. When this happens, keep communication channels open, communicate up, down and across the lines of communication, and prepare managers well.

Effective communication is ongoing, two-way, and targeted. Brief is good. Don’t bog staff down with lengthy missives. They are busy enough with their work and dealing with the changes, without having to decipher complex, lengthy or irrelevant reports.

You can’t avoid the fact that sometimes you have bad news to communicate. If you have built up trust, communicate honestly and clearly, and have in place strategies to cope with staff reactions (loss, grief, dismay), then you and your staff are in the best position to deal with the situation in a productive and dignified way.

Keep communicating even when a change project is reaching its final stages. Make sure you see it through. Reinforcing new skills, practices or behaviors is a vital part of embedding the change. Don’t let staff revert back to the old ways by cutting the communications cord too soon.

Use the right communications channels
I found out my job was under threat by email!

As communications experts, you know how important it is to select the right communication channel. It is too easy to get so caught up in a busy project that you overlook some of the basics. So while planning your communications strategy, make sure you take time to select the right tool for the job.

Research shows that face to face communication is required if you really want staff to adopt new behaviors. Face to face is also the best channel for planning and dealing with sensitive issues. It allows you to gauge reactions, to get instant feedback and to ensure that everyone has received and understood the message.

You may not want to front up to people when you have to communicate bad news. But if you are honest and empathetic, and demonstrate that you are prepared to listen, to take note of feedback and to answer the hard questions, then you have delivered unpalatable news in the best possible way. They may not like the message, but they will respect you for fronting up.

Even if you are on a mission to save trees, don’t forget about paper. It is still best for complex and lengthy material. It is also very useful to support face to face and phone conversations.

The intranet is great for searching for and retrieving factual information. But take note, the intranet does not change behavior, you need the personal touch to do this.

Email, it is quick and convenient and overused. ‘Communicating change via email or voicemail is like ending a relationship that was – it’s just bad form. It leaves the recipient bewildered and angry, and whom ever is delivering the message looking very bad.’ (Veronica Apostolico, Ref 9). In addition, email is not always considered effective. A District Court ruling in Massachusetts on employee communications found against a company that communicated a change in procedure via email, because the message was not effectively communicated. If you do choose to convey important information via email, make sure you get some acknowledgment of receipt and understanding.

There are now so many channels to choose from, it’s a good idea to list the ones you have available, and then match the message to the channel. Using a variety of channels means that you can repeat messages, without looking as if you are hammering home a point (even if you are). It means that staff can’t ‘escape’ from what’s happening, or deny all knowledge.

There are other issues to consider when devising your communication strategy. What information needs to be pushed out to staff and what should staff ‘pull’ in? If you are pushing information, how can you be sure they have received it? And if you have provided information for staff to find and use as required, do you need to know how many ‘hits’ the information gets, so you can measure how much it is used?

Using project champions can be a powerful ploy. Project champions communicate really strongly by modeling behaviors, through conversing with staff, and demonstrating how proposed changes really work for your staff.

Use story telling to paint the picture
I just don’t see how that’ll work

‘… truly flexible, fully integrated, adaptable IT infrastructure using an SOA approach to develop modular, easily integrated and reused…blah blah blah…’ Does this mean anything to your staff, apart from those in IT?

How can you make this message sound exciting? Why not get them to visualize it and paint a picture instead? For example, ‘Just think after go-live, all you have to do is to click on the client contact, and from there you can complete all the transactions. You no longer have to open several applications, or photocopy documents, or scan in information. Our new system will do all that for you behind the scenes.’

Tell stories so staff can visualize outcomes. Many cultures prefer a narrative approach, rather that the abrupt, business-like approach that we often adopt. In everyday life, most people tell stories to get their point across, or illustrate their viewpoint by giving concrete examples.
Story telling is relevant to all stages of the change process. At the outset, encourage staff to visualize what the changes will look like. Then they can see exactly what needs to be done. Visualization is very powerful when it encapsulates a positive view of the future. This is especially useful when trying to get staff to move from ‘Could this work for me?” to ‘I can see how I can make this work for me.’

Building scenarios makes change seem possible and gets everyone past blinkered thinking. This is partly because many people are not comfortable with abstract ideas and theory. Making your project concrete makes it real, and making it real makes it happen. Creative visualization has long been recognized as an effective tool for planning and implementing change. So add it to your toolbox.

Make it easy for management to communicate effectively?
I don’t have time to see everyone.

Don’t ignore the people side of change. Change management is usually studied from a technical viewpoint. For example, how can the changes be implemented and what processes, procedures or approaches are required. Buzz words such as process re-engineering and corporate re-structuring appear to deny human involvement. But change affects staff and the effect on staff cannot be ignored. Managers need to hone their communications skills so they communicate with tact and diplomacy.

Work as a team and plan alliances that will help you smooth the path to change. Note that ‘data from 25,000 employees, in diverse industries, consistently rank front-line managers No 1 in credibility. Employees are also more comfortable speaking up with questions and ideas to their immediate manager than with any other management level’. If senior management does not have time to see everyone, maybe they should delegate some communications to their front line managers. Train managers to deliver the right message to their unique audience. Their role is to provide context around key messages in a way that suits their team’s style and emotions.

You may need to train managers to play an active role in planning and delivering messages about change initiatives. This training could include motivational techniques, team building, negotiation, delegation or dealing with conflict. Managers need to understand that resistance is part of the normal reaction to change. Anticipating this through proactive planning enables management to prepare their staff for change, so that they move quickly along the change curve, from Denial and Resistance, to Exploration, Hope and Commitment. Managers, who are movers and shakers in the change management process, may need a reminder that many staff need time to come to terms with change. Planning some ‘being patient’ time could save time in the long run.

Contrary to popular belief, management often find it very time-consuming to write reports to staff, or even if they find time, you, as internal communications, may feel that their language or approach makes their report inaccessible. Support them and make it easy for them. Having a variety of communication channels available is very helpful, especially if you select approaches and tools that make everything as quick and intuitive as possible.

If your CEO is not able to meet face to face to deliver a sensitive message, then maybe a video presentation would be an effective alternative for conveying the message. Staff will still be able to hear the emotion and see the passion. Good communicators can instill confidence and enthusiasm, and in so doing they still the rumor mill and quell unfounded anxieties.

If writing a report seems too formal or time-consuming, then consider submitting a short article in your company newsletter of magazine. A slightly less formal format may assist management to use a more ‘user-friendly’ and ‘human’ approach.

Success can be enhanced if managers play an active role in both planning and delivering messages about change initiatives.

Measure results, celebrate success
I am sure that we got the message across. But what did actually happen?

Measurement is critical in times of change and the best communication strategies involve measuring for effectiveness. It is important to understand whether messages are hitting the mark and to confirm that people are on the same page as you (or at least the page you expected them to be on).

Your first step is to list the desired outcomes of your change communications project, and decide how you will measure the success of each outcome. And do you have current data to use as a comparison?

You probably want to measure:
o Staff attitudes (to the project, to how well their managers get the message across)
o Staff emotions (where they are on the change curve?)
o Level of skill development or knowledge acquisition
o How well is your communications strategy working?
o Have messages been received, read and understood?

If you measure every step of the way, you can tweak messages and change tack when an approach is not working as well as it might. Regular surveys that give a snapshot of how people are feeling allow you to track the overall trend, otherwise it is easy to let your opinion of progress be colored by the ‘squeaky wheels’ in your organization;

You need to gather qualitative as well as quantitative data, and decide on effective ways to present and use the information. Proof of progress validates your planning, informs management and motivates staff.

Effective Communication Skills For Today’s Managers – Life Lessons

Effectively communicating to your employees will result in a more efficient operation and will help achieve the bottom-line objectives of any company, business, or basic interaction. As a manager, your communication skill is critical in directing the actions of your employees. This basic managerial skill course in communication will enable you to become a better manager for yourself, and for your organization. You will learn how to communicate effectively, which will help you to maximize “work through others” to get the job done.

There are many components to communication. Consider verbal communication skills, listening skills, written memorandums/email, telephone skills and non-verbal communication. Also, reflect upon all the people we communicate to: subordinates, peers, supervisors, customers, and groups of people. In addition, ponder some of the reasons, why we communicate: to get and give information, to discipline subordinates, to make assignments, and so on.

We will not be able to explore every facet and component of communication. Rather, we will focus on the general principles of effective communication that apply to most situations and we will point out important things to remember for some specific situations. We will use only as much “theory” as needed to gain basic understanding of communication problems. Primarily, we will discuss what you can do to become an effective communicator.

Our Objectives

Upon completion, you will be capable of:

1) Recognizing communication problems and barriers.
2) Implementing techniques to resolve communication problems and barriers.
3) Demonstrating the basic general rules of effective communication.
4) Using special techniques in specific communication situations.

This is designed to do more than just give you information on communicating. Rather, it is set up to teach you skills which you can apply in your day to day routine.

What is Communication?

Communication is simply the sending of a message to another person. The person sending the message first needs to formulate the message in his head. This involves determining the meaning that the sender intends to convey to the other person. To formulate the meaning of the message, the sender usually draws upon his background attitudes, perceptions, emotions, opinions, education, and experience.

The message is then sent to the listener through both verbal talking and non-verbal gestures. The person receiving this message then interprets its meaning. To do this, the listener uses his background, attitudes, perceptions, emotions, opinions, education, and experience.

Effective communication exists between two persons when the person receiving the message interprets it in the same way as the sender intended it. Sounds really simple doesn’t it? Well, it can be.

Who is Responsible for Communicating Effectively?

Managers share the responsibility in communicating effectively with the individual employees themselves. The manager is 100% responsible for communicating effectively with their employees.

This includes establishing an open and trusting climate for communication, as well as demonstrating good communication techniques to their employees. The employee is 100% responsible for taking advantage of the “climate for communication” to express what is important and relevant. For example,it is expected that a manager will ask “are there any questions?” after giving an employee an assignment, but it is also expected that an employee will say, “I have a question”, if one should occur to the employee, without waiting for the manager to ask.

Why Managers Need to be Effective Communicators?

o Communication is used so frequently that “we cannot afford to do it poorly”.
o Communication has a special power: to create interest, stimulate action, achieve agreement, foster enthusiasm.
o Communication is the primary method that managers use to direct their employee’s behavior.
o Communication is the basis for almost all other managerial skills. It is involved in delegating duties to subordinates, motivating employees, demonstrating leadership abilities, training new policies and programs, and counseling performance problems, etc.

Barriers to Effective Communication

o Supervisor inaccessible.
o Supervisor buried in work.
o Supervisor always in a hurry.
o Supervisor maintains a pre-occupied expression; little eye-contact with employees.
o Supervisor only informal with his peers or boss (never with subordinates).
o Supervisor tells employees to “write it up” instead of promoting discussion.
o Supervisor never asks, “How’s it going?”.

Where do Difficulties in Communication Arise?

The basic source of misunderstanding between two persons are communication failures that occur when the receiver understands the meaning of a message differently than it was intended. We do not always communicate what we intend.

