By Fareeha Qay­oom

 

A

s a per­pet­ual stu­dent of life, I have known for a long time the impor­tance of ask­ing the right ques­tions.  All ques­tions can be bro­ken down to six cat­e­gories — why, what, where, when, who, and How?

Leadership: Ask Better Questions
Photo by Joel Mark Witt

Effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion is an acquired skill – though, not all man­agers know how to com­mu­ni­cate effec­tively. Words have mean­ings and asso­ci­a­tions – same words can mean dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. Then, there are hid­den mean­ings, fine nuances, body lan­guage, and out­right con­tra­dic­tions between actions and words, not to men­tion, human nature…walking through this mine­field can be tough – on top of that, you need emo­tional intel­li­gence and peo­ple skills. I don’t think you can ever say you have mas­tered all the skills of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and now you have become an effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tor. You live and learn — it’s always a process. How­ever, there are some rules of effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion that you can acquire…

 

Build­ing cred­i­bil­ity over the short term or long term

Say­ing what you mean and mean­ing what you say is equally impor­tant. I am talk­ing about ‘accu­racy’ and ‘con­sis­tency.’ It makes for cred­i­ble con­ver­sa­tions and effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Many inef­fec­tive con­ver­sa­tions can be bro­ken down to one truth – wrong words, wrong tone of voice, or down­right mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of truth, dis­trust or dis­hon­esty. Con­flict arises and com­mu­ni­ca­tion breaks down and you are one step away from total col­lapse of a rela­tion­ship.

 

Once upon a time, I went to this job inter­view on a lark (sum­mer of 1998), the lady was co-owner and pub­lisher of one of the top weekly polit­i­cal Eng­lish pub­li­ca­tions in town; she asked me to bring a few exam­ples of my writ­ing – I did. She had actu­ally meant non-edited ver­sion of my pub­lished work; (exam­ple of wrong use of words). Why didn’t she just say so? The edited ones were all my writ­ing too, (the edi­tors had only removed a word here and there and sub­sti­tuted a more for­mal word con­sis­tent with their news­pa­per house style). Any­way, I had brought a few copies of the newslet­ter I pub­lished in Eng­lish as well. She couldn’t believe it was all my work! (Exam­ple of distrust) – On top of that, she couldn’t believe that major­ity of the peo­ple fea­tured in it talked to me in Urdu or ‘Url­ish’; appar­ently, she thought I wasn’t flu­ent in Eng­lish and there­fore, first wrote the copy down in Urdu and then trans­lated it in Eng­lish! (Another exam­ple of dis­trust); like most edu­cated folk in Pak­istan – I am bilin­gual so I am equally at home in both lan­guages – I don’t need to trans­late, it’s auto­matic! Duh…

 

Then she referred to her pub­li­ca­tion by call­ing it the wrong day of the week. I just looked at her, though, I didn’t con­tra­dict her. It would have been rude to cor­rect her.  Why put me in a spot? It was our first (and last) meet­ing. By this point in our con­ver­sa­tion I had already decided I didn’t want to work for her. She could have just asked me if I had ever read her pub­li­ca­tion instead of doing that elab­o­rate play-acting! I just kept quiet.

 

Then, she asked me to give her a list of influ­en­tial peo­ple I had on tap. Again, I was hardly impressed. It seemed per­fectly obvi­ous she hired peo­ple with influ­en­tial con­nec­tions only. It wasn’t about your basic writ­ing or report­ing or edit­ing skills at all.  After that, she picked up the phone, and made a pre­tense of telling her sec­re­tary that I was hired and she should be reminded about some­thing or the other – blah, blah, blah. Of course, she had no inten­tion of hir­ing me and I had no inten­tion of work­ing for her. The whole thing was bizarre. It just left a bad taste in my mouth.  I remem­ber I men­tioned this encounter to a mutual friend after­wards. He couldn’t believe I was talk­ing about the same per­son. She appar­ently came across to him as a very artic­u­late and effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tor.  Go fig­ure…

 

Soft tone of voice

You can say any­thing you want to any­body you want, the mes­sage could be as neg­a­tive as pos­si­ble, as long as your tone of voice is calm, soft and respect­ful, the per­son being addressed will not take offense.

 

A col­league (he’s a friend too) was argu­ing with me that it’s the words you use that cause offense (again, this is ancient his­tory).  He told me being told to shut up was appar­ently the most offen­sive thing any­body could ever say to him. I told him, it was usu­ally the tone you use, not your words that cause offense.  We agreed to dis­agree. We were hav­ing this friendly argu­ment while we were on the way to a fac­tory to dis­cuss a sticky sub­ject like late deliv­er­ies of par­tic­u­lar knit prod­uct intended for export to USA.

