“Mend your speech a little, Lest you may mar your fortunes.”
COMMUNICATION AT WORK
In the final year of their B.Com., Rakesh and Suresh decided to appear for the GMAT. One afternoon, they planned to go to the American Center to collect some information on the exam. But one of their seniors advised Rakesh that it would be better to go to the American Education Center on Hailey Road instead. Accordingly, Rakesh asked Suresh to meet him at “AEC” at 3 p.m. As they were talking over the phone, Suresh heard him say “AC” (for American Center), which is on Kasturba Gandhi Marg. When Suresh tried to confirm, Rakesh, repeated, “Yes, AEC.”
Rakesh reached the AEC at the appointed time, but did not see Suresh and waited for him till 4 p.m. at Hailey Road. Meanwhile, Suresh was waiting for him at the American Center on Kasturba Gandhi Marg. Incidentally, there was no way they could have checked with each other as Rakesh did not have his mobile phone with him that day and he didn't want to leave the spot lest Suresh miss him. It was only late at night in the hostel that they realized what actually caused the misunderstanding.
Upon completion of this chapter, you should be able to:
Understand the nature and importance of oral communication in business transactions and personal interactions.
Kow when to choose oral communication instead of written communication.
Learn key skills of oral communication.
Appreciate how intercultural situations require thoughtful oral communication.
Apply oral communication skills to new communication technologies.
Oral communication, also known as verbal communication, is the interchange of verbal messages between a sender and receiver. It is more immediate than written communication. It is also more natural and informal.
In human development, speech precedes writing. Children first learn to speak, and then, much later, develop the ability to read and write. The ability to speak/ articulate single words and later speak groups of words in meaningful sequence comes to children in the course of their growth. This ability develops from listening to verbal sounds (words). As compared to written communication, therefore, the ability to communicate through the spoken word (speech) is a naturally developing ability (barring medical abnormalities).
In business, oral communication is used more than written communication. A study of executive working hours showed that 70 per cent of an executive’s time is spent on communicating. Forty-five per cent of this time is spent listening, 30 per cent is spent on speaking, 16 per cent on reading, and 9 per cent on writing. As 75 per cent executive communication is oral, it is advisable that executives develop their listening and speaking (oral communication) skills.1
A manager’s maximum time is devoted to oral communication. He or she is often engaged in one of the following tasks: meetings, discussions, negotiations, seminars, presentations, interviews, peer conversations, providing instructions, and telephone conversations. All these business activities, except telephone conversations, involve face-to-face verbal communication. A telephone conversation is one-to-one oral communication that requires skillful control of tone, voice, and pitch, and precise use of words.
In business transactions that involve face-to-face interaction between individuals or groups of individuals, it is not enough to be able to talk, discuss, converse, argue, or negotiate an issue. A manager should be able to do all these persuasively, effectively, and convincingly. But to be convincing, he or she must know and apply the skills of oral communication.
Understand the nature and importance of oral communication in business transactions and personal interactions.
Managers face difficulties in resolving the problems of workers and influencing others through dialogue and personal discussions. They need oral communication skills that include being able to:
- Solve problems
- Resolve conflicts
- Influence people to work together
- Persuade others to be involved in organizational goals
- Be assertive without being aggressive
- Listen thoughtfully
- Negotiate effectively
- Make proposals
A manager should be able to converse or discuss persuasively, effectively, and convincingly.
It is said that it does not matter what you say, but rather, how you say it.
These skills include developing the necessary tact to work effectively for mutual satisfaction in complex situations. Broadly speaking, one has to know when to talk; when not to talk but to listen; how to talk (the tone, pitch, and modulation); how to interpret the listener’s facial expressions, physical gestures, movements, and attitude; and how to be aware of one’s own body talk (leakage), which consciously or unconsciously sends signals to the listener. It is said that it does not matter what you say, but rather, how you say it. This includes one’s choice of words, level of confidence, and sincerity.
The choice between using oral and written communication is guided by considering the suitability of oral or written form for the purpose and nature of the subject of communication. Both written and oral forms have advantages and limitations, which are listed in Exhibit 4.1.
|Oral Communication||Written Communication|
|More personal and informal||Better for complex and difficult subjects, facts, and opinions|
|Makes immediate impact||Can be read at the receiver’s convenience or pleasure|
|Provides opportunity for interaction and feedback||Can be circulated|
|Helps the speaker correct himself or herself (and his or her message) according to the feedback and non-verbal cues received from the receiver||Provides opportunity to refer back to a more permanent record|
|Better for conveying feelings and emotions||Better for keeping records of messages exchanged|
|Can be revised before transmitting|
|Demands ability to think coherently while speaking||Immediate feedback is not available for correction on the spot|
|A word once uttered cannot be taken back||Many people do not like reading, especially official or business messages|
|Hard to control voice pitch and tone, especially when stressed, excited, or angry||More impersonal and remote|
|Very difficult to be conscious of body language||The reader is not helped by non-verbal cues that contribute to the total message|
|Do not know if the message has been read|
|Is more time consuming2|
Know when to choose oral communication instead of written communication.