Communication failures arise when there is a gap between what the sender meant and what the receiver thought the sender meant.

Communication failure can be caused by:

o Being so preoccupied that you do not listen to what other are saying.
o Being so interested in what you have to say that you listen only to find an opening to work your way into the conversation.
o Being so sure that you know what the other person is going to say that you distort what you hear to match your expectation.
o Evaluating and judging the speakers, which makes the speaker guarded and defensive.
o Not being able to “see past the words” and get the emotional message of the sender.
o Not trusting the speaker and becoming suspicious of what is being said.

Setting the Stage for Effective Communication

Even before the first word is uttered, various factors are already at work that can affect the success or failure of our communications. Let’s examine these factors to see what role they play.

Communicator’s Appearance

Before we ever say a word, others have been receiving messages from us. We communicate to others just by the way we dress and groom. In the book Dressing for Success, the author notes that other people conclude about 17 different things about us just on the basis of how we appear.

Many businesses utilize a dress code to guide people to the appropriate type of attire. It use to be traditional within the business world for men to wear a coat and tie. This conveys to others that we are professionals. In addition, conservative colors are preferred to more outspoken colors. This communicates seriousness, stability, and a “down-to-business” attitude. Recent changes have occurred in this area, just always remember that people do make conclusions about you based on your appearance. Understand the expectation as it relates to dress code and insure you are in tune with the company position.

Communicator’s Past Conversations

Communication experts tell us that the credibility of the communicator, as determined by past conversations, is a critical factor in effective communication. Credibility refers to the attitude the listener has toward the truthfulness and trustworthiness of the sender’s statements. When a listener views the sender as dependable, knowledgeable, reliable, warm and friendly, emphatic, and non-selfish, the message that is sent will be more likely to be received. Unless we seem credible to the receiver. our message will be discounted and we will not be able to communicate effectively with him.

Communicator’s Personality

The personality of the communicator plays a part in both the formulation of the message and in how the message is communicated. Each individuals beliefs, opinions, prejudices, feelings, biases, and personal experiences enter into the development of a message. Most of the time this happens quickly, automatically, and out of habit. In addition to influencing what we think and say, our personalities also play a role in how we say the message. You may know of an instance where two managers sound completely different in conveying the same exact message to a listener. For example a result oriented manager may talk in short, concise, action-oriented sentences, while another manager may end up in a long discourse including many details and side points.

The Communication Situation

The situation and circumstances surrounding our communication plays a part in determining its success or failure. Although many types of situations affect the messages we send, one particular type that can easily distort our messages is communication under stress. Stress, by its very nature, makes it difficult for us to “think clearly”. In a stress situation, the meaning of the message can be distorted; subtle shades of meaning can be confused; pieces of information can be forgotten; minor points may seem more important than major points. In addition, the wording of the communication may suffer. Uncertainty, nervousness, and confusion can creep into the speaker’s voice, resulting in a less assertive statement.

Communicating Effectively – Verbal Communication

Verbal communication means talking. The goal in communicating verbally is to convey a message to another person so that the other person understands it exactly as the person talking intended it. A well communicated message is one which the other person can accurately repeat back in his own words. Verbal communication can be made more effective by:

o Talking about specific rather than general situations.
o Using concrete language, e.g., “merchandise” rather than “stuff”.
o Using words familiar to employees; explaining unfamiliar words.
o Including an example to illustrate the point.
o Giving sufficient detail to convey the point.
o Giving details slowly and in order.
o Making it a practice to address the five “W” questions in the topic (if applicable).

Who is involved?
What is the situation; how did it begin?
When will it occur?
Where is it taking place? What you think, believe, feel?
Why will it happen? Why is this important?

Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication refers to the gestures and body positions that accompany ones speaking. All people display certain gestures or lack of them when talking. It is important to be aware of your nonverbal communication, for it plays a big role in making your total communication effective.

Effective communication occurs when a person’s verbal message and nonverbal message both “say the same thing”. Problems in communication occur when the speaker’s words say one thing, but his gestures and body language says something else.

Types of Nonverbal Communication

All of the following “says something”. In the specific context, they should correspond and reinforce the spoken message.

o Eye contact.
o Position of our arms and legs.
o The distance we stand from others when talking to them.
o Where we sit at a table or in relation to others.
o Smiling.
o Nodding or other head movements.

The manager can use nonverbal behaviors in two ways. First, when speaking, he can monitor his own nonverbal behavior and try to make sure it corresponds and emphasizes what he is verbally saying.

For example:

o When taking charge of a situation, the manager should have good eye contact with his subordinates, stand in a straight posture, use a firm but not overbearing voice,and point to what he wants done.

o Upon noticing customers, the employee should smile to indicate friendliness, make eye contact to acknowledge the customer’s presence, tun his body in the direction of the customer to indicate his willingness to help if needed.

The other way a manager can use nonverbal behavior is in “listening to what others are really saying”. If the manager notices the employee saying one thing verbally but another thing non verbally, then the manager should suspect that the verbal message being said may be somewhat “incomplete”.

Active listening skills is what separates the good from the great. Learn to listen with your ears, eyes and perception paying attention to both the verbal and nonverbal communication.

For example:

An employee who says that he would feel comfortable doing a task but who exhibits folded arms, crossed legs, and tensed neck muscles might not be feeling as comfortable as he thinks. The manager who suspects this might need to keep his eye on this situation.

Written Communication

In written communication, the simpler, shorter, and more direct the better. This can be remembered by the equation:

Effectiveness = Conciseness = Completeness

Try the following tips for achieving concise and complete communication.

o Use simple words; your goal is not to impress your reader with your vocabulary, it is to get the point across.
o Make sure the words exactly express the thought; different words can slant the entire message of your point.
o Make the sentence structure clear; poor grammar, run on sentences, etc., can distort the point you want to make.
o Use a different paragraph for each complete unit of thought.
o Make sure all of the necessary information is included.
o Anticipate questions and include the answers in your message.
o Use only essential words and phrases.
o Make sure your facts, dates, times, etc., are correct.
o Consider the tone of the memorandum. Make sure it doesn’t contain antagonism or preaching. I highly suggest that if you are upset about something, it is OK to write out your thoughts and ideas for making the situation better. Then make sure you do not send it, until you read it the next day. You will find in most cases that what you want to say does not change, but how you say it will change dramatically once you are over the emotions you attached to it.
o Make sure it is neat in appearance.

Remember all written memorandums have a dual purpose: you want the reader to receive your message and you want to do it the shortest, quickest way possible without leaving out necessary information.

All memorandums written in this way will be a good reflection upon you.

Phone Conversations

Talking on the phone lies between face-to-face communication and written communication in regard to information we can receive from the other person. Phone conversations do not give us access to the body language of the other person, hence, we miss the nonverbal cues accompanying the words. On the other hand, phone communication does allow us to take into account the tone of voice the other person is using, unlike written communication/email.

Voice tone can be used in two ways. First, we can vary our voice tone to reinforce what we are saying verbally. Managers can convey competence, sincerity, and trust through the tone of their voice when talking to customers or employees.

Secondly, we can pay attention to other people’s tone of voice, much like nonverbal behavior, to check on unspoken feelings and thoughts. To do this accurately, practice listening to both the words and the tone of the voice that carries the words.

When talking to someone you have spoken to before, pay attention to changes in their usual voice qualities. Some people speak slow, loud, or clear. When these people change their normal voice qualities, they are communicating something extra to us. It is up to us to look for cues to detect what these changes in customary

voice tones mean. Remember, you can’t talk to someone on the phone and someone in front of you both at the same time and do justice to either party.

Communicating to a Group

Communicating to a group can be as simple as making an announcement r as complex as running a training program requiring much group participation. Much of what has been presented in this training applies to communicating to a group. Pre-communication factors, such as your appearance, credibility, and the specifics of the situation plays large part in establishing a successful presentation. Talking effectively and using nonverbal body language to correspond to the spoken words can all be used in group settings. A particularly skillful speaker can even “read” the nonverbal cues of the group as a whole and use this information to adjust his talk.

Listening

Why you Should Listen to Your Employees

o Employees might have helpful ideas.
o Employees might know causes of problems in the workplace.
o Employees might be able to warn me about potential problems I haven’t yet recognized.
o How employees feel about things can be a tip-of future problems.

Ways of Not Listening

o Signing routine papers.
o Sorting papers.
o Allowing long telephone interruptions.
o Sneaking looks at the time.
o Gazing out of the window, or at distractions passing by.
o Maintaining pre-occupied facial expressions.
o Calling orders to other employees in between sentences.
o Fidgeting nervously, shaking foot, playing with gadgets, coffee cup, etc.

Inhibiting Communication from Your Employees

Avoid the following to prevent cutting off future communication from your employees:

o Blaming the employee who gave you bad news.
o Getting angry.
o “Falling apart”.
o Demanding the employee to justify work that is reported to be not going well.

How should you react to news:
React to bad news by remaining objective; keep your emotions under control; switch to a “problem-solving”, “let’s get this situation corrected” approach. Respond to good news with praise, acknowledgment and appreciation.

Active Listening
Active listening is comprised of three separate and important skills: attention skills, following skills, and responding skills. Attention skills are those actions you take to put the talker at ease, to non verbally show you are listening, and to best “pay attention to” what the other person is trying to say. Maintaining eye contact, eliminating distractions, and concentrating on both the verbal and nonverbal are examples of attention skills.

Following Skills
These are the skills we use to encourage the conversation along; to get the point the person is making. Nodding our heads, saying “uh-huh”, “I see”, and “go on” are following skills. Asking appropriate questions to bring out the point is a following skill as is allowing silences without jumping in. All following skills serve two purposes: to indicate to the speaker that you are “with him” and to help him get the point across.

Responding Skills
This is where we determine if we received and interpreted the message as the speaker intended it. Say something like, “If I understand correctly, you are saying … ” and go on to paraphrase that we understand, using our own words. Check out the facts and ideas, the main point of what the speaker said. It is only after we are sure that we understood the message as intended, can we then evaluate, judge, take action, or supply an answer or comment.

Communicating on the Job – Who We Communicate To
Before the message is formulated and communicated, we become aware of who we will be sending it to. How and what we communicate can change depending upon who is the intended audience.

Upward Communication
If we will be communicating to our immediate supervisor, our message might be prepared, formulated, and presented in a specific manner. For example, if we need to seek assistance from our supervisor, asking an open-ended question will result in more information than a question that can be answered yes or no.

Peer Communication
If the communication is intended for a peer, the message might be less “formally” prepared and presented. For example, less background information might need to be given since the peer can “easily relate” to the situation to be described.

Downward Communication
The manager who is communicating to his subordinate may need to do so in a different way than to others. Clear, concise, directions might be the format for much of the messages the manager gives to his employees. In addition, the manager may follow-up many of his messages with, “Do you have any questions?”.

