Basic Communication Skills

In layperson’s terms, communication refers to the transmission of information or knowledge. As students of language and communication, however, it is a very shallow definition for us. Communication consists not only a conversation between and among people. It rather encompasses a large area of research, ranging from a person’s bodily position to speed of pronunciation.

As researchers, our focus should be more on the effectiveness of communication. During a communication process, we might face barriers on multiple occasions. Hence, our responsibility is to use communication skills to remove the barriers to effective communication. In order to make communication effective from a linguistic perspective, we have to thoroughly deal with minute details of the communication process.

Communication is the basic necessity for every organization to function smoothly. It is necessary for both intra- and inter-organizational discussions. Once you are engaged in an organization you are bound to learn the communication skills, but if you learn them in advance you can sharpen and refine your skills in the practical running of the organization. For example, Dhurmus-Suntali foundation has taken the initiative to construct a standard Lord Buddha International Cricket Stadium. Now, they are holding various discussions with the government of Nepal, the concerned authorities and the cricket players. For their discussions to become effective, they are required to have a number of building blocks to which we call basic communication skills. In communication, the most distinctive feature is

there are a sender and a receiver. The following figure shows how communication is made between the sender and the receiver.

In order to hold an effective communication, both the sender and the receiver need to act in a responsible manner. It means they need to have both sending skills and receiving skills. Generally, the sender is required to have two skills: regulating skills and assertive skills. Regulating skills are concerned with the structure and direction of the conversation. In contrast, assertive skills are the skills of precisely putting forth the message. In the following sections, important aspects of regulating skills, assertive skills and receiving skills are briefly discussed.

1. Regulating Skills

Regulating Skills have much to do with the flow of the conversation. Your communication requires certain structures and directions. In order to maintain them, you need to have the regulating skills of communication. Chronological functions of regulating skills are:

* Opening the conversation, setting goals

* Goal evaluation

* Closing the conversation

a) Opening the conversation, setting goals

Formal communications normally do not entertain beating around the bush. However, certain formalities need to be carried out. if you initiate a conversation, you have to reveal your intentions to your partner soon after the opening of the conversation. Nevertheless, there is no fixed rule for when to tell your partner the purpose of the communication. It is partially

dependent upon what kind of person is in conversation with you or what kind of relation you have with your communication partner. For example, you have hired a close friend of yours to develop a website for your company. If you have frequent conversations with that employee, the conversation normally begins informally in which you can directly reveal the purpose of your conversation. In this case, if you thoroughly follow the formalities, there is a high chance that your partner will feel odd. In contrast, if you have hired a stranger in your friend’s place, your ethics tells you that you have to begin the conversation formally. By discussing generalities in the beginning, you can create conducive environment for both of you. It is, however, important to keep in mind that unnecessarily lengthy generalities often lead to difficulty in parts of both the sender and the receiver.

Whether a conversation begins formally or informally its smooth continuation requires clarity of the sender’s intentions. A clear conversational structure contributes to an efficient communication by not allowing you to divert from your goals. You might have multiple issues to deal with in a single sitting. Hence, you should prepare an inventory of issues in advance by ordering them on the basis of their level of significance.

b) Goal evaluation

We, as students of language and communication, assume that conversations are based on specific goals. The goal often takes the form of solution of a problem or achievement of a project. In this section of the conversation, the sender normally asks goal evaluating questions such as: ‘are the goals attainable?’ ‘Have we employed adequate methods to achieve the goal?’ For example, the government of Nepal might enquire Dhurmus-Suntali foundation in this manner: ‘Do you think the construction new cricket stadium will be completed by the end of 2019?’ or ‘Do we, now, have sufficient funds to complete the construction of the Lord Buddha Cricket Stadium before the deadline?’ If Dhurmus-Suntali

foundation answers ‘yes’ no further discussion is necessary. In case they answer ‘no,’ both parties will have to go for further discussions in order to achieve the proposed goal.

c) Closing the conversation

In formal conversations, a clear agreement is made regarding the length of conversation in the beginning. Therefore, you have to keep an eye over time. If your time is very short, you have to address your goals as precisely as possible. When the set time is about to expire you can refer back to the time agreement. For example you might say ‘I see that our time is coming to an end.’ Then, you can briefly summarize the whole conversation that has just taken place between you and your partner.

