Communication Skills: A Brief Study
Abstract: Communication is an important feature of life. In the modern world its importance has increased. It has become the need of the day. Thus communication skills are essential to fulfil this need. There are four basic communication skills. The present paper discusses each skill in detail.
Introduction: Communication is and always has been an important feature of life. In the modern world the effective communication has become very important. As the world has shrunk so rapidly through the introduction of ever faster methods of transport and as understanding has become more difficult because of the sheer rate of technological growth, the need for understandable communication has increased. Thus communication skills are essential to fulfil this need for the learner.
The word ‘communication’ is derived from the Latin verb ‘communicare’ which means, ‘to impart, to participate, to share’. The word ‘communicare’ in turn is derived from ‘communis’ meaning ‘common’. In its application it means a common ground of understanding with one another. In other words, it is the transmission and interacting of facts, ideas, opinions, feelings and attitudes.
Communication is essentially the ability of one person to make contact with another and to make himself or herself understood. It is the process by which meanings are exchanged between people through the use of a common set of symbols. For effective communication we need to be competent in the use of the communication skills. There are four basic communication skills- listening, reading, speaking and writing. Let us now study each skill in detail:
(A) Speaking: The capacity to communicate effectively and clearly is an important skill which demands that certain principles be kept in mind. These principles apply to the power of communicating or expressing thoughts in spoken words.
(i) Be Clear: Clarity is the cardinal principle of power of effectiveness in both speech and writing. Therefore, good communication begins in the mind. Clear thinking issues a clear utterance because what is conceived well is expressed clearly. Clarity can be achieved by using simple words and short sentences.
(ii) Be Prepared: It means active, conscious deliberation and effort before action. It involves thought and the questions to be answered: who, what, when, where and why. Who – Who are you going to communicate to? Try to visualize them- an individual, a group or an audience. What are their interests, presuppositions and values? What do they share in common with others; how are they unique? What - What do you wish to communicate? How will you know if and when you have successfully communicated what you have in mind? How - How can you best convey your message? Choose your words with the audience in mind. If time and place permit consider and prepare some audio visual aids. When - Timing is important in communication. Develop a sense of timing, so that your contributions are seen and heard as relevant to the issue or matter in hand. Where - What is the physical context of the communication in the mind? Why - In order to convert hearers into listeners you need to know why they should listen to you. It implies that you know the worth of what you are going to say.
(iii) Be Simple: In this context simple refers to something that is not complicated and, therefore, capable of being quickly grasped by the mind. To simplify means to render less difficult and thus capable of being more easily understood, performed and used. The ability to speak simply about difficult subjects is one of the marks of an effective speaker. Apart from content and arrangement this principle should also be applied to language. In our conversation we must avoid jargon and clinches.
(iv) Be vivid: The principle of vividness covers all that goes to make what we say interesting and attractive. The word ‘vivid’ literally means ‘full of life’. When the content is clear and simple it is already well on the path of becoming vivid, but we may still have to let it come to life. It is the truth which we have to vivify for the other person. Only then can the speaker produce, ‘thoughts that breathe, and words that burn’ (Thomas Gray). The first application of this principle is to be interested in what one is talking about and the person to whom one is talking. Therefore, it is difficult for an enthusiastic speaker to be dull. One way to heighten speech is to use the metaphor or analogy. Pictures bring vividness, be they actual or verbal. Humour can also enliven communication. But the vividness or humour should not draw away the attention from the message.
(v) Be Natural: Before beginning, consider what you are going to say, how you will present it. This principle primarily belongs to the stage of delivery; it governs our manner of speaking. One must speak naturally in a relaxed manner. Beyond the essentials of clear and distinct speech, variety in tone and pitch stem from one’s natural interest and enthusiasm. The speaker must maintain eye contact with his listeners. The speaker’s facial expressions should show his interest and belief in his ideas, and a sincere effort to share them with his listeners. The verbal expression should be reinforced with graceful movements of head, hands etc. the aim being to enhance the effect of the spoken word.
(vi) Be Concise: If clarity, simplicity and vividness describe the quality of what you say, then conciseness describes the quantity dimension. Confine what you have to say in a relatively short space, cutting out all unnecessary wordiness. Use words sparingly. List your priorities and speak what you must and not what you should or might. A message to be delivered should therefore be brief in order to make communication effective.
The capacity to communicate effectively is an important skill. For effective communication to take place the speaker must convey his message in a clear and interesting manner so that the listener is able to interpret, understand and respond accordingly.
(B) Listening: Effective speech is only one side of the coin of communication process. Listening is the other. Truly speaking, listening is a neglected skill in communication. Listening is not the same as hearing. On the one hand, hearing is physical, while on the other, listening is a mental process. The basic principles of effective listening is that unless the listener pays attention, has concentration, and is seriously concerned with the subject, he can not understand the message of the speaker. Listening is hearing but it does not merely mean hearing. It is a process of understanding what is heard. To listen means to hear with thoughtful attention to the speaker and to what he or she is saying. A good listener is alert. His style of observation, his facial expressions and sitting postures usually reflect this fact. He may further show his interest by putting questions, seeking clarifications etc. without interrupting the speaker i.e., doing the same after the speaker has spoken or when the speaker poses questions to judge the understanding of his listeners.