Checking For Understanding
When communicating with employees, it is always a good idea to check for understanding. Simply take a second and ask ” recap for me what I have asked you to do.” By doing this, you can clear up any missed communication that may have taken place. This step is helpful for both parties as it allows them to communicate back to you that they heard and understood your direction. This is a critical step in delegation of tasks.

Communicating With Customers
Communicating to a customer also affects how the message is formulated and delivered. Messages conveyed to customers need to be totally accurate and delivered in a professional and friendly manner.

Purpose of the Communication
When we talk to someone, we usually have a purpose. The purpose of the communication differs depending on the situation and who we are addressing. A manager may communicate for any of the following reasons:

o To motivate employees.
o To teach, instruct, or explain a task.
o To counsel an employee.
o To seek information or assistance.
o To correct an employee’s behavior.
o To be persuasive.
o To socialize.

With each of these purposes, the communication changes in order to accomplish our goal.

One of my favorite leaders use to say, that you will have become a master of communication when you are able to tell someone where to go and to have them looking forward to the trip!

How a Social Impact Calculator on Aging Can Help Your Community

Many of our communities have been involved with Community Needs Assessments, Community Health Needs Assessments, Community Economic Development Plans, and ongoing planning for the built environment. All of these planning lenses are helpful ways to look at communities, and build for the future. One of the most important lenses to use for community planning for the next 10 to 20 years is the projected impact of aging on our communities, counties and states. What will is mean for a state to move from being 39th in proportion of older adults in 2010, to being 4th by 2030? What does it mean for a county to have a population shift that includes an increase of older adults by over 100% in the next 10 years, along with a projected reduction of people under 40 years old?

Understanding the Demographic Trend

The demographic trend has been called by many names, such as the “Age Wave,” or “Silver Tsunami,” with arguments in meetings and on blogs about whether those terms are helpful or pejorative, descriptive or ageist. In addition, some people find the terms “elderly” difficult, while others find “seniors” to be patronizing. Once people have dealt with parsing the grammatical minefield, then the most important issues are to understand both the demographic trend and other substantive factors.

Although a few in the field indicate that the aging of the population is rather slow and easily absorbed, the vast majority of experts agree that this is a significant, fast-moving trend that will not be easily absorbed. Research I’ve conducted has covered everything from future health professional shortages and health system gaps to the built environment, funding and policy trends. The potential impact of the aging of our population on communities and states is significant. It will require proactive, sustained responses at community, state and national levels.

Some communities and states are better positioned to respond to this trend than others.

Impact Also Depends on a Few Other Key Factors

The ability of groups to effectively respond depends upon a number of other key factors. Although the demographic trend is the primary issue, other important factors impacting our ability to respond include the following:

Overall community health;
Poverty levels, average and median incomes (especially for middle aged and elderly);
Local municipal budgets, economic ratings, and taxing capacity;
Legislation, policies, and funding related to both aging and community development;
Regional infrastructure and built environment.

The impact of the demographic trend is also shaped by the state of community and regional planning already in place to deal with the impact of aging upon our communities. Leadership and citizen engagement are also important factors that could help drive and mobilize initiatives. Leaders can and should respond. The issues are complex, but not overwhelming. However, they need to be addressed proactively.

How a Social Calculator can Predict the Potential Impact of Aging for Communities and States

Many of these factors have been analyzed by our team through a number of aging related research and planning projects over the past few years. We are now completing an Aging Social Impact Calculator that can provide an initial scan of the local environment, and the state environment. It looks at key factors that shape a county’s or state’s social, economic, and community health.

Research projects that I’ve recently completed demonstrate that the Social Determinants of Health, health rankings, economic benchmarks and policy issues either help communities and states to move forward, or serve as additional challenges.

Social Determinants. The Social Determinants shape us as individuals, families and communities. They include things such as family income, jobs, poverty and financial assets. Income, assets, poverty, and unemployment have been demonstrated to be some of the most important shapers of family and community health, health disparities, and health equity. Race and ethnicity have been seen as extremely important by the World Health Organization, U.S. federal government bureaus, and the health research and funding community. Individual, family and community educational levels are also significant. Taken together, or aggregated, one finds community snapshots that reflect the local economy, jobs and poverty; racial and ethnic mix; and educational levels. They help to predict how our lives will be shaped in the future.

Community and State Health Rankings. Communities and states are rated on their overall health by many research groups. One of the key national ratings used is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJ) annual County Health Rankings and Roadmaps. They provide excellent state and county ratings based upon an analysis using more than a few dozen separate indicators. That ranking provides extremely important information to help determine whether an area faces significant health disparities and inequities. Rankings can tell planners whether community health challenges will pose additional difficulties that negatively impact the community’s ability to respond to the aging trend; or whether the positive community health will facilitate communities to implement strategies to respond. These health rankings can help inform plans that more effectively address key issues.

Economic Benchmarks. Communities are very much shaped by large and small economic trends. Short and long-term economic ratings provide a picture of community economic health. Counties and states with strong economic ratings have more ability to respond to these challenges than do those with a weak economic picture. Communities that face a loss of jobs and capital, and a diminishing tax base, are not as well positioned to respond to the Age Wave as communities that have a different economic picture.

Other factors that can also help predict the impact of the demographic trend include whether or not a region has a net population loss. Areas that are losing population also begin to lose jobs and infrastructure over time, unless this can be proactively addressed.

Laws, policies, legislative initiatives and funding priorities and strategies can also shape how well a local community or state is able to respond to this trend. Policies and funding that support economic development, the built environment, and services for older adults provide an environment that facilitates a community or county’s proactive response to this demographic trend.

The Power of Collective Impact

The combined, or collective impact of (1) demographic trends, (2) Social Determinants, (3) health rankings, (4) local and state economies, and (5) policies together shape a region’s sustainability. They also can serve as general predictors of how hard hit a community may be by the aging of the population. Taken together, these factors provide a picture of what may happen for communities, counties and states. They help us understand current and projected collective impact.

Aging Social Impact Calculator

The Aging Social Impact Calculator looks at states and counties, and provides an initial prediction about the level of impact you may expect from the aging of the population in your region. Some of the most important benchmarks that make up the predictive picture include:

Demographic Factors
Social Determinants of Health
County Health Ranking (Health Outcomes and Health Risk Behaviors)
County Economic Picture
Policy and Funding Framework

Working with a Predictor

Any social impact calculator has predictive capabilities. Many economic calculators have been used successfully by the World Bank, the Low Income Investment Fund, and others. The Robert Wood Johnson’s County Health Rankings and Roadmaps and state level health department profiles (like the New Mexico Community Snapshots) provide pictures of community health that capture both the present and the near future. The Aging Social Impact Calculator offers snapshots of projected impact on a community, and the community’s strengths and weaknesses in that will affect its ability to respond. It provides a helpful picture of local and state capacity, which can help leaders to choose priorities that fit their capacity to respond.

Predictors offer a holistic general picture that can serve as an important starting point for communities and states to respond to the needs of older adults. They serve as broad frameworks or roadmaps. Once a predictor profile is developed, then community leaders can look deeper into the community to:

Understand and address key issues;
Choose priorities, and create the size and scope of a response that fit community capacity;
Build upon community strengths and assets;
Reduce risks;
Create plans that bring stakeholders together and leverage resources.

Every state and community has its own unique assets that can be utilized to respond to this issue, which are complex, and difficult to measure with a social impact calculator. These include the rich family and social networks, community leaders, volunteers, faith communities and civic organizations that represent significant community assets.

1. The term “Age Wave” was coined by Ken Dychtwald decades ago to capture the coming demographic trend that was then on the horizon, and is now a reality.

2. Social Determinants of Health were developed by the World Health Organization, and utilized by major institutions (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Kaiser Foundation) and key research organizations throughout the U.S. to deal with community health in a holistic way.

Communication Effect

The system of sending information or message from one place to another place is communication.

Understand the meaning of communication and system of communication. Understand about the familiar developments like Mobile, Fax, Computer, E-mail, and Telecommunication.

In ancient times it used to take many days to send a message or information to distant places. But today we can send messages to any part of the world quickly due to the development in the field of communication. The message may be in the form of written piece, sound, picture or movie. Today man uses Telegraph, Radio, Television, Telephone, Fax, Mobile, Videophone, Pager etc., through telegraphy, message can be sent in the form of words. For example: If you want to send a message “Happy Birthday” to your friend. Go to a nearby post office and send the message to his address. This message reaches your friend in few hours. The most common device used for communication is Telephone. We can converse with a person anywhere in the world through a telephone. Depending upon the distance between the communication people, service of the telephone is divided into three categories. The system of sending information or message from one place to another place is known as telecommunication. Through Fax, written material and pictures can be sent. Telephone calls are grouped as local-calls, Subscribers Trunk Dialing, International Subscribes Dialing. Through internet one can access the required information from any part of the world. The modified form of postal service is e-mail.

Speaking through the telephone while driving a vehicle or even walking is not a surprise. Here the mobile phone acts as a receiver and transmitter. The radio waves are set up between the two people, who are communicating with each other. Fax is a modified version of telegraph. The written material pictures can be sent through Fax. For Ex: If you want to send a cartoon story to a news paper, feed the fax machine with your data. The cartoon story written on a paper is transferred to the fax machine at the news paper office through telephone line as it is For this you should know the Fax number of the news paper office.

Every individual needs to be well equipped with the tools to communicate effectively, whether it is on the personal front, or at work. In fact, according to the management gurus, being a good communicator is half the battle won. After all, if one speaks and listens well, then there is little or no scope for misunderstanding. Thus, keeping this fact in mind, the primary reasons for misunderstanding is due to inability to speak well, or listen effectively.

Communication is a process of exchanging verbal and non verbal messages. It is a continuous process. Pre-requisite of communication is a message. This message must be conveyed through some medium to the recipient. It is essential that this message must be understood by the recipient in same terms as intended by the sender. He must respond within a time frame. Thus, communication is a process and is incomplete without a feedback from the recipient to the sender on how well the message is understood by him.

There are a lot of communication barriers faced these days by all. The message intended by the sender is not understood by the receiver in the same terms and sense and thus communication breakdown occurs. It is essential to deal and cope up with these communication barriers so as to ensure smooth and effective communication.

It is of utmost importance not only to communicate but also effectively communicate. Please throw some light on the first instance where Lisa was not suitably promoted. She did give her presentation, she did communicate, then why was she denied her promotion? She did not effectively communicate. The trick is not only to communicate but effectively communicate. And if you can effectively communicate, the world is all yours.

Communication process is a simple process where a message is being transferred from a sender to the receiver. The receiver after receiving the message understands the message in the desired form and then acts accordingly. Not every individual is born with good communication skills; it is inherited in due course of time as the individual passes through the various stages of life. Communication skill is an art which has to be mastered to make one’s presence feel, stand apart from the crowd and emerge as a strong leader in all facets of life.