2. Listening Skills

Not only a good structure in a conversation, but it is equally important to let your conversational partner know that they are being listened to. Most people tend to speak without paying careful attention to each other. The truth is, there is magic in listening to people when they talk. Van der Molen and Yvonne H. Gramsbergen-Hoogland have tabulated an overview of the listening skills which is given below.

‘Non’-selective listening skills; attentive behavior Selective listening skills

* Nonverbal behavior * Asking questions

* Verbal following * Paraphrasing * Reflection of emotions * Concreteness * Summarizing

‘Non’-selective listening skills

‘Non’-selective listening skills are very less often practiced in communication. In such skills, the listener has little influence on the conversation. You just pay a good attention and rarely respond to your partner, but still you will be stimulating your partner to keep speaking. You can expose non-selective listening skills through your nonverbal behavior and minimal encouragers.

a) Nonverbal behavior

Nonverbal behavior has approximately equal importance to that of verbal communication. Your behavior in itself is a part of the communication while having discussions with a partner. Facial expression, eye contact, body posture and encouraging gestures are important elements of nonverbal behavior.

During a conversation, your facial expression indicates whether you are attentive to what your partner is speaking or whether you are immersed in some other thoughts. Your face reveals what you are feeling from inside. Communication experts claim that smile is the means of showing interest, kindness, and sympathy, which can stimulate the speaker. Smiling all the time, however, does not work in communication. When you have to show disapproval, you need to change your expression accordingly.

Eye contact is another stimulating force for conversation. Maintaining eye contact during a conversation is a powerful skill. As a listener, you should meet the speaker’s eyes once in a while. You neither should firmly stare at them nor should you completely avoid looking at them. Staring at your partner makes them feel uncomfortable, whereas avoiding eye contact suggests you are not confident enough for the conversation.

Likewise, your body posture also plays a powerful role in stimulating your partner. If you assume a relaxed bodily position you will be considered a trustworthy listener, but if you make restless movements it kills your partner’s trust upon you. Making exaggerated gestures

often signify that you are nervous. Hence, you have to maintain stability and calmness while you are in a conversation.

Gestures create powerful impressions in communication. In addition to being attentive to the speaker, you can nod, when necessary, and make supportive gestures with your hands. You should avoid being nervous and should not make exaggerated movements. In this manner, you will be stimulating your conversational partner.

b) Verbal following

Verbal following means that the comments you make should be concerned with what the speaker is saying and you should not divert from the subject that is being discussed. To create such situation, full understanding of what the speaker is saying is necessary. In order to fully understand your partner, you should put aside your own opinions and confine yourself to minimal encouragers.

Minimal encouragers are short verbal reactions such as: ‘uh-huh,’ ‘uh-ho,’ ‘yes… yes,’ ‘and then?,’ ‘go on,’ etc. They do not seem to be influential in conversation, but actually they have great stimulating effects. Before giving such reactions, it is important that you have thoroughly been attentive to the speaker.

Selective Listening Skills

As a listener, you use selective listening skills to find out and select certain aspects of the conversation which are important. While doing this you will focus more on the content in order to sort out important information. By this skill, you will deliberately give more focus to certain subject of the conversation. Your reactions to the conversation are outputs of selectivity. There are different selective listening skills which are further described below.

a) Asking questions

During conversations, as a listener, if you ask questions it will help your partner to clarify their thoughts in most understandable terms. Depending upon the condition of the conversation, you may ask either open-ended or closed questions.

Open-ended questions demands speakers to formulate answers on their own. Such situations tend to let the speakers speak out their mind. For example if you ask your conversational partner ‘how do you describe yourself?’ the question is flexible and they can answer they way they like. ‘Why’ questions are good foundations for the speaker to freely express what they feel or what they have to say. As a listener, however, you should know the skills of when to ask ‘why’ questions. If you ask a ‘why’ question in the very beginning of the conversation, you will sound like threatening to your partner. You should rather ask such questions when you need justification to an opinion expressed by your conversational partner. Moreover, it is equally important to sound friendly while asking a ‘why’ question otherwise it can sound like a reprimand.