There are three communication situations in which oral communication takes place:
- Via electronic media
Oral communication is indispensable in any group or business activity. Here are some of the characteristics and principles of effective oral communication:
- Purpose: The purpose of talking effectively is to be heard and understood by the listener.
- Lively rhythm: Oral communication should, first of all, have a lively rhythm and tone.
- Simple words: It is important to use language that is free from long-winded sentences, clichés, and old-fashioned words and phrases. It is best to employ commonly used words and short and simple sentences.
- Pitch: The pitch of the speaker’s voice should take into consideration the distance between the listener and the speaker.
- Tone and body language: The speaker’s tone should be marked by sincerity and confidence. The listener, unlike the reader of a written communication, has the advantage of watching the speaker in the act of verbalizing his or her ideas and feelings, and is able to note subconscious body language that may contradict the intent of the spoken words. Therefore, in face-to-face communication, the message is both heard and seen. A speaker has to be very careful, both about his or her choice of words and the manner of speaking them. The manner of speaking is, at times, more important than the actual words, which communicate only 7 per cent of the total meaning of the message. Albert Mehrabian’s research reveals astonishing facts about how exactly different factors contribute to a speaker’s total message:2
- Verbal factors (words): 7%
- Tone of voice and modulation: 38%
- Visual factors (facial expressions, body movements, and gestures): 55%
Effective speakers learn to control and use their tone and body language to support their words. The role of tone and visual expressions and body language as contributory factors in oral communication will be discussed in detail in Chapter 7.
Research has established that an individual speaks nearly 125 words a minute, but the listener can process the information nearly 4–5 times more rapidly than this.
- Pace of speaking: Unlike the written word, the spoken word is ephemeral and shortlived. Listeners cannot refer back to the spoken word as readers can in case they missed something. This is an inherent limitation of speech. To overcome this limitation, the listener has to listen closely and attentively and the speaker should converse slowly, with proper semantic pauses, to enable the listener to receive and register what is said. There should be a correlation between the pace of speaking and the rate of listening. Research has established that an individual speaks nearly 125 words a minute, but the listener can process the information nearly 4–5 times more rapidly than this. If the gap between hearing and registering is too wide or too narrow based on the pace of speaking, comprehension will to be adversely affected. Hence, an important principle of oral communication is to speak fluently, without long pauses or without rushing.
- Fluency: Fluency is described in the Oxford English Dictionary as “the quality of being able to speak or write a language easily and well.” A fluent speaker is one who is heard with ease. The listener does not have to strain his or her mind to receive, register, and interpret the message. Listening is activated and helped when the speaker delivers his or her words in an ordered manner. Each word is distinctly heard and easily connected with other words to form the structure of the message.
Listening is activated and helped when the speaker delivers his or her words in an ordered manner.
Oral communication should provide a platform for fair and candid exchange of ideas. The communicator should keep in mind the following tips and guidelines:
- Consider the objective.
- Think about the interest level of the receiver.
- Be sincere.
- Use simple language and familiar words.
- Be brief and precise.
- Avoid vagueness and generalities.
- Give full facts.
- Assume nothing.
- Use polite words and tone.
- Eliminate insulting implications.
- Include some information that is interesting and pleasing to the recipient.
- Allow time to respond.
Learn key skills of oral communication.
Managers have to communicate individually with people at different levels—superiors, subordinates, peers, customers, and public figures. The oral mode of communication is easy, efficient, and functionally helpful in resolving issues. But oral communication demands great control and communicative competence to be successful. The foremost barrier to oral communication is poor listening. Listening is a psychological act affected by several factors, such as the speaker’s status, the listener’s receptivity and retention, language barriers, and so on. These are discussed in detail in Chapter 6.
The ability to present and articulate one’s viewpoint in a conversation is one of the most important components of oral communication. Effective conversationalists try to present facts, not opinions; they stick to the point; keep the listener’s interest in mind; support their arguments with suitable examples; and ask for feedback and answer questions honestly. It is also important to know how to negotiate between opposing viewpoints and control the direction of conversation without being aggressive. These conversation skills are discussed in detail in Chapter 5.
The other side of oral communication involves careful listening. To be able to understand and appreciate others, one should allow them to express themselves freely, without being interrupted, and listen carefully. To improve your oral communication skills, you should know whether you are an effective or ineffective listener. By knowing your own characteristics, you can improve your listening skills as an important element of effective oral communication. Inconsiderate listeners may annoy and disturb the speaker by interrupting or showing little interest in what is being discussed. Effective listeners on the other hand try to encourage the other person via positive body language and expressions. They indicate that they feel interested and understand what is being discussed. Chapter 6 discusses listening in greater detail.
Body language is the third major aspect of oral communication, as it often reflects unspoken thoughts and emotions. The speaker should not be vague or unfocused, but instead, should make eye contact with the audience, encourage questions and interaction, show confidence, and get to the point without unnecessary talking. The nuances of non-verbal communication and body language are discussed in Chapter 7.