Don’t always depend on verbal communication at work place. After any verbal communication with the fellow workers, make it a habit to send the minutes of the meeting or the important points through e-mail marking a cc to all the participants. Always depend on planners, organizers and jot down the important points against the date set as the deadline to complete a particular task. During presentations, the addressee must use whiteboards, papers and the participants also must carry a notepad to avoid forgetting any point.

Intra-personal communication skills: This implies individual reflection, contemplation and meditation. One example of this is transcendental mediation. According to the experts this type of communication encompasses communicating with the divine and with spirits in the form of prayers and rites and rituals.

Interpersonal communication skills: This is direct, face-to-face communication that occurs between two persons. It is essentially a dialogue or a conversation between two or more people. It is personal, direct, as well as intimate and permits maximum interaction through words and gestures. Interpersonal communications maybe:

Focused Interactions: This primarily results from an actual encounter between two persons. This implies that the two persons involved are completely aware of the communication happening between them.

Unfocused interactions: This occurs when one simply observes or listens to persons with whom one is not conversing. This usually occurs at stations and bus stops, as well as on the street, at restaurants, etc.

Non verbal communication skills: This includes aspects such as body language, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, etc., which also become a part of the communicating process; as well as the written and typed modes of communications.

communication like group discussion. Remember you are not the only one speaking in the group discussion; there are other participants as well who are vying for the limelight. You might get only a single chance, and you just can’t afford to miss the opportunity to create that first impression, and as they say first impression is the last impression. An individual might have complete knowledge about the topic assigned to his group, might be well aware of what is happening around him, but if he can’t effectively communicate his ideas to others, he will fail to create his mark. The way an individual communicates his ideas has to be very impressive for him to live up to the expectations of the deciding authorities.

Teddy appeared for an interview with a reputed media house. He had been eyeing for this company for quite a long time. He fared extremely well in the face to face rounds and was looking forward to getting selected in the organization. Unfortunately something else was in store for him. He could not get through the GD Round. He was exceptionally good in academics, had a healthy professional background and even expressed his ideas in his best possible way in the group discussion. The problem was in his communication level. He did try his level best but failed to impress the interviewer and thus lost out on his dream job.

Converting your thoughts into words is an art and one has to master it to win over the trust and confidence of the assessor. One has to very sensibly and carefully choose the right words to share his thoughts with the other participants and make his points clear. Never use slangs, instead go for some corporate jargons or professional terminologies for the desired edge. Also avoid cracking jokes in between as it is considered highly unprofessional. An individual must not stammer in between or chew half of his words. Speak clearly and your voice must never be shaky. There is no one who will beat you there, so why to get afraid of a group discussion?

No one will ever deduct your marks if you greet your fellow participants well. Use warm greetings and never forget the handshake on meeting. These gestures actually help in breaking the ice and create a bond among the participants. Someone has to begin the discussion, so why not you? Take the initiative and start the discussion. Introduce yourself and your team members well. Never believe in personal favors. If any participant is unwilling to speak, do not force him unnecessarily. If someone has spoken well do not hesitate to give him a pat on his back. Such non verbal communications sometimes go a long way in boosting the morale of the participants. Be very confident to win over the trust of the interviewer as well as the other participants.

The pitch and tone must also be taken good care of. You are speaking not for yourself, but for others to listen and respond. Always ensure that you are audible to one and all. Every participant must be able to hear you clearly and understand what you intend to convey. An individual must also learn the art of voice modulation. Don’t keep the same pitch always; learn to play with your tone as per the importance of the word or the sentence. If you want to raise a question to your fellow participants, it must also reflect in your voice. Avoid shouting or being too loud in group discussions. You are here to voice your opinion, not for fighting. Keep your voice polite, soft but convincing. Never sound unintelligent or foolish, as the interviewer has a constant eye on you. Do take care of your punctuation marks and the flow of words. It is no harm to take pauses or breaths in between sentences. Never repeat sentences as it will lead to monotony and others will tend to ignore you. Don’t just speak for the sake of speaking.

Always remember there are other individuals also who are participating in the group discussion. They may not be from the same background as you are, might have an altogether different thought process, but you have no right to make fun of their views. Always respect their opinion. If a participant is speaking, never criticize or oppose him in between. You will get your time to speak, and please wait for your turn. An individual has to be very patient, calm, dignified, sophisticated and above all professional in his approach. The individual who passes the information to others for sharing his thoughts and ideas with them is called the sender. (First Party) The individual who receives the information from the sender and responds accordingly to give him the feedback is called the receiver. (Second Party). In the process of communication the information must reach the receiver in exactly the same form the speaker intends to. If the recipients fail to provide feedback to the speaker, communication is considered to be ineffective and incomplete.

Communication is neither transmission of message nor message itself. It is the mutual exchange of understanding, originating with the receiver. Communication needs to be effective in business.

Communication is essence of management. The basic functions of management (Planning, Organizing, Staffing, Directing and Controlling) cannot be performed well without effective communication. Business communication involves constant flow of information. Feedback is integral part of business communication. Organizations these days are very large. It involves number of people. There are various levels of hierarchy in an organization. Greater the number of levels, the more difficult is the job of managing the organization. Communication here plays a very important role in process of directing and controlling the people in the organization. Immediate feedback can be obtained and misunderstandings if any can be avoided. There should be effective communication between superiors and subordinated in an organization, between organization and society at large (for example between management and trade unions). It is essential for success and growth of an organization.
Communication gaps should not occur in any organization. Business Communication is goal oriented. The rules, regulations and policies of a company have to be communicated to people within and outside the organization. Business Communication is regulated by certain rules and norms. In early times, business communication was limited to paper-work, telephone calls etc. But now with advent of technology, we have cell phones, video conferencing, emails, and satellite communication to support business communication. Effective business communication helps in building goodwill of an organization.

Business Communication can be of two types:
• Oral Communication
• Written Communication

Oral Communication – An oral communication can be formal or informal. Generally business communication is a formal means of communication, like: meetings, interviews, group discussion, speeches etc. An example of Informal business communication would be – Grapevine. Oral communication implies communication through mouth. It includes individuals conversing with each other, be it direct conversation or telephonic conversation. Speeches, presentations, discussions are all forms of oral communication. Oral communication is generally recommended when the communication matter is of temporary kind or where a direct interaction is required. Face to face communication (meetings, lectures, conferences,
interviews, etc.) is significant so as to build a rapport and trust.

Written Communication – Written means of business communication includes – agenda, reports, manuals etc. Written communication has great significance in today’s business world. It is an innovative activity of the mind. Effective written communication is essential for preparing worthy promotional materials for business development. Speech came before writing. But writing is more unique and formal than speech. Effective writing involves careful choice of words, their organization in correct order in sentences formation as well as cohesive composition of sentences. Also, writing is more valid and reliable than speech. But while speech is spontaneous, writing causes delay and takes time as feedback is not immediate.
Advantages of Written Communication

Written communication helps in laying down apparent principles, policies and rules for running of an organization.

It is a permanent means of communication. Thus, it is useful where record maintenance is required.

It assists in proper delegation of responsibilities. While in case of oral communication, it is impossible to fix and delegate responsibilities on the grounds of speech as it can be taken back by the speaker or he may refuse to acknowledge.

Written communication is more precise and explicit.

Effective written communication develops and enhances an organization’s image.

It provides ready records and references.

Legal defenses
An effective and efficient communication system requires managerial proficiency in delivering and receiving messages. A manager must discover various barriers to communication, analyze the reasons for their occurrence and take preventive steps to avoid those barriers. Thus, the primary responsibility of a manager is to develop and maintain an effective communication system in the organization.

Remember effective communication is a necessity in today’s challenging scenario and the above tips definitely go a long way in improving one’s communication skills.

Business Communication

INTRODUCTION

Any business would rely and rest on communications be they for official purposes or for enhancing and upgrading their client base and support to flourish their business. For ANY business to develop there has to be a regular, proper as well as a transparent channels of communication hierarchy so that the work flow does not in any manner get hampered and the business happens as a regular occurrence. And business communication is a continuous and an ongoing process- one that speaks volumes about the How’s as well as the Why’s of communication and communication hierarchy both within as well as outside the business enterprise so as to facilitate and augment the work flow even better and faster. As, without an effective, efficient and eloquent channels of communication between the Managers and the staff, or the employees and the external clients, the very business matrix would get null and void. So, in other words, Business Communications form the fundamental edifice of any business functionality.

HOW DO WE ENSURE A GOOD BUSINESS COMMUNICATION IN BUSINESS?

Communication is said to be an art and especially so, if it were Business Communication as this is pivotal for any enterprise to function as well as flourish. Here are a few ready pointers this to happen easily, effectively as well as empathetically:

• ANY business communication, be it oral, written, or a mailer should be logically structured which means that it needs to possess a good opening, a logical content that supports the opening and a proper as well as an apt conclusion- one that summarizes the entire written as well as the spoken topic presented. It has also to be reckoned with that the language spoken has to be lucid and the jargon needs to be easily comprehended and appreciated by the audience of all genres and they get to fathom what is expected of them and they participate thoroughly and comprehensively and get to understand the jist of the entire presentation delivered or written.

• Communication especially Business communication needs to be simple, precise and concise as if it is not articulated properly and if there is an ambiguous usage of words then, it dents the whole meaning and purpose of communication as well as communicating. Choice of words would have to be such that they overcome the cultural barriers and topographies and do not slander the sentiments and the sensibilities of the audience on the whole.

• Business communications should be comprehensive, influencing, persuasive, cogent as well as cohesive. One that follows a set pattern and is sequential apart from being one that is simplistic and easily appreciated.

• One other aspect of Business Communications is that the language adopted be polite, courteous, empathetic apart from being succinct, so as not to offend the sentiments of either their staff as well as their clients.

• It also needs to be remembered that the body language during presentations needs to be positive and approachable. Simple etiquette like maintaining the eye contact during the entire presentation, smiling genuinely and warmly and maintaining a general atmosphere of bonhomie and camaraderie would go great lengths in spreading a positive cheer around.

• Any Business Communication would be negated IF the feedback given would be left unsaid as well as unspoken. For feedback is the ONLY yardstick that would assure the presenter whether the message had reached the audience as it was meant to be intended to reach.

• The usage of more of “You’s” as well as “Why’s” during presentations more than the “I’s”, makes the audience understand that they have been given more value and importance and would also help in facilitating them in participating better during future presentations apart from being more involved.

• One of the most important components of Business Communications is listening. Some of them have this as an intrinsic and innate trait and some others adapt and acquire it over a period of time. Whichever way we look at it, this is again another art that we are either born with or, could cultivate over a period of time. Feedback and Listening go on most occasions hand on glove. The more patient the listening, the more positive that we would accept the feedback as ‘Listening’ jumbled would give us the other simple word ‘silent’. And the more silent we are, the better the listeners that we would be and the more positively we would accept and appreciate the feedback. It goes without saying that, a good speaker would always be a good listener and vice versa.

• The other important factor to be remembered is that we should divest ourselves from being biased, prejudiced and parochial while placing our facts as any biased or partial statement would cloud the entire facts and the receiver could get mired in confusion and the powers-that-be might end up taking a wrong action if the facts are or do not seem complete and comprehensive.