Patient and attentive listening is essential for communication as the purpose of communication is to make others listen, understand and act accordingly. There can be no mutual understanding without listening which is in fact the purpose of communication. The skills of listening demand that a few principles be kept in mind:
(i) Be Willing to Listen: The will to listen comes first. In most contexts listening also requires an openness of mind, willingness in principle to think and act.
(ii) Hear the Message: Receiving clearly what is actually being said is the next vital ingredient.
(iii) Interpret the Meaning: The meaning in question is the speakers meaning and how far you can interpret it in your own words and as accurately as possible.
(iv) Evaluate carefully: At some stage or other you need to assess the worth or value of the content of what you have listened. Is it true? Is it useful?
(v) Respond Appropriately: Communication is a two way process, therefore, respond is necessary. It may be an applause or even silence. But it is still a response which will be interpreted by the speaker. Even a different response whether in the positive or negative will also be interpreted by the speaker. And it is on the basis of the response received that communication is said to be effective or ineffective. For effective communication to take the mutual understanding between the speaker and listener must exist, of which response is the main indicator.
Listening is a skill which can be acquired or improved. It can be mastered by conscious cultivation. Listening demands conscious efforts of interpretation of sounds and the grasping of the meaning of words. Unless conscious effort is made the meaning of arbitrary words or symbols can’t be understood. Real listening is a profound understanding, not merely of the words being said, but of the experience and meaning behind the words. Real listening produces results. Therefore, communication produces harmony, resolves problems, dissolves feelings of separateness and promotes mutual understanding.
(C) Writing: Written communication occupies an important position in communication. The transmitter or sender has to pay adequate attention to certain principles in order to make written communication effective. They are as follows:
(i) Be prepared: The writer must consider his purpose and the needs of the reader. This can be done by asking a few questions: Who, why, what and how? (a) Who : Who are you going to communicate to? Try to visualize them- an individual, a group, an audience. (b) Why: Why do you want to communicate with them? What is the purpose of Communication? (c) What: What do you wish to communicate? It deals with the content. (d) How : How can you best convey your message? Language and style are important here. Plan the structure or layout.
(ii) Unity: An orderly arrangement of ideas flowing into other ideas and progressing to conclusions helps achieve unity. It provides an element of sequence and motion that moves the reader in a definite direction towards accomplishing the purpose of communication.
(iii) Coherence: The principle of coherence applies to sentences, paragraphs and to the message as a whole. It is the bringing together of several ideas, under one main topic in any paragraph. By the interlinking of paragraphs, the whole message is knit together into a meaningful whole. Smooth flow and clarity therefore leave no scope for misinterpretation.
(iv) Clarity: The message should be planned and expressed in a logical way so that the ideas flow smoothly from the beginning to the end. Clarity can be achieved by writing to serve a purpose rather than to impress. Clarity can be achieved by using simple words and sentences: and by avoiding the use of jargon and clinches.
(v) Conciseness: Conciseness refers to thoughts expressed in the fewest words possible. It is achieved by using precise words. Unnecessary superlatives, exaggerations, irrelevant details etc. should be avoided. The written work must be direct and to the point.
(vi) Completeness: Completeness with reference to writing a message means comprehensive coverage of the subject matter to be transmitted. An incomplete message leads to misunderstanding and demands clarification, explanations etc. Thus, the writer must avoid such situations by writing in a clear, direct style.
(vii) Readability: Readability of the subject matter is important in written communication. Clarity of writing and ability of the understanding of the subject is the purpose of writing. Lack of readability is a barrier of communication. The matter must be readable so that the receiver can read, analyse, interpret and understand.
In the art of communicating through the written word it is essential that the reader should be able to interpret and understand the message sent to him. Written communication is the link between the writer and the reader and it determines the reader’s attitude towards the writer. Thus, for the effective communication, interaction between the reader and the writer must take place which will depend on the written word.
(D) Reading: Reading like listening is a neglected skill. For Communication to take place between the writer and the reader, it is essential that at the receiving end the symbols are identified and interpreted. For this interaction to take place the ability to read, interpret and understand is essential.
Good reading is listening in action, giving time and thoughtful attention to what you are reading and remaining alive to all the possibilities it suggests. While reading, it is good to have an average speed- neither too slow nor to fast- as it may impair understanding of the text. The ability to read silently is the natural climax to the skill of reading. The habitual skill of co-ordinating eye movements with meaning is one aspect of reading. The other skill lies in making accurate judgements in what to read and at what level of thoroughness. The ability to adjust speed according to material, we might call the skill of scanning.
Scanning involves the action of quickly glancing down the body of the text so that the mind can rapidly take in the gist of what is written. It should be a methodical search, an intensive examination. This moving survey from point to point gives an overall picture. It may lead reader to scrutinize parts of the written piece and pay attention to minute details.
Conclusion: Keeping the communication process in mind, we can conclude by saying that the acquisition of the four basic communication skills is of prime importance for effective communication. Effective communication is essential at home, in the work place, in a market, in a public place etc. To put it briefly, it is essential at all times and in all places as it is universal process.
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