Very early during a presentation at a professional conference, an older gentleman in the second row leaned over to his friend who was sitting next to him and uttered, “I don’t know why I’m here at a session related to communication? After all, I’ve been talking since the age of two. I think that I pretty well have it mastered by now.” Really?
While this individual may have been speaking for many years, it does not mean that he is doing it effectively, efficiently or professionally. These three ingredients are essential for all administrators involved with education-based athletics and performing arts – and not just with the participants. When you interact and must relate to parents, teachers, coaches, advisors, colleagues and a host of others, communication becomes a major aspect in your professional life.
If you list and analyze all the tasks and responsibilities involved with your position, approximately 75 to 80 percent of what you do involves some form of communication. This fact alone should emphasize its value and importance.
The process is simple in that there are only four aspects involved. There is a message – written or verbal – a sender, a receiver and usually feedback. But with each of these elements there can be any number of hurdles or problems. For example, the message can be poorly constructed, or the content may be flawed.
The sender may be ineffective delivering the message. On the other hand, the receiver may not be receptive, and doesn’t listen well or read carefully. Therefore, in order to be successful, you should try to control the elements that you can. And what determines success? The number one objective in communication is to be understood, and this does not mean that everyone will like or agree with your message.
Not to be confused with the ultimate goal of being understood, it is also vital to determine what you want to accomplish with your message. In some cases, it might involve providing information or education. Your message could also be intended to persuade, advise, encourage, inspire, or maybe even amuse or reprimand. But you are trying to accomplish something and, therefore, you need to also keep this in mind as you prepare and construct your message.
The following suggestions or approaches should help in your effort to be understood, and thereby effective.
- Carefully plan and craft your message. Words do matter, and one or two can either greatly enhance or derail what you want to accomplish. In addition, for many individuals who might ad-lib or go off script, this is often a recipe for disaster.
- Take a few seconds and think before responding to a question. Use the brief pause to avoid emotional or perhaps insensitive reactions, and carefully review all written documents before publication to ensure the proper tone and to avoid misleading messaging.
- Use the “Three Cs of Communication” – clear, concise and correct. Some practitioners within the discipline or in the field have also added consistent, courteous, complete, considerate and coherent to the original three. But all seven or eight are extremely valuable, and they will enhance and improve your message.
- Utilize the journalistic cues of who, what, when, where, why and how in presentations or in written documents. The audience or reader is looking for and needs the answers to these questions in their attempt to completely understand the message.
- Understand your audience. While your message may remain essentially the same, you may need to adjust your vocabulary, examples used and approach depending upon the age and background of those receiving it. Also, settings vary that may necessitate additional adjustments or considerations.
- Be careful when you try to incorporate and use humor. It is very individualistic, and this means not everyone will agree with what is funny and some things may be polarizing or offensive. And always avoid using sarcasm because it is rarely well-received.
- Use as many vehicles and mediums as possible to convey your message. In order to reach the greatest number of individuals associated with your program, this is the most efficient and effective way to do it. Of course, you also must continually learn and add new methods to your arsenal. There will always be new developments and technology on the horizon.
- Adjust your word usage or examples given if the person or group does not initially or easily understand your message. And with written forms of communication, revise or provide additional examples if there is any confusion. Since the basic overall goal of all communication is to be understood, it means that it is advisable to make some changes if this has not been accomplished.
- Actively and attentively listen to any questions that may arise. You cannot accurately and adequately address them unless you totally understand the concerns. Too often individuals are preparing their next statement instead of sincerely listening to the other person, and this oversight limits or hinders a successful resolution.
- Be aware and careful of what your mannerisms, appearance and posture may indicate during one-on-one or group interactions. Non-verbal communication can be more revealing in some circumstances than actual words.
- Remember that foul or inappropriate language is never acceptable as a professional in an educational setting. And considering email and social media, one needs to be especially careful because these mediums of communication are often used in a more casual manner and done without much thought.
- Also pay attention to and accept constructive criticism and advice with respect to how to improve your communication skills. Improvement depends upon being receptive and then trying to incorporate suggestions. Of course, this step or objective also requires some time and effort.
When you consider the responsibilities and visibility of your position, and the sheer amount of communication that is involved, it is imperative to be as effective as possible. Since professional interaction and connections are vitally important, administrators should continually work to improve and evolve beyond their current skill level.