IMPORTANCE OF EFFECTIVE BUSINESS COMMUNICATIONS:

Communication forms the crux of any business functions as well as functionalities. All areas be they Marketing, Human Resource, Business Development, Sales need very good as well as glib talkers who possess the gift of the gab to convince and communicate with the customers as well as the clients and acquire the business for their respective organizations. When the Managers fail to communicate with their employees, then it results in a great deal of miscommunication apart from there being serious lacunae in their staff’s understanding and performance leading to under performance or worse no performance by the employees.

Ineffective or retarded communications would lead to the employees becoming isolated from the Management and this then paving the way for conflict and crisis. As the Managers would find it increasingly difficult to communicate with their ideas, circumstances as well as demands cogently as well as cohesively, it would become increasingly irksome as well as difficult for the employees to continue or perform better at their jobs.

A FEW POINTERS FOR EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION AT WORKPLACE:

• BETTER PERFORMANCE BY THE TEAM:
If the leader is able to perform better and is both cogent as well as cohesive in his communication, then the team would be able to analyze as well as assess what is expected of them to do and how best to reach there more faster and with a little more clarity of thought and action.

• INCREASES THE PERFORMANCE LEVELS
Effective communications augment the process of better performance levels, enhancing client as well as customer loyalty thereby increasing the revenues as well as the client support and base for the organization. This clarity of communication between the different levels of hierarchies fosters the attainment of the short term as well as the vision, mission as well as the goals of the organization.

• Communication style as well as the channels has to be both positive, effective apart from being encouraging.
The channels of communications or the hierarchies of communications have to be straight, circumspect as well as transparent so that the immediate hierarchy to resolve the outstanding issues and turn the problems to solutions.

• Any urgent problems of the company should be communicated to both the staff as well as the managers as everyone is involved in the process of decision making or giving their opinions. This process would also make the employees appreciate the simple fact that the employee’s opinions are paid heed to by the Management and that they have a say in the decision making process.

• Organizations must encourage effective communications at all times and at all levels of hierarchy. This would foster and make the employees understand as well as appreciate the need, role as well as the importance of communication especially in the business contexts.

• Any communication is a two way process. Transparency would only be made possible when employees are encouraged to ask questions as well as participate in the problem resolving the problem solving process asking questions and suggesting ideas to resolve issues.

• Effective Business Communications help companies in increasing their productivity and thereby avoiding delays and leads to successful business practices.

CONCLUSION

Life is all about communicating and communication. This could be made possible in business environments only through articulation, free speech and a hierarchy that is welcoming of accepting both ideas as well as suggestions from the employees and one that encourages a pro-active participation between both the employees as well as the Managers to facilitate a faster business growth and an ever increasing and expanding client base that would fetch the organizations both revenues as well as reputation.

Ten Tips for Effective Workplace Communication

We have been communicating right from the time we were born. There is very little effort needed to express our message while communicating to people with whom we are most comfortable. At the most, a small misunderstanding or an argument can result due to miscommunication at home or in social settings. And so, we may wonder, “What is the big fuss about work place communication?” and “what is the need for Communication Training?” The simple answer to that question is – “The stakes are far too high!” Poor communication can impact productivity and morale of employees and even have legal implications. So here are a few tips that can help you improve your communication skills and help you communicate effectively at your workplace:

Conceptualizing your Message with Clarity: Every time you have to communicate to a stakeholder or your colleagues, ask yourself if you are clear about the message you want to communicate. Remember, your message does not involve just words, it includes feelings and emotions surrounding the situation about which you are communicating. Proactively choose the emotion you want to convey through your message.

Understand the Other’s Paradigm: The objective of effective communication, especially in a workplace, is to ensure that the receiver perceives the message the way you intend. So, if the onus is on the communicator, then it is imperative that the communicator understands the receiver’s world. The more you understand their paradigm, the easier it is to communicate the message in a fashion they understand.

Recognize Barriers to Communication: In today’s globalized work scenario, there is a mélange of barriers that impedes effective communication. Top most on this list, is the cultural barrier. It is impossible to understand another’s culture totally but you can strive to understand the receiver’s world. Understand how your communication needs to be altered to get the desired result.

Communication is a Partnership: Establishing trust and rapport positively impacts the effectiveness of communication as it permits the communicators to be relaxed and comfortable. While communicating observe closely the other person’s body language and mirror it by altering your own. When you are the listener, encourage the speaker with positive body language that expresses interest.

Communicate Clearly, Concisely and Coherently: Avoid ambiguous words and phrases and ensure clear diction, enunciation and inflection. It is important to keep the message short, and simple. Resist the temptation to say or write more. Information overload is a sure recipe for miscommunication and confusion. Stick to the central theme of your message.

Appropriate use of Tone and Body Language: Be sure your facial expressions, gestures and other non-verbal cues suggest the appropriate emotion that you want to convey. The most important aspect of the non-verbal cue is your tone of voice. Be aware of the pitch and rate of speech that can determine the emotions you convey through your voice. In written communication, choice of words determines the tone of the message. Be sensitive to how the reader may perceive your message.

Conviction & Passion Persuades: Messages that require people to take action, especially when it is against what the listener believes in, are fuelled by the conviction and passion with which your message is communicated. Here, usage of appropriate metaphors can, not just add beauty to your speech but also be persuasive.

Eliciting Feedback: Ensure your communication includes requests for feedback. Inquire to find out if you were able to get your message across authentically. Here, the objective of feedback is primarily to check their understanding of your message. If they did not understand you, you can alter your communication to establish complete comprehension.

Effective Listening: Listening plays a more significant role in communication than spoken communication. Always listen with an open mind. You do not have to agree to what is being said but it is imperative to understand it. Understanding the message clearly helps you to make better decisions on whether to agree or disagree to the message. Active listening includes questioning, paraphrasing and summarizing the message. While listening to messages with high emotional content, practice reflective listening. This enhances the relationship as you display empathy when using reflective listening.

Reflecting on the Feedback: Your success in business communication hinges on the whole-hearted attempts you make on establishing win-win outcomes. This is only possible when you reflect on the feedback you receive from the other person. Do not allow critical feedback and criticisms, which are just part and parcel of any working environment, to affect you negatively. Always look at the bigger picture. If you have to convey a critical feedback, ensure it addresses the issue and the person.

Regardless of how good your communication is, following these tips will surely enhance your ability to establish long-term and productive professional relationships at your workplace. Improve your communication effectiveness through appropriate communication skills training and reap the benefits for a life-time.

Teaching English for Communicative Performance and Business Communication

It is a challenge to us English teachers to manage with our own widely differing linguistic competence the large classes of mixed ability students. Non-availability or high cost of books and instructional material are the challenges just as tests and exams seem to have become the only goal in themselves. In addition, lack of students’(and even teachers’) motivation, administrative apathy, inaccessibility to electronic media, journals and books, balance between the use of mother tongue and English to ensure acquisition of communication skills, or perhaps, a better teaching-learning situation in the mother tongue and other languages, and dissemination of best English Language Teaching (ELT) practices internationally, with an e-culture interface are the new problems teachers have to cope with.

As teachers we need to work on our own affirmative action programmes, despite constraints of our situation. In order to do something new, we may have to give up the old. As John Swales says, “We may need to recycle not only our projects and our programmes but also ourselves.” In fact a practical teacher should be able to operate within, what may be called, “here and now” state of affairs. It is with some sort of inbuilt flexibility and utilitarian purpose that one can practice ELT in the days ahead.

NEGOTIATING DIFFERENCES

With sensitivity for the language (to me, language use is more a matter of pleasure and beauty than of rules and structure), I would like to assert that the yardsticks of the British or American native speakers, or their standards as reflected in GRE, TOEFL or IELTS etc, or their kind of tongue twisting, are simply damaging to the interests of non-native speakers. We have to develop our own standards, instead of teaching to sound like Londoners or North Americans. Pronunciation must be intelligible and not detract from the understanding of a message. But for this nobody needs to speak the so called standardized English (that makes inter- and intra-national communication difficult). David Crystal too appreciates this reality and favours ‘local taste’ of English in India and elsewhere. The problems of teaching, say spoken English, relate to lack of intercultural communicative competence.

Many of the misunderstandings that occur in multicultural or multinational workplace are traceable to inter-group differences in how language is used in interpersonal communication rather than to lack of fluency in English. In fact native speakers need as much help as non-natives when using English to interact internationally and inter-culturally. It is understanding the how of negotiation, mediation, or interaction. We need to teach with positive attitude to intercultural communication, negotiating linguistic and cultural differences. The focus has to be on developing cultural and intercultural competence, tolerance (the spread and development of various Englishes is an instance of grammatical and lexical tolerance), and mutual understanding. Rules of language use are culturally determined. I doubt all those who talk about spoken English, or communication skills, care to teach or develop intercultural communicative abilities. This presupposes a good grasp of one’s own culture or way of communication, or the language etiquette, gestures and postures, space, silence, cultural influences, verbal style etc.

Understanding and awareness of non-verbal behavior, cues and information is an integral part of interpersonal communication in many real-life situations, including business and commerce. Though research is needed to understand the role of visual support in our situations, it does seem relevant in making students aware of the context, discourse, paralinguistic features and culture. This can be advantageous in teaching soft skills which are basically life skills, or abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour, so necessary for successful living.

If one has to work abroad and use English with others there, one has to be sensitive to the culturally governed ways of speaking or talking to each other. The speech community’s (the language culture of the group of people) ways of communication cannot be taken for granted, when one seeks to learn or teach spoken English. People fail or suffer discomfort or embarrassment in negotiations in business or political affairs, or achievement of personal goals due to incompetence in persuasion, negotiation, mediation, or interaction. It is their performance, their intercultural interactional competence which matters; it lies in managing social interaction, and not just communication, in the narrow sense of the word, or use of right grammatical form, syntax, vocabulary, or even certain polite phrases. The goal is to enable one to express what one wishes to convey and make the impression that one wishes to make, using language with a sense of interaction and mutuality.

BUSINESS COMMUNICATION

In the context of Business Communication, it is not without a sense of social business for creating value and better business outcome. One needs to demonstrate social insights, too, in the use of, say, (social) networking sites, smart phones, mobile, tablet PCs, voice mail, electronic mail, and other e-business instruments such as computer network, teleconferencing and video conferencing that are being integrated to enterprise design. This means one needs to be able to share information, discover expertise, capitalize on relationship, and be collaborative in creatively solving business challenges. One needs to demonstrate leadership and management traits, innovation, and decision-making; one needs to be able to identify oneself with the shared values and beliefs of the organization one is associated with; and more importantly, one needs to demonstrate intercultural and interactive abilities with sensitivity for change and adaptation, if one is working in a foreign country or in a multinational company.

In short, one’s personal communication, both oral or written, needs to be in tune with the communication philosophy — goals and values, aspirations and pledges, beliefs and policies– of the organization one is working for, just as one should be able to blend with the host culture.

