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Planning Communication

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Planning of communication needs to have an approach to be effective.
where you are now – CURRENT
where you’re heading/want to be (objectives) GOAL
how you are going to get there - STEPS
how long it will take and why - TIMESCALES
what is involved along the way - ACTIONS
why this approach is the best one, and does anything else crop up whilst reviewing this approach that you’ve not already considered – REVIEW APPROACH
how you’ll know when you’ve got there - MEASUREMENT
When planning, you can make notes of what action you want to take and how you will approach the encounter. Whether it is a call or a face-to-face meeting, using the structure above will help you to keep on track. Then we need to think about how you carry out the communication; what skills you need and how to create a successful outcome to that communication.
Given the structure above, let’s look at a case study in practice:
Case Study - Emma’s Report
Emma is a Finance Administrative Assistant. She is preparing to write a short report for her manager and needs content from the seven team members who are busy with end-of-year deadlines.
She needs the information to help the team plan out an office move in the next ten weeks, but she needs to know certain things. These are:
1. Seating and desk location - the preference of team members – facing the wall, facing the window, being near the photocopier or drinks machine, or if they don’t have a preference.
2. Preference for height of the partitions. Low partitions will mean everyone can see each other, whereas higher means there is more privacy within the Finance team.
3. Any specific needs that need to be accommodated.
4. Electrical requirements
5. Desktop versus mobile usage
6. Location of the meeting pod
She is going to book a fifteen-minute conversation with each of them the next day, so she can complete the report for the end of the week, with suggestions and next steps.
She is using the planned questions above and has answered them below:
CURRENT - Where you are now?
I have no information, other than looking at the current location and what arrangements are in place currently. I’m starting from scratch, but recognise that after the move, it will be difficult and costly to change anything.
GOAL - Where you’re heading/want to be
Get to a stage where everyone has had a conversation about what their preferences and second options are, so at least their key needs are met. To ensure team members are generally happy with the outcome as location can impact upon future productivity.
STEPS - How you are going to get there?
I’m sending out a meeting request, along with a proposed floorplan and a 3-d video of the location so that the team can see the new office. Then I’ll send them the questions I’ll be asking (so that they can think about it, and this will reduce their meeting time).
TIMESCALES - How long it will take and why?
The email preparation will take around thirty minutes; booking meetings around thirty minutes; the meetings around two hours; the floor plan around two hours, and the final report to my manager will take around two hours to complete. I’m allowing a whole day of my time.
ACTIONS - What is involved along the way?
Planning, discussing, questioning and clarifying options and preferences. Booking a private meeting room will help me to concentrate. Organising diary slots needs to be done in the next hour or so.
REVIEW APPROACH - Why this approach is the best one?
I understand that some team members need to think before we meet, hence sending out the video, floorplans and questions beforehand. It gives them a chance to have a chat amongst themselves. A one-to-one approach will be helpful to me, as I can focus attention on that one person, and not be distracted with others who may want to chip in, or disagree with a preference, stating that they want that space. The private meeting room might help if some team members share that they prefer to sit with some members, but not others, other than or functionality reasons. That can’t be done in a team meeting.


MEASUREMENT - How you’ll know when you’ve got there?
My manager announces the plans and there is no visible disagreement, or further changes to the plans. Ultimately, everyone moves to where they want and have what they need to engage them and help them to work effectively. Above all, I will have achieved my work task.
Now, you’ve completed this section, we’ll move onto communication skills.

Communication Skills
When you are in a job, the two-way interaction between team members and your manager will be vital. Feedback is also a part of this so this section will look at how you can comfortably give feedback, and take constructive feedback too. Not only that you’ll need to be able to build a network around you for support and development, use honed written communications, be able to use digital skills in this day and age, and problem-solve effectively too!
Non-verbal Communication
At all times, your behaviour is visible to others, so ensure that you behave professionally, be assertive and that your body language is positive. It makes a difference to ow people respond to you in return.
It is important to walk and sit with your posture upright, with your shoulders rolled back. You should also try not to cross your arm when speaking to others, because this can make you appear guarded. With positive body language, not only will you appear more confident, but you will also feel more confident.
Eye contact is something else that will help you to develop positive relationships. Low confidence can be connected with looking away from others when speaking. Don’t worry if you struggle with this now—it is something you can learn to do over time. To begin with, you can start to maintain eye contact with close friends and colleagues you are comfortable with. Over time it will become a natural habit. Maintaining eye contact will make you appear more confident to others, which should help you to feel more confident about yourself as well.
You are likely to feel confident when:
You know what you’re talking about so be prepared when planning your conversation
You do something you’ve done well before, but you also learn from trying out new things
You are with people you trust, so seek to build rapport and trust, which is form part of the next section.