 

The owner of the fac­tory was a con­sid­er­ably older and very dis­tin­guished gen­tle­man; he gave me many rea­sons for the delays – major­ity of them had noth­ing to do with the truth. They were just excuses. I heard the gen­tle­man out and then I appar­ently said, “BS sir.” I didn’t notice my words nor did he. Later, on the way back, Rizwan laugh­ingly told me he believed me. “Fareeha, do you know what you said to him?” I said, “No, what did I say?” He couldn’t stop laugh­ing. “You said, bull sh*t, sir!”  I made a believer out of him that day. I had just told a rich, pow­er­ful, elderly per­son of influ­ence that he was lying to his face using a dis­re­spect­ful word to describe his behav­ior and he hadn’t taken offense because my tone had been respect­ful, soft and con­ver­sa­tional. There had been no pause – in fact, I think both of us prob­a­bly didn’t even notice the pro­fan­ity – we ami­ca­bly sorted the deliv­er­ies to our mutual sat­is­fac­tion and both of us went away well sat­is­fied with each other. (And no, he never com­plained to my boss ask­ing me to tone down my lan­guage or any­thing like that! So, it’s not insen­si­tiv­ity on my part that lets me claim that!)

 

Do your home­work

This is another funny story. The other day, one of our vendor’s senior man­agers asked me for direc­tions to our office over the phone. He had been to our office before but he had for­got­ten the way.

 

I asked him to give me his cur­rent loca­tion. He had appar­ently crossed the Shell Petrol Pump and was near the Cen­tral Mosque. So, I gave him the direc­tions accord­ingly. (There is only one Shell Petrol Pump near a cen­tral mosque in DHA and that’s located in H sec­tor – each phase has its own cen­tral mosque).

 

He finally arrived.

 

Later, I found out through another col­league, that I had appar­ently sent him on a wild goose chase.  The prob­lem had not been my direc­tions but his inac­cu­rate reply to my ques­tion. He had crossed the Total Petrol Pump in phase 3, to finally arrive near the phase 4 Cen­tral Mosque and he was actu­ally in the vicin­ity of our office when he called me for direc­tions! I had a good laugh. He couldn’t even say a word in his defense because it had been his own fault any­way. If he had given me his cor­rect loca­tion, I would have given him cor­rect direc­tions! :D

 

So do your home­work. Go pre­pared for any com­mu­ni­ca­tion, have all the infor­ma­tion you might need at hand, have clear objec­tives and yes, leave your ego at the door.  Some com­mu­ni­ca­tion fail­ures can be laid down to nasty, cheap shots. Avoid sar­casm. Lis­ten more. Talk less. Stay calm. Don’t lose your cool. Try not to inter­rupt. I know this is the hard­est part. Some­times, I get impa­tient with long winded speeches and I do inter­rupt but in ret­ro­spect I always regret it. It’s bet­ter for the other party to have his/her com­plete say.

 

Bot­tom line…

Last but not the least, hon­esty is the best pol­icy. Effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion requires a cer­tain amount of trust which builds long term cred­i­bil­ity and rap­port. With­out that, you can’t influ­ence any­one to do Jack.

 

Lack of ego is another fac­tor that helps. Don’t try to impress, but do express clearly, con­cisely and sim­ply. Let the other party play the big shot if it makes him happy. Don’t react to neg­a­tiv­ity, stu­pid­ity, dis­hon­esty, and provo­ca­tion. (This is harder than you think – some­times, human nature comes in, bite your tongue and keep your cool! Don’t let thought­less words escape. Take a break, walk away and regroup and then come back to the dis­cus­sion table when you are calm and col­lected).

 

Bossi­ness, Bul­ly­ing, try­ing to get your own way at the expense of oth­ers each time, cre­at­ing a win/lose sce­nario in each encounter will in the long term mean a break­down of a rela­tion­ship. So let the other party win stuff that’s impor­tant to them. It’s always a give and take that makes for a suc­cess­ful and long term rela­tion­ship.

 

So to sum up, active lis­ten­ing, accu­racy, con­sis­tency and hon­esty, in other words, say­ing what you mean and mean­ing what you say; respect­ful demeanor and soft tone of voice, lack of ego, clear aware­ness of your goals and objec­tives and cor­rect and updated infor­ma­tion about your sub­ject under dis­cus­sion are some of the fac­tors that would make you an effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tor and nego­tia­tor in the long run. It will also help you nego­ti­ate mutu­ally sat­is­fac­tory out­comes every time.

 

 

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