When I mention intercultural interaction, I point to the need for adapting to differences in life style, language, business philosophy as well as problems with finances, government, cultural shock, housing, food, gender, family etc. Although many of the people sent on foreign assignment know their (foreign) market, they are often unable to accept another culture on that culture’s terms even for short periods. Sensitivity for intercultural business environment, or being aware of each culture’s symbols, how they are the same, and how they are different, is important.

COMMUNICATIVE PERFORMANCE

The staff development programme of this kind provides us with an opportunity to revisit the issues related to ‘communicative’ teaching, in general, and business communication, in particular. If communication is the aim of English (or any other language) teaching and ‘communicative’ syllabuses fail to develop what Dell Hymes called ‘communicative competence’ and Noam Chomsky mentioned as communicative performance, we need to reflect on our classroom practices, research and materials production from time to time. Chomsky’s focus was on the sentence-level grammatical competence of an ideal speaker-listener of a language, and Hymes, as a sociolinguist, was concerned with real speaker-listeners who interpret, express, and negotiate meaning in many different social settings; he brought into focus the view of language as a social phenomenon and reflected on its use as units of discourse. Socializing competence and performance, Dell Hymes also mentioned ‘appropriateness’, that is, “when to speak, when not, and as to what to talk about and with whom, when, where, in what manner.” This concept of “appropriate use” as ‘communicative competence’ was accepted by Chomsky and called “pragmatic competence” (i.e. rules of use). Thus, Dell Hymes ‘communicative’ is Chomsky’s ‘pragmatic’ and includes knowledge of sociolinguistic rules, or the appropriateness of an utterance, in addition to knowledge of grammar rules. The term has come to negotiate meaning, to successfully combine a knowledge of linguistic and sociolinguistic rules in communicative interaction, both oral and written.

Michael Canale and Merril Swain in various papers on communicative competence have referred to “appropriacy” in terms of ‘sociolinguistic competence’. In fact, they offer another term “strategic competence”, that is, the ability to use communication strategies like approximation (or paraphrase strategy, using, for example, ‘pipe’ for waterpipe or ‘flower’ for leaf to come close to the intended meanings), word-coinage, circumlocution (i.e. describing objects or ideas using “It looks like…”, “It’s made of…” etc when one temporarily forgets an exact word), borrowing including literal translation and language mix, appeal for assistance, ie. asking for information appropriately using “Excuse me,” “Could you…?” “What’s the word for…?” “I didn’t know how to say it,” etc). mime and all that. Their strategic competence(Canale and Swain) refers to the ability to enhance or repair conversations and means the same as Chomsky’s ‘pragmatic competence’ or Fluency. Brumfit and others too have used the term ‘pragmatic’ in the sense of fluency.

Thus, communicative competence consists of LINGUISTIC competence (ACCURACY), PRAGMATIC competence (FLUENCY), and SOCIOLINGUISTIC

competence (APPROPRIACY).

The Linguistic competence or Accuracy in communication is much broader than mere grammatical competence; it includes the linguistic domains of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation as well as the linguistic skills of speaking, listening, reading, and writing, spelling, discourse (particularly interconnections and interdependence of the sentences and paragraphs), and the ability to contrast with the mother tongue.

The pragmatic competence or Fluency in communication relates to ease and speed of expression, i.e. how to keep talking, how not to remain silent because one doesn’t know the word (the skill of paraphrasing), and other strategies of learning, including how to listen to oneself and so be able to self-correct and self-edit at once; that is, the ability to monitor immediately.

The sociolinguistic competence or Appropriacy includes varieties of text types (stories, dialogues, non-fiction passages etc) and functions of the language, different levels/degrees of formality or informality, or appropriacy and use of language in authentic situations.

I doubt if we follow such a communicative curriculum with understanding of communicative competence in terms of linguistic ability, pragmatic ability and sociolinguistic ability. But its adoption should help students become independent learners; it should equip them with linguistic forms, means, and strategies that would help them overcome communication difficulties both inside and outside the classroom. From this perspective, communicative competence should be thought of as communicative performance just as a communicative syllabus should be essentially performance-based, that is, increasing the learner’s proficiency.

To quote Brendan Carroll: “The use of a language is the objective, and the mastery of the formal patterns, or usage, of the language is a means to achieve this objective. The ultimate criterion of language mastery is therefore the learner’s effectiveness in communication for the settings he finds himself in.”

POOR COMMUNICATIVE PERFORMANCE

Work-related skills such as team work, cultural awareness, leadership, communication and I.T. skills are as vital as academic achievement for Business/Management students. It would be poor communicative performance if, for example, someone makes a multimedia presentation without knowing how to use the equipment and experiences technical difficulties, or “tries to liven up a dull topic merely by adding flashy graphics rather than by improving the content of the presentation. People who attend meetings unprepared waste others’ time. People with poor listening skills frustrate those who have to repeat information for them. Those who make inappropriate grammatical or vocabulary choices embarrass themselves and those around them. Incompetent communicators hurt the organization they represent. This has especially been the case with hastily sent emails composed in a moment of anger.”

POSITIVE ATTITUDE NEEDED

Academic or professional communication skills, both written and oral, have to be imparted in such a way that students in their contexts are able to identify their own language learning needs and to set their own language learning goals. At college and university level, teachers may act as facilitators, just as they would need to teach with positive attitude for inter- and intra-cultural communication, the skills of negotiating linguistic and cultural differences.

It is with this sensibility for English language and its teaching in various contexts that I speak to you. Yet, as I say all this, I keep in mind the ground reality: that is, poor literacy skills, fluency, and even comprehension; poor communicative ability, with limited experiences in writing, speaking and listening unless, of course, teaching of English as a Second, or additional language improves from school level and need for a supportive classroom climate and positive student attitudes towards learning at post secondary level is recognized. Also, both teachers and students need to be aware of what to do, how to do it, and when and why to do it, as part of practicing self-regulation strategies.

The English Language Teaching community as also the other stake holders in the country should, therefore, revise and reformulate appropriate strategies and policies, with tolerance and multilingualism at the core, to remain relevant in the coming decades. The objective of looking back is to move forward with a reasoned perspective for taking measures to develop communication abilities and higher discourse competence, with a broadened inter- and cross-disciplinary bases, for learning to understand (rather than memorize) and apply in one’s own contexts.

COMMUNICATION IN BUSINESS

The digression apart, let me now come back to teaching communication in business. In terms of ESP, we should be aware of the ‘specific purposes’ of what we do in the classroom, just as we should do it in terms of students’ specific needs. For example, if we teach written communication, we teach it in the specific context of Business, maybe, where applicable, in terms of ‘rhetorical functions’, with a sense of logical organization of knowledge or information, as noticed in actual use. Students need to be exposed to range of authentic report material from business, commerce, finance, administration, marketing, production, personnel etc. They need to understand the logical steps in writing a report, from ‘collecting the information’ through to ‘summarizing’ and ‘appendix’. In short, they need to be presented with task-oriented activities that are both challenging and authentic in the field of business: they need to be forced to read and think about the content of the report; they need to be made to think about the structure and organization of the report; they need to think about the language used to express the content; and they have to be made to apply this knowledge to the skill of writing a report. The variety of writing exercises may include paragraph writing, expansion of notes, completion of paragraphs, sequencing of sentences into paragraph, and using the right punctuation marks, connectives, sub-headings, presentation of non-verbal information or transfer of information from text to diagram (graph, chart, table, outline etc); linking findings, conclusions and recommendations, extracting main points for making descriptive and evaluative summaries etc. We teach all this in terms of what the students already know and what they need to know. They unlearn, learn, and re-learn, both formal and informal expressions, within the conventions of the discipline they belong to.

As I already said, their career success depends on good writing and speaking skills, along with proper etiquette and listening skills and understanding skills. Skills that need particular attention are informational and analytical report writing, proposal writing, memo writing, letter writing, oral presentation, and a sense of grammar, punctuation, word, sentence and paragraph.

The methodology should encourage students to learn from each other via activities both of a productive kind and of a receptive nature. We may exploit developments in the case study approach, use role plays and simulations that place the students in realistic and stimulating situations to create spontaneous personal interaction and creative use of the language in a business context.

A mix of the task based approach, group work, and simulations should help the future business people develop the skills for meeting and negotiating as also for the necessary mastery of English for functioning autonomously in the field. The challenge is not to teach a descriptive course on discourse, but to provide for a pragmatic and custom-tailored input, ready for processing by the learners in an authentic learning environment.

In other words, in stead of mere ‘business communication’, the emphasis has to be on, what I already mentioned, ‘interaction in business context’. It is not merely the language of business, but also the cultural conventions of meetings and negotiations in an intercultural setting that one has to be aware of, and learn. As far as teaching is concerned, it is rather helping students with learning how to learn, how to create the learning opportunities for themselves, and understanding the ways in which language and business strategies interact. If we follow a learner-centred approach, a three-step procedure could be: first, to illustrate (=a good model), then, to induce (=induction for effective learning by the learner), and finally, to interact (=the outcome).

I would like to quote Christopher Brumfit from his opening speech to SPEAQ Convention in Quebec City (in June 1982): “…Being communicative is as much or more a matter of methodology as of syllabus or materials, and methodology is something that teachers are uniquely qualified to contribute to. We should therefore be willing to use our expertise, to innovate, to improve, to inform each other, and to criticize.” What we are doing here, friends, is just to make a beginning, the beginning of a process of communicating, of understanding, that we can start but cannot finish.

ECLECTIC APPROACH

I am aware that there is no universal teaching method or ideal teaching material suited to many contexts of language teaching. Whatever didactic techniques one knows without excluding the behaviouristic drills, and practice and use of mother tongue, where appropriate, are all valid at different points in the teaching process. I stand for an eclectic approach as different methods for different students have always worked and there has not been one best method any time. With our freedom to choose and adopt any notion that serves our teaching ends, with a reasonable degree of historical sense, flexibility and adaptability that allows us to select among a variety of approaches, methods and techniques, we can meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. I see teaching communicatively essentially consisting of an eclectic methodology which incorporates what is valuable in any system or method of teaching and refuses to recognize bad teaching or defective learning. In any educational setting, sensitive and sensible application and continuing evaluation of the chosen practices should be inbuilt.

English has been practised in a social, economic, political, educational and philosophical “hot-house”, to use Peter Strevens’ expression, and the hot-house in India differs in quality from state to state. It is necessary to create an enabling environment – managerial, administrative, institutional, academic, and curricular-to promote not only quality education and effective learning with exposure to lots of natural, meaningful and understandable language, but also genuine communication. This means learners should read and listen to live language; they should speak and write it in ways that can be understood by educated speakers everywhere. Moreover, they should eventually be able to produce and comprehend culturally appropriate natural discourse.