Answers of closed (directing) questions are informative, but they do not have much weight because they do not have much to do with the speaker’s opinions. ‘Yes’ or ‘no’ is usually sufficient answer to closed questions. For example, the answer to ‘have you completed the project?’ can be either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Further explanation is normally not necessary, except when the speaker wants to clarify more of the detail. You should ask closed questions when you want to find out specific and factual information. While asking, however, you should be wary of the tone.

b) Paraphrasing the content

Paraphrasing of content is another important selective listening skill. In order to make sure you understood something correctly, you can restate in your own words what the speaker has already said. If the speaker has given a lot of confusing information you can paraphrase them so that the speaker will have a chance to correct you if mistaken. Paraphrasing correctly often

leads to pleasant reaction from the original speaker. Paraphrasing often takes the form of questioning. Following is an example of a conversation between Mrs. Jenny, an American who wants to come to Nepal for a trek, and Rajesh, the trekking guide she has chosen.

RAJESH: Mrs. Jenny, you are allowed to carry only 30 pounds of personal luggage while flying in Nepalese domestic airlines. If you wish to know, you have to pay US$ 40 as Nepal visa fee for up to one month’s stay.

JENNY: I am ready to pay 40 dollars for my visa, but if I am not mistaken you said it 30 pounds of luggage, right? (Paraphrasing)

In this situation, Rajesh shows his agreement. If Jenny is mistaken in the digit, Rajesh will have to correct her. Hence, paraphrasing seems to be more effective for objective facts.

c) Reflection of feelings

‘Reflection of feelings,’ in a literal sense, means mirroring of feelings. The purpose of this skill is to make your partner feel that you are trying to understand how they feel at the moment in the conversation. It is important that the speaker’s feelings are understood and accepted. If you have to reflect the speaker’s feelings without being mistaken, you have to first recognize their feelings and be sensitive to their moods. Speakers might sometimes express their feelings by using terms like ‘I am scared,’ ‘I am excited,’ but most often they use nonverbal ways to show their feelings. Speed of talking, tone of voice, body posture, blushing, etc can be regarded as manifestations of how the person is feeling. While reflecting upon someone else’s feelings, you have to be equally intense as them. If you get more intense, it will be an exaggeration of the person’s feelings and if you get less intense, the speaker will feel that their feeling is being undermined. It is quite difficult to reflect upon somebody else’s feelings correctly and it is very important to apply this skill in communication process.

d) Concreteness

Concreteness in conversation means that you let speakers tell their story as concretely and precisely as possible. Listening, minimal encouragers, asking open and closed questions, paraphrasing, reflecting all contribute to the concreteness of the conversation. Listening and encouraging can stimulate speakers to give a detailed expression of the subject. Open-ended and closed questions help to gain more specific information.

e) Summarizing

Ordering the main points and giving structure to the conversation is called summarizing in communication. You can summarize both contents and emotions. While summarizing, both contents of the story and the aspects of feelings are addressed. Because there is a large quantity of information, you cannot address all aspects or you might also wrongly express some aspects. Hence, you should add a questioning tone to the summary. Summarizing allows you to check whether you have understood the speaker correctly, and order the different subthemes and vocalize them.

3. Sender Skills

Whatever position you are in, you have to speak during a conversation and your words matter. You might either initiate the conversation or just respond to your conversational partner. Both ways, you can make an impact in the conversational by using sender skills which is also known by ‘assertive skills.’ Van der Molen and Yvonne H. Gramsbergen-Hoogland have tabulated an overview the sender skills in the following manner.

Sender Skills – initiative Sender Skills – reactive

Giving information Refusing

Making requests and giving instructions

Giving criticism Reacting to criticism

Situation clarification

Sender Skills – Initiative

a) Giving information

Conversation mostly involves giving information. Here, our concern is how to present information. Structure, simplicity of style, conciseness and attractiveness are four major factors of effectively presenting information.

In sender skills, structure means the clarity and orderliness of information. First of all, you can make an outline of a number of points. This allows your conversational partners to guess what is coming. After that you can discuss those points, specifying the transitions between them. You can end your information by recapitulating the contents you shared.

