Clear communications

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“Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes


We live in such an electronic-driven age today that rarely do we dwell on the old-fashioned skill of talking - being able to speak clearly and firmly, in varying tones so we don‘t put people to sleep. It‘s a true skill, and one that‘s vital in trucking as so much of the communication between driver and company, as well as carrier and shipper, gets done via voices over landline and wireless phones - even the tried and true citizen band radios that are so much a part of trucking‘s heritage.


As usual, the good professor Jerry Osteryoung from the college of business at Florida State University has some thoughts on the subject and as he specializes in dealing with entrepreneurs - the backbone of the American business community - I think I‘ll step aside and let him have the floor:


“By far, communication is the number one thing that all firms and managers can improve upon especially oral communications. Communication is where it is at because it conveys both the message as well as the emotions behind the message.


Inefficient communications can lead to a world of problems. I once had a boss that would offer criticism in a joking manner. He would say things like, ‘Jerry, spending more time with XYZ client would really help my wife spend more on the furniture for our new house.‘ Statements like this do not really convey the message and only obscure the meaning. After a while, no one took any of his corrections seriously as we could never tell if he was being sincere or just joking around.


One tip for improving your communications is to watch your pace. I speak very rapidly, which is not always a good thing. People assume that those who speak rapidly are not calm. Frequently, this sends a danger signal to the listener, causing them to listen with much caution - and that can potentially interfere with the message.


If I want my messages to be understood, I have to work on slowing down my speech. Sometimes I just experiment with the pace and see how folks respond. If I see an audience or a staff member nodding their head, it is a pretty good indication that the pace is right, and that they are getting the message.


I have become a big fan of Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer (with three dogs, I need all the help I can get!), which airs on the National Geographic channel. One of the things that he repeatedly says about dogs is that any message must be sent when both the trainer and the dog are in a very calm place. Even with dogs, we must communicate effectively!


Another thing to remember about communications is that emotions can either help or hinder the message. If the emotions are congruent with the message, the message will be understood much better. However, you run into trouble when the message and the emotions expressed through body language are not in sync.


Normally, messages sent with incongruent emotions are either completely misunderstood or not heard at all. For instance, I have seen manager‘s complement staff members while frowning and standing with very rigid posture. Instead of a complement, a message of fear is received. In a like manner, you just cannot smile while telling an employee that there is a problem with their behavior.


The point is to make sure that your message and emotions are congruent. One of the best ways to evaluate this is to practice in front of a mirror or have someone else evaluate your communications. Normally, I have found that these issues are easy to correct once the speaker is aware of and understands the problem.


The final tip is to vary your volume and pitch. I cannot tell you how many times at Georgia Tech (yep, I am a Rambling Wreck) I took some course that I saw little value in (like thermal dynamics) where the professor spoke in a flat monotone. I fought every day to stay awake in class. If the professor had just varied his inflection or his volume every so often, the course would have been so much better.


Sometimes when I am giving a speech I slightly reduce the volume of my voice just to force people to try harder to listen to me. Just this little change has made such a difference in the quality of my talks. So with regard to your communications, you must ensure that your pace, body language and pitch are set to optimize the reception of the message.”


Good stuff as usual, Professor Osteryoung. For more business tips on a range of subjects, feel free to drop him a line by e-mail at jostery@comcast.net

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