SUMMING UP

To sum up, we as teachers need to recognize the changes that have shaken all human conditions with new technology, new social structures, new values, new human relations, new functions. As Young Yun Kim notes: “The complexity, diversity, and rapid pace of change makes us ‘strangers’ in our own society.” The challenge is, to understand the “sameness in differences” for international/intercultural exchanges, or learning business negotiations and written communication. Language teaching alone may not develop communicative abilities in business English unless we realize that learning the language implies learning the culture also-one’s own culture and other’s culture. It is language and culture teaching together and sharing the “us” and “them” differences to reflect on one’s own culture from the viewpoint of an outsider, and thus, become less ethnocentric and more tolerant of the values of the foreign people and their ways.

The ESP of business communication seems highly culturally biased and value based, even as Western ethno-centricism, including the North American, may not be the answer to our communicative difficulties. But we have to be OPEN to all local peculiarities to communication and interaction. If we view English as the lingua franca for business negotiations, we should also not forget that it is NOT the mother tongue of any or most of the negotiators. To that extent, the English used is commonly a variety in which the mother tongue interferes not only phonetically and phonologically, but also in the cultural norms and attitudes expressed by the speakers. To quote Susanne Neimeir, “Their non-verbal behavior, for example, does not automatically switch to an ‘Englishized’ non-verbal behavior but normally stays rooted in their home culture. Thus, even when they think the negotiation partner should have understood (verbal and non-verbal) signs they are using, misunderstandings still occur because signs may be differently encoded-and decoded-on the other’s cultures or may not be noticed to be signs at all.”

Therefore, we need to sensitize students to cultural richness and cultural diversity for developing mutual understanding and using individual and group knowledge constructively, and not stereotypically, in learning skills of business communication, both oral and written. It also seems imperative to integrate discourse analysis, decision-making and generic patterns of meetings and effective conversation and the role of cultural influences for success in actual business situations. In fact, it is significant to provide professional students with opportunities to experience what it means to communicate and to do business with different people who obviously are alike in several basic ways.

In today’s globalized business context, while teachers of business English have to be aware of various analytical and practical approaches to business communication, especially as intercultural understanding and strategies of flexibility, adaptability and tolerance are some of the keys to make the best of economic opportunities, students of Business communication have to learn to find their own strategies, or use of structural and stylistic devices for successful business interaction. Their verbal communication in the ‘ESL’ context, to my mind, would be largely ‘EIL’ to be able to work together, using English as the common language.

I hope at the end of the programme, having shared with each other what some of you have done and how, we will emerge more enlightened and aware about what more we need to do to succeed in the days ahead. Mutual interaction should help us envision a possible policy framework required to support teaching for economically valuable language skills at tertiary and/or professional level.

Unified Communications & Contact Center Options – Making the Transition

Imagine a customer calling for detailed, technical information about your products and services. These calls can be cumbersome for customer service employees who don’t possess the technical knowledge about a specific product or service. Now imagine those same customer service employees having a comprehensive menu on their computer screens describing the exact technical knowledge about that specific product or service, as well as other detailed information the inquiring customer can use to make an informed decision right away.

In the world of UC (Unified Communications), technical customer service calls are handled and processed much differently than they were just a decade ago.

Transitioning to a UC platform improves communications both internally and externally by arming employees with better technology tools that add value to the overall communication process. This article contains helpful knowledge and insights to assist you in the transition to a unified communications platform.

UC is essentially a unified platform for communications in all its forms. Potentially, this can include land-lines and cellular phones, e-mail, instant messaging (IM), VoIP, IP-PBX, fax, voice mail, conference calls, video conferencing, whiteboard and unified messaging. Your employees will have presence within your business communications – whether they are physically in the office or not.

The concept of presence is easy to understand within instant messaging where a “buddy status” is available at a glance. UC takes this a step further by grouping these “buddies” together by specialized skills and attaching them to specific knowledge areas. All of this would be available at a glance.

UC allows for real-time delivery of all these forms of communication within a single environment that users can access within a simple interface. For example, customer service staff could have a list of employees knowledgeable about a product, along with the best method for immediately contacting that person who has the correct answers about the details of the product.

By clicking on a contact icon, a call can be made, or even a page or a whiteboard session accessed to bridge key information on the product, customer and employee contacts simultaneously. If your business doesn’t already have it, Unified Messaging (UM) can offer communications integration, albeit on a smaller scale than UC.

Unified Messaging is capable of grouping together communications from different sources, such as e-mail, faxes and voice mail, but does not allow (in all instances) real-time delivery. Unified Messaging systems store these multi-platform communications for the user to access information at his or her discretion.

Still, nowadays, UM does provide improved communication synchronization to an extent that was not available just a decade ago. It is important to understand that while UM does offer efficiencies by grouping communications together; it is not the same thing as UC. Oftentimes, these terms are interchanged and interpreted to have the same meaning.

Again, they are not the same. Tying communications together in a UC platform can have a tremendous positive impact on productivity at your business. Businesses with offices across the globe have an excellent opportunity to synchronize communications as they occur around the clock in real time. Additional functionality allows calls to be routed according to preset rules.

For example, if an employee is working at a remote location outside the office, the UC system can route a call to their cell phone and then a voice message into their voice mail. At the heart of UC is the Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology that allows analog phone conversations to be transmitted over the Internet. UC basically expands that functionality by allowing other communications through the same protocol. Transitioning to UC does not have to be an overwhelming process.

First, consider what usable technology your business already has and how those assets could be integrated into the new platform. Consider what communications are already transmitted utilizing the Internet Protocol (IP). It could be that your business is only a few steps away from integrating these into a truly unified format that dramatically increases productivity.

Another benefit of introducing UC to your business is enhanced security within your company’s communications that was never present before. Without UC, communications occur over multiple data formats using multiple protocols, and you may not have control over certain information. Integrating these data formats using UC gives your company the ability to better manage the overall communications process.

The necessary equipment for creating a UC infrastructure includes various software applications and hardware equipment. The Microsoft version of the UC solution is built around the Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and the Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 for the interface. Microsoft, of course, is geared toward the software UC solution. Its server software is designed to be deployed on a dedicated communications server.

Cisco, the IT hardware equipment manufacturer most widely known for its routers and switches and its reputation as the “backbone of the Internet,” also offers software UC solutions, along with the necessary hardware equipment. Cisco is more widely known as a hardware company; so naturally, the company’s UC solution is more hardware-based.

The two big players in the world of IT have developed UC solutions. Which one is best for you is really a function of your specific requirements and your company’s monetary resources to support and maintain the technology. Keep in mind that there are tailored solutions available from both Microsoft and Cisco customized for the size of your business.

Microsoft’s Office Communications Server 2007 comes in two editions: Standard and Enterprise. The Standard Edition is intended for SMBs that have one server platform on one machine. Along with the accompanying Standard Client Access License (CAL) it allows for messaging, peer-to-peer video and voice, and file transfers all to occur within an integrated and familiar Microsoft Office environment.

An advantage Microsoft has in the small-business world is the familiarity of its products. As with any Microsoft application, upon installing Office Communications Server 2007 and starting up the application, you become instantly familiar with the interface and notice that it is very intuitive based on your familiarity with Microsoft products.

The Standard Edition is intended for organizations that do not require server clustering and does not utilize the virtual server environment.

The Enterprise Edition is intended for larger businesses running more than one server. With this edition, your organization gains the features offered by the Standard Edition, with the purchase of a Standard license, along with additional enterprise features. These include the sharing of applications, VoIP backed by a software solution, Web conferencing and comprehensive telephony management.

The Enterprise Edition requires that Standard Edition licensing be purchased. Once the correct licenses are purchased, full access to the entire range of features offered by the Enterprise version and the Standard version of the Microsoft Unified Communications platform becomes available.

Communicator is the client application for the Microsoft UC platform. Accessing the application allows the user an integrated communications environment, including instant messaging, voice and video communications. Of course, all communications are easily integrated into Microsoft software such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and the newer ones such as SharePoint, Groove, and OneNote.

Deploying the solution within a pre-existing Microsoft environment allows for easy integration of address books and other directories established at the corporate level. Calendars are also integrated within the UC platform, even out-of-office messages previously established within Outlook.

With UC in place, users find they can easily change modes of communication. A conversation could begin with a simple IM, for example, and then with a quick click on a button, users can switch to a video conference should the need arise. Or, users could transfer files back and forth from the Communicator interface. However communications occurred previously, by using various Microsoft applications, these are all integrated into one interface within Communicator.

Cisco’s approach to a UC solution is quite different from Microsoft’s. Cisco offers a set of managed services at the SMB and mid-market level, and a different set of managed services customized for the enterprise-sized business.

Cisco approaches the UC platform with both hardware and software solutions. At the SMB level, Cisco’s UC platform solution is the Cisco Unified Communications 500 Series for Small Business. This system supports varied common communications needs within a small business including voice, video, secure wireless access and productivity enhancements for external users.

Deploying the solution enhances network security at your small business with tried-and-true Cisco technology. This edition is designed for businesses with 50 or fewer users of the system. Depending on the size of your SMB, the Cisco UC solution is available at increased levels of accessibility.

The Cisco Unified Communications Manager Express is designed for up to 240 users, the Business Edition for up to 500 users and the full version of Cisco Unified Communications Manager is extensible from 150 to an unlimited number of users.

Advanced features are available with the Cisco system even at the SMB level. Features such as music on hold and basic call-center capability are built into the UC platform.

At the enterprise level, Cisco’s UC solution includes routing, switching and security hardware along with the software applications used to manage the entire network. Security on the enterprise is enhanced with the Cisco hardware and software approach, including wireless communications, which are notoriously susceptible to a security breach.

The enterprise solution is tailor-made for your business, taking into consideration the lifecycle of your network, and includes the option to outsource management of network resources to Cisco and the installation of third-party communications software.

The hardware bundled with the Cisco UC platform includes the VoIP-enabled phones and various other hardware options, depending on the size of your business. SMBs get software that monitors and manages the VoIP phones on a single server, while enterprise-level organizations also get routers and switches, as needed. Enterprises that already have Cisco routers and switches find the UC platform an added feature that only needs to be enabled to use.

Cisco’s most advanced phones, the Unified IP Phones 7900 Series, are capable of integrating voice data and video straight through the phone. Voice mail can be accessed using a computer, and applications can be run on the phone itself, including clock-in functions for payroll services, on-screen display of information customized for your business needs and support for wireless communications standards.

Cisco hardware provides an extra level of security for your network. For example, the Catalyst 6500 Series switch, Cisco’s flagship model, virtually guarantees confidential communications between client and customer with the ability to instantly detect threats and contain them. Network administrators have control over whom and what can attach to the network and can define specific security policies.

Cisco routers are where communications integration occurs. Security is also standard here through firewalls, data encryption and built-in protection from would-be hackers. These routers are modular in nature, so as your business expands, more devices can be easily added, as needed. Basically, switches are used to connect various IP-enabled devices within your network, and routers are used to tie the networks together. Switches can be managed or unmanaged in that a managed switch is programmable, while an unmanaged switch comes fully ready upon shipment. Routers become the first line of defense to your network against outside Internet threats.