Some people assume that using big words, jargons and difficult sentences they can impress their partners, but the result turns out just opposite. We have to understand that the beauty of language is mostly in simplicity of style. If you use short sentences, familiar words and clear wording, your conversational partner will easily understand the information you are presenting. You should consider your partner’s level of education while making choice of wording. You should deliver information neither too simply nor in very complex manner.

Conciseness means the act of giving information as shortly as possible. While delivering information, you should focus on thoroughness, conclusiveness and succinctness. Whatever you mean to say should be put forth shortly and clearly.

b) Making requests and giving instructions

Depending on your position in an organization, sometimes you have to make requests to your employer and sometimes you have to give instructions to your juniors. Seemingly, these tasks are easy, but at times people find it difficult. People find it difficult to carry out instructions or setting tasks for three re

Sometimes you are not courageous enough to tell what you feel. On the basis of previous experiences, you sometimes feel that your conversational partner might not agree to do what you want them to do. Likewise, sometimes you do not know how to make requests or give instructions.

In order to avoid these barriers, you have to know in advance what exactly you want to ask. Then, you have to choose a good occasion for asking or instructing. The best way to start making requests or giving instructions is to say that you want to ask something or say something and then place your requests. There are three different methods people often carry out such tasks. While making requests or giving instructions, if you tend to be submissive shy and self-conscious, and if you cannot tell it straightforward, it is known as Subassertive means. By Aggressive means you tend to be irritable and authoritative by silencing others.

c) Giving criticism

Giving criticism is not as an easy job as it seems. You are afraid that you might end up ruining your relationship with your partner being criticized. However, you should not step back from making criticisms because of fear. You can give criticism to your partners either for their opinion or for their behavior. The prerequisite for making criticisms is that you are self-confident that you are right about the issue. If you cannot agree with somebody’s opinion you have to state clearly that you have disagreements and instantly you have to give your reasons. You can make criticism on someone else’s behavior but you should prefer sounding friendly. If you generalize your partner’s mistake, you might very often sound violent and make your partner feel ridiculous. Even if you are really furious at your partner, you should limit your criticism to specific behaviors.

d) Situation clarification

Situation clarification is often called meta-communication or meta-conversation because it involves a conversation about the conversation. When you have misunderstandings and are

not in good tune with your partner you have to employ this skill. By this means, you can restore the clarity of the conversation.

Sender Skills – Reactive

a) Refusing

Apart from giving instructions or making requests, sometimes you have to become subject to such instructions or requests. When somebody requests you to do them some favor, if you wish to fulfill their wish the problem is solved once and for all. Problems occur when you find that your partner’s request is not reasonable or when you cannot manage time to fulfill their wish. When you have to refuse doing them favor, you can react in three possible ways: Subassertive; Assertive; and Aggressive. By Subassertive means you practically fulfill your partner’s wish, but deep inside you feel a sense of regret for doing something that you actually did not want to do. Through Assertive means you can say ‘no’ in a friendly manner and give reasons for your disapproval. If they still insist, you can ask for further clarification to make sure you have not misunderstood. In contrast, sometimes you might sound aggressive while responding to your partner’s request. If you sound aggressive, your partner will be emotionally hurt and feel insulted and the atmosphere of conversation will be ruined. You can choose to be assertive even if you have to refuse to fulfill someone else’s wish so that the conversation will move smoothly.

b) Reacting to criticism

Your position determines whether you give criticism or receive it. When your conversational partner makes criticism upon your opinion or behavior, you need to be calm and listen carefully before answering to their criticism responsibly.

When your partners make criticism of your opinion it is your choice whether to agree or disagree but the bottom line is you have to be reasonable. Criticism does not demand you to apologize without a second thought. If you agree with the criticism you can revise your

opinion and confess that you had been wrong earlier. But if you have to disagree, you can paraphrase the criticism and refer back to your original opinion and make further clarifications. If you cannot come to terms with each other, the reason might be because you have difference of opinion. In such case, you can choose to consult a third party.

When you face criticisms about your behavior, you should still remain as calm as possible. You have to state what you agree with and what you disagree with. When you disagree, you have to give clarifications by referring back to the situation which caused criticism. In contrast, if you agree with the criticism, you still paraphrase the criticism and clearly tell your partner what you are going to do about it. Furthermore, you can assure your partner that such mistakes will not occur again

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