Listening Skills and Verbal Communication
When working with others, either when discussing work plans, in meetings, in review sessions, it is really important to think about how you communicate. The appropriateness of your language in different contexts is crucial. Your effectiveness as a communicator is entirely contingent on how you adapt your messages for different situations, different environments, different audiences and different purposes. Part of communicating is your ability to listen too.
The average person spends 45% of their time listening, but sadly 75% of oral communication is lost and the remaining 25% is forgotten within weeks. Listening is an active process and we must consider both the context of the process and the verbal and non-verbal clues given by the sender.

Here is a useful mnemonic for better listening skills:
L - Look interested - give encouraging signs
I - Inquire/ask questions/take notes
S - Stay on the subject
T - Test your understanding - paraphrase and summarise
E - Evaluate the message - what is being said and how it comes across
N - Neutralise your feelings - keep an open mind.
Questioning - The natural tendency of many of us is to talk too much. This results in leading others to our own way of thinking and thus limiting the value of the information gained in a discussion. It is best to ask open questions such as “How did you feel last week's meeting went?” rather than “Were you happy with last week's meeting?” which is a closed question and requires only a yes or no answer and doesn't give the person the chance to express themselves.
Observing - Observing or listening for non-verbal messages is necessary to ensure you are picking up on the whole message, not simply the words. Research has shown that 55% of our understanding and judgement comes from body language. You need to be aware of (in yourself and others) eye contact, facial expressions, gestures/posture, appearance and grooming and orientation/proximity.
In addition to having an appreciation of the key communication skills it is also important to understand the process of perception. How we see ourselves, our self- image, or self-esteem, will have a major effect on the way we communicate. A person with high self-esteem or self-image is much more likely to be confident and open in communicating in all sorts of situations.

The 80:20 Ratio

Effective listening means not talking.
They talk, you listen – the ratio should be 80:20 or even 90:10
You don't interrupt (unless they are way off the subject, or you can’t understand what they are saying)
You pay attention to what they are saying, rather than pretending to listen while you plan what you’ll say next
You make written notes of key points


Checking Understanding

Check that you have understood what has been said.
Ask questions to clarify anything you are unsure about
From time to time give a reflective summary, which briefly paraphrases what the other person has been saying
Don't tune out the things that you might be less pleased to hear




Demonstrating Listening

Demonstrate that you are listening.
Eye contact – maintain frequent contact, without giving the impression of a fixed stare if dealing with someone face-to-face
Body language – be comfortable, not stiff; open rather than with defensively - crossed arms; lean slightly towards the person, without threatening their sense of personal space (in face-to-face transactions)
Interested tone of voice – whatever the words you use, if you don't mean what you say, your tone will give away your insincerity if you are genuinely interested. This is particularly noticeable if you are on the phone.

Questions
For each of the following statements, identify an appropriate “active listening” response. Allow 20 minutes to complete this exercise.
I never seem to have time to plan my tasks.


When I joined the team, I thought we’d work well together as a team, but there are issues.

I really enjoy the job. The extra responsibility has been a challenge.

Sample Answers - Active Listening Responses:

I never seem to have time to plan my tasks.
I’m sorry to hear that. (Example of empathy and hearing the message)
Can you give me some examples of why that is the case and what could be done to resolve this? (Solicits answers rather than providing them)
When I joined the team, I thought we’d work well together as a team, but there are issues.
Let’s have a chat about it then. (Showing interest and concern)
What’s causing the issues?
What do you think can be done about them?

I really enjoy the job. The extra responsibility has been a challenge.
That’s good to hear. (Feedback to prove the message is heard)
Tell me about your extra responsibilities and how you’ve developed.

