Communication skills are very difficult to master. This is not because you lack a sufficient vocabulary, legitimate reason for asking the question or the appropriateness thereof. The difficulty is caused by the changes that occur with you, your audience and the overall physical, economic, situational or emotional environment, among others.
We would all agree that it is necessary for a team leader to have clear and effective communications with their team. A large part of what team leaders do is to ask for information from team members as a part of immediate or future decisions that must be made. Therefore it is imperative that the communication exchanges are productive. To make this happen, we must be mindful of a number of variables in the communication process.
So, this article will focus on communication skills from the view point of asking questions and getting the desired information or response. As team leaders, we ask many questions during the course of our day. So, formulating the appropriate type of question is akin to selecting the right sized wrench for a particular sized objective.
In this article we will examine several issues that affect effective communications.
1. Accurate and Truthful Answers
This may seem like a silly heeding, but there are times that the questioner does not want a truthful answer. There are situations where the questioner does not actually want to hear a candid response because they may be seeking agreement, backup for their opinions. There is even the possibility that the question was rhetorical. Therefore, in order to ask the right questions one must be aware of the true motivations for asking the question.
2. Can Questions Be Helpful?
We are aware and accept the fact that the answers to questions provide information for whatever purpose we choose to use the information. But, questions can do a lot more than provide information. Depending on the questioner’s needs, answers can help you to increase your knowledge and expand your thought process on a particular issue. Certain questions can help you to clarify information that you already have or probe deeper to obtain a more thorough understanding of an issue. You may be considering alternative approaches to an issue and asking a few questions of the right people can help you determine the best course of action. And on the negative side questions can be structured to intimidate someone or attack them or their positions on various issues.
The usefulness of the information we get in response to a question comes from how they are structured, but can be even more valuable depending on how we listen to the answers and information they provide. The key is Active Listening. The mnemonic, LISTEN, helps us to remember the components of Active
Listening, as follows:
L – Look interested in the person speaking to you by making reasonable eye contact and appropriate nodding of the head to show that you are following
I – Involve yourself verbally by asking confirming questions so you stay on track
S – Stay focused and minimize outside or extraneous distractions
T – Test your understanding by rephrasing certain points to ensure your understanding
E – Evaluate the message verbally and non-verbally as to whether the words, inflection and body language are consistent with the information
N – Neutrality in your feelings, and lack of bias or prejudice about the information you are given. Be careful not to “cherry pick” nuggets of information, dismiss someone’s views, comments or concerns.
Distractions can be external or internal. When we don’t Actively Listen, it is not always due to lack of empathy or commitment. We may not have had effective training in Listening Skills or the practiced patience that is required. Rightly or wrongly, we can often find ourselves thinking of the next question or preparing our response so that we have not actually heard what has been said. If we are anxious, we may even unconsciously try to finish someone’s answers and rush the interaction. To avoid external distractions, we should try to have the important conversations in a low traffic and quiet location, from workplace noise of outside traffic or construction activities.
5. Body Language
Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s research about communication of feelings and attitudes, provided the basis for the widely quoted and often much over-simplified statistic for the effectiveness of spoken communications. Here is a more precise (and necessarily detailed) representation of Mehrabian’s findings than is typically cited or applied:
• 7% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in the words that are spoken.
• 38% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said).
• 55% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in facial expression. [Body Language]
So, what do we mean when we say 55% of communication is gleaned through body language? Some of the common body language markers seen when asking or answering questions involve the head, face, hands, eyes, mouth, arms, and general posture. The bottom line with body language is that if there is inconsistency with your words and the movement or positions the listed body parts. You may not be sending congruent messages.
6. Clarity of Desired Results
It is important to clarify what we want to know before asking a question. To do this we must match the question and its type to the context and audience. We must clearly define our audience and make an attempt to determine their frame of mind. Your relationship and credibility will depend on your understanding of your audience. When you understand your audience you can determine the best timing and environment to raise certain questions. Armed with this knowledge and clarity of your need for information you can anticipate how the respondent or audience will respond.
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