Whichever solution is best for your business, it’s important to keep in mind that a UC solution will provide enhanced security within your network. Inherent within Unified Communications is the ability to integrate the various forms of communications that occur at your business.

The transparency involved also provides an enhanced level of management including the ability to back up all the communications including voice mail. At first, it may seem unnecessary to back up all the communications at your company, but if your organization needs to comply to Sarbanes-Oxley requirements, as all U.S. publicly traded companies are, then you have a need to create these backups.

Additionally, if you work in a health-care-related environment, your company may have to be compliant to certain HIPPA mandates. Consider a situation where you have a need for disaster recovery. Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, forced many executives in the New Orleans area to act on the urgent need for disaster recovery.

Remember, UC allows for real-time delivery of communications in its varied forms within a single environment that a user can access using a simple client interface. This interface is standardized across the business environment. UC also enhances employee collaboration regardless of where employees are physically located.

For example, employees brainstorming about a new project could establish a live whiteboard session and work interactively in real time even if the office sites are thousands of miles apart.

It is important to consider what communications platforms you already possess at your business and how integrating these would enhance productivity in your operations.

Do you utilize instant messaging? How about voice mail or whiteboard sessions? Are any of these communications transmitted over IP already? By further tying your communications together on a true Unified Communications platform, your customers and employees are able to communicate in multiple data formats.

In retrospect, the concept of UC began with the development of VoIP (Voice-over Internet Protocol), which allowed analog phone conversations to be transmitted in a digital format over the Internet. With core-business processes becoming more and more digitized, UC basically expands that concept by allowing other forms of communication to be transmitted digitally.

Another important consideration when you decide to transition to a UC platform is the enhanced level of security that will be introduced to your business communications. Without UC, the varied forms of communication are transmitted over a diversity of media minimally controlled by your company. Bringing these together under a UC platform gives your company the ability to manage and monitor these transmissions just as it would with basic e-mail.

ransitioning to a UC platform can help your business accelerate past the competition and streamlines your business operations.

Below are some important considerations when making the transition to a unified platform. Answering these questions will help you understand how transitioning to a Unified Communications platform can significantly improve both internal employees and external communications with customers:

1. Does your business really need to transition to a UM platform at this time or can it wait until later?

2. What current technologies and assets do you currently own that can be integrated into a UC platform?

3. What resources (including all equipment, software, technical skills, training and maintenance) will it take to make this transition over to a Unified Communications platform?

4. How will the transition to a UC platform affect communication internally within your business and externally to your customers?

5. By what means and methods will your company communicate the rollout of a Unified Communications system?

For many companies, introducing Unified Communications to your business will enhance productivity and give your employees access to more useful information in real time. It’s critical that management objectively calculate the total cost of owning and managing its own internal UC platform versus having certain of the components outsourced through a hosted solution.

Many companies find it more cost effective to own some components and outsource others. Companies that at least consider the options available to them by adopting a fully integrated UC platform position themselves to differentiate their company from the competition with high-impact, time-sensitive communications across the enterprise.

Michael G. Perry has more than 20 years’ professional experience in management, IT consulting and writing technical documentation related to business process, policies and procedures.

Communications for Change

An article in the December issue of PM Network by Sarah Fister Gale deals with the public relations issues that companies engaged in the extraction of oil and natural gas reserves by the process of fracturing, or “fracking” as it’s called by the industry. The issue is basically one of distrust: people concerned about the affect of toxic chemicals on their drinking water distrust the extraction companies. They suspect that the chemicals they use are poisoning their water. In some cases they may be right but in the majority of cases, their suspicions are unfounded. Unfounded or not, these suspicions have a negative impact on the drilling projects. The same suspicions caused by a lack of facts can impact on IT projects, especially those introducing a new process or replacing existing systems. Before I examine the affects of communication on those projects, let me bring you up to speed on the issue Sarah Fister Gale wrote about.

Fracking requires the extraction company to dig a deep well through intervening layers of shale or other hard deposits and flush the gas or oil to the surface by pumping pressurized water, sand, and chemicals into the well. The pressure created opens up fissures and flushes the gas or oil to the surface. If fracking only relied on water and sand to achieve results, there would be no issue; it is the toxins that are sometimes used in conjunction with these natural agents that are the issue. Because the process requires the flushing action to be carried out at a level that is usually lower than the water table there is a risk that any toxic chemicals used could contaminate the drinking water. This fear is compounded by the exemption that American companies enjoy from the Safe Drinking Water Act. The amount of public resistance to fracking projects has led to the postponement or cancellation of some projects as politically savvy environmental protection groups exert pressure on politicians to intercede.

Companies who have enjoyed some success in countering these campaigns have done so by treating the communities whose water the project could affect as stakeholders and treating communications with the communities as a project deliverable. An example of one such communications campaign involved newspaper ads which included photos and descriptions of all the equipment and materials used in the project. This approach presupposes that the materials and equipment in use does not introduce harmful chemicals to the drinking water. Communication with these stakeholders from the initiation phase of the project is another key to success.

Fracking projects are not the only ones that can fall prey to the fear of the unknown. Many IT projects run the risk of meeting user resistance because the effect of a new system on their jobs is an “unknown”. Users fear that their jobs are going to be made more demanding or that they will lose functionality with the new system. They may also fear losing their jobs as a result of a new software system making their jobs obsolete. Project managers responsible for projects which implement new software systems should take a page from the fracking industry’s book. The tools used to communicate may differ but the same principals that make the fracking communication effective can make communications for the IT project effective.

The first rule of effective communications is to treat the user community as a project stakeholder that must be communicated with. The primary user community will be immediately obvious, these are the folks the system must be rolled out to and who must be trained in its use, but look beyond that initial community. Are there any folks downstream or upstream of this primary group whose work could be impacted by the new system. Even if the work products are substantially the same, could slight differences affect their work? Could differing delivery schedules affect them? The use of process flow charts can help you identify hidden stakeholders. Don’t stop at the edge of the chart; check out the groups at the other end of those “off the page” markers.

Make communications with these stakeholders a project deliverable. Large extraction companies frequently employ whole groups of people whose only job is communications. They are seasoned veterans of project communications and can manage all aspects of this work from identifying stakeholders, to defining the best strategies, to composing the right communications. Smaller, less sophisticated, IT projects must manage this activity on their own. Make sure your project has a communications management plan, identify all the stakeholders and then find out what information each stakeholder group would be best served by. Another trick we can learn from the extraction sector is to engage these folks as early as possible, don’t wait until the week before implementation.

The stakeholders you must communicate with may include workers whose jobs will be eliminated when you deliver your new system. You may be tempted to discount these people – after all, they won’t be around to trouble you after your new system is implemented. Often the best and brightest of these folks get re-assigned to other jobs that you may come in contact with so treating them with respect is in your best interests. Even those who will leave the company will have an impact on those left behind. If the perception is that these people are treated fairly, included being kept informed, the effect will be positive. If the perception is that they are deliberately being deprived of information, the effect will be negative.

Now for the $64,000 question: exactly what do I say to people whose jobs will disappear when the new system is introduced? Firstly, don’t try to hide or cover up the fact that jobs will be eliminated; your dishonesty will be discovered and from that point forward you will have lost everyone’s trust. Work with your HR organization to develop information to be communicated. These are the people who understand which policies affect that type of communication. They should also be experienced with putting these types of communications packages together. Secondly, get all the facts around job eliminations. Which jobs will be eliminated? Which jobs will be opening up because of the change? How do workers go about applying for other positions in the company? Your HR organization should be able to help with all these questions. Include what you know about the project. What were the reasons behind building the new system? How will the new system benefit its users? How will it benefit the company? There may be information that is sensitive and can’t be communicated until the public has been informed. This information is usually of the type that would tend to influence stock prices. When you are unable to share this information, inform your stakeholders of the reason you can’t share it with them. It is very likely that communications for a new system that is part of a major change in business will be managed at the corporate level. Your communications should form a part of that larger plan.

Be honest in your communications. Give people the facts they are interested in or that they need. We are often tempted to gloss over any negative impacts the new system may have on the user community. We don’t deliberately mislead people but we tell people things we think they want to hear. Don’t be afraid to mix the good news with the bad. Frequently new systems require users to endure short term pain to enjoy long term gain. Don’t shy away from communicating information about the short term pain. Your user community is smart enough to figure out the value proposition. Just remember that once the cat is out of the bag it is very hard to put it back in. Know who has overall responsibility for communication in your company and always seek for their blessing of the information you want to communicate and the timing of that communication.

Timing is everything with communication. Being communicative with your stakeholders at a time when they aren’t particularly concerned with your project is wasteful of your project’s communication resources. Communicating a welter of technical details about the new system a year before implementation won’t be seen as honesty, it will be seen as noise and ignored. Good communications should give your stakeholders the information they want when they want it. This criterion must be balanced with the information available and when it becomes available. Communicate a description of the new system in a few sentences, along with the business reasons for choosing it in your first communications. You can also communicate changes to existing processes and procedures in very broad terms. This information should answer the question: how will the new system affect my work, but only at a very high level. Communicate project progress and any “wins” the project experiences during your build phase. Communicate the specifics of how the new system will impact work to specific groups of workers as the project gets closer to delivering.

Training on new systems is critical to their delivery of the value envisioned in the business case. Training sessions can also present you with opportunities to communicate to the trainees. Include the reasons the new system is being introduced with training in how to use it. Use the information you have available to support your communication and start out as you mean to go on. Let the stakeholders know when you will be communicating with them and if possible what you’ll be communicating (your communication management plan). During the initiation phase of your project you’ll have very little information available, but you will have the Business Case and Project Charter to use. The benefits, both tangible and intangible, the new system will bring to the organization is a good start and you should have that information to hand. You may want to tailor that information to suit your audience. Filter the benefits to make them specific to the group of stakeholders you are communicating with.

Slipping delivery dates for the introduction of a new system that will cause stakeholders some discomfort can leave these people feeling like they are being drawn through a knothole backwards. Realize that there are many different reasons that a final delivery date could change that have nothing whatever to do with the project or your management of it. The people who are paying for your project have every right to change the final delivery date when they have good business reasons for doing so. I wonder how many dates were changed as a result of the fallout from 9/11. Don’t paint yourself into a corner with your communications. Let stakeholders know that the delivery date chosen for the project could change down the road if business needs dictate. If you have to communicate a change in date, be sure to communicate the reasons for the change. Don’t just say the new Acme time tracking system will not be delivered on April 1st as originally planned, but on July 1st, tell the stakeholders that priorities have shifted to take advantage of a business opportunity that will increase revenue by 15%. This shift means that project work is being delayed and this will move final delivery to July 1st.

Treating project communications as a key project deliverable probably won’t eliminate all the fear and loathing of the new system you are building, but it should succeed in eliminating it for those stakeholders capable of viewing the project objectively. At the very least it will trigger questions that will provide you with an opportunity to refine the information you give your stakeholders.