Using Empathy

We’ve just touched on empathy in the last exercise, but no matter which channel you are using to communicate with a customer or colleague, to make sure your message is understood, your communication should be empathic. This includes the need to be:

Friendly – if you are handling a customer on a face-to-face basis, smile and start with a friendly greeting. In business to business trade, it’s increasingly common to use first names when dealing with people

Attentive - when you’re listening to a customer or talking to them, focus your complete attention on them. If you’re distracted, try to eliminate the distraction, by taking the phone somewhere quieter, for example.

Convenient - before starting a lengthy conversation, check whether the other person has time for it, or ask to schedule time. Don’t let the communication suffer because one person needs to hurry it.

Respectful – communications are increasingly informal, but you should remain polite and respectful of the customer.

Tailored – personalise your message to the customer’s requirements and knowledge level. Don’t be patronising if you know more, but share information which can help the other party.

Written Communication
In any type of office role, in an administrative or supervisory position, there will be a requirement to write communications. Whether it is drafting memos, emailing clients, or using social media, you’ll need to have good written skills.
Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation
Correct grammar, punctuation and spelling are important in written communications. The reader will form an opinion of you, the author, based on both the content and presentation, and errors are likely to lead them to form a negative impression.
If you are unconvinced about the importance of accurate writing, think of the clues we use to identify spam emails, “phishing” websites, and counterfeit products: poor grammar and spelling.
Constructing Communications
Professionals with strong written communication skills know that it’s critical to get to the point with any message, or readers may just stop reading. Between emails, texts, the Internet, memos and reports, people are on information overload today, and they won’t wade through long-winded materials.
The KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) philosophy is a good one to follow. Include summaries at the beginning of big reports, and use bullets or numbers to separate points and avoid using acronyms or industry jargon.
Developing Written Communication Tips
Knowing the purpose a piece of writing serves gives you a sense of direction. Writing a business report should follow a specific format; for example, an in-office email could be short and informal, but a customer email or a PowerPoint presentation should follow guidelines of courtesy, clarity and conciseness. Your audience should be your compass; keeping in mind what the recipient seeks to learn narrows down the possible directions your writing should take.
Style, tone, and vocabulary use should be in line with your audience and situation.
Remember to:
Stick to your subject matter
Focus on facts
Aim for clarity and avoid ambiguity
Choose short words
Avoid unnecessary embellishment (superfluous adjectives and adverbs!)

Let’s move onto a short exercise before we move onto the quiz.
Checking Detail and Accuracy Activity

Time yourself when completing this activity – allow yourself 15 minutes to read through the following and to complete this exercise.
Service Excellence
Service excellence means different things to different customers. Different customers will have different requirements and different perceptions of what they consider good service to be. A customer deems that they have received excellent service when their perception of the service they have received is higher than their expectations.
The job responsibilities assigned to the representatives must match their skills and interest managers should allocate tasks to the representatives in a way which make it interesting and challenging for them to accomplish. Also, doing the same task in a routine manner might make the work environment monotonous and boring for them, leading to burnout. Representatives should be allowed to switch their responsibilities from time-to-time to prevent monotony and boredom as mentioned, team members who handle voice calls can then tackle social media customers and vice versa.
One of the issues customers face is to ring up to check on a query or issue already raised, to find out there was no log of the last call, or that the information is confusing to the new representative dealing with the query. This is poor customer service.
Teams need to ensure that there is either a handover, with the next steps clearly laid out, or, that the system is updated clearly, so the customer does not have to waste more time than is absolutely essential. If numbers are provided to handle calls, and the team is busy, use a call-back feature, or ensure that another team is also trained to take the call, so multi-skilling takes place.
Questions:
How many times does the word ‘service’ appear?
(Answer: 5)
Pick out the 6 spelling mistakes:
(Answer: perception; received; representatives; monotonous; absolutely; and multi-skilling
How many times does the word ‘customer’ or ‘customers’ appear?
(Answer: 7)
There needs to be 2 full-stops in the example. Where should they be inserted?

“…monotony and boredom. As mentioned, team members…”
“…their skills and interest. Managers should…”