By practicing the basic skills of good listening, effective conversation, and positive body language one can become an effective communicator and be successful as a manager or negotiator, or in any situation involving conversation or discussion.
Today, interaction with foreigners for business, education, and social purposes has become very frequent. The cultural differences in social behaviour, values, language, and articulation pose difficulties for both sides. Communication Snapshot 4.1 illustrates some such difficulties. Intercultural interactions take place not only when people go abroad or receive visitors from another country, but even in the home country. This is because we live in a multi-cultural society and interact with people who speak a variety of languages and belong to different subcultures.
Besides language barriers, intercultural interaction is deeply affected by the lack of familiarity with business and social norms and conventions of the respective cultural groups. The advice that Sunil gives to his cousin Gopal, who has just arrived in the United States as a student from India, in Anurag Mathur’s novel, The Inscrutable Americans, is valuable in this context.
“Ah Gopal, that may not be the most accurate account of life here. You know I suggest that before you actually start socializing with people maybe you should first settle down a bit, get to figure out what’s what, you know, check out the whole scene.”
Sunil’s advice is to view things as they are, and to not assume anything or pass judgment hastily in an unfamiliar culture. An example of Gopal’s bafflement in his early days in the United States occurs in a grocery store and reveals how necessary it is to be familiar with the manner in which business is conducted in a different culture.
“At the mall, Gopal felt totally helpless at the gentility all around and the effortless ease with which shopping could be conducted. However, he knew shopkeepers well and he felt he had no reasons to believe that their basic attitude to customers here [America] would be any different from what it was in India. So when the girl at the counter totalled his purchases for pots, sheets and plates and announced, “That’ll be $37 and 52 cents, sir”, Gopal was ready for her.
“25 dollars,” he replied firmly.
“Sorry, sir”, she replied, “that’s 37 dollars and 52 cents”.
“27 dollars”, Gopal suggested.
“Er, no sir”, she replied nervously, “if you’ve run short of cash we’ll gladly accept all the major credit cards, cheques or traveller’s cheques”.
“29 dollars”, said Gopal firmly, “no more, or I am going to other nice shop. They are saying they are having sale but I am giving you chance first”.
The girl began to look around wildly. “Excuse me, sir”, she pleaded, “I’ll have to get the manager.” She fled.
The girl felt exasperated. Gopal’s conversation with her failed to convey what exactly he wanted. The parallel conversation made little sense to the American salesgirl, who was unfamiliar with the practice of bargaining, which is common in India. Even her manager could not follow Gopal’s conversation correctly. Gopal was trying to bargain because he did not want to pay 37 dollars and 52 cents for his total purchase. This was not because he was short of money as the counter girl and her manager thought, but because he was used to bargaining when shopping. In that pleasant atmosphere, bargaining was unheard of, so when Gopal went on quoting different amounts in response to the fixed amount repeated by the counter girl, it made no sense to her.
When his friend Randy asked Gopal what was going on, Gopal replied that he was bargaining. Randy who knew about American business culture was amused at the prospect of the great fun to be caused by Gopal’s bargaining.
The manager arrived.
“What seems to be the problem, sir?” asked the manager suavely. “Could I be of some help?”
“Prices are too high,”said Gopal firmly.
“Ha, ha, ha,” chuckled the manager, “isn't that the truth. I often say the same to the wife myself. Now I’ll tell you what, “he leaned forward conspiratorially, “if you’ve run out of cash, leave behind any one of these items, I’ll reduce $5 and throw in free this packet of fine chewing gum. How about that? Is that fair or is that fair?”
“Chewing gum rots teeth,”said Gopal firmly.
“All right”, said the manager through clenched teeth, “what’s the real problem here? Come on, spit it out. You broke or something?”
“No,”said Gopal, “but this only worth $25.”
“Oh, yeah”, said the manager, “says who?”
“Who is setting these prices?” demanded Gopal coldly.
“How the hell do I know? Hey buddy, look, I just work here. I don't want no trouble, all right?”
“Hey jerko, what are you? Ralph Nader send you, hunh? He is an Arab too, isn't he?”
“I am Indian. 29 dollars.”
“I don't believe this. What are you, nuts? Why don't you just take the whole damn thing free?”
“Thank you”, said Gopal, gathering the package.
“Hey, hang on, wait up. Jesus, I get all the freaks. All right, 30 dollars, and that’s it”.
To facilitate intercultural interaction, it is necessary to ensure that the language, context, social and business practices, and values and norms are shared across different groups. Native speakers of English should remember what they themselves experience when they interact in a foreign language. To enable a foreign language speaker to follow them, native speakers should speak their first language (English) slowly and articulate each word as distinctly as possible. In addition, they should avoid the use of colloquial expressions that can cause difficulty for the other person.
Source: Based on extracts from Anurag Mathur, The Inscrutable Americans (New Delhi: Rupa Publications, 1991) pp. 23, 49–50. Reproduced with permission.
Appreciate how intercultural situations require thoughtful oral communication.
Indian speakers of English often face difficulty in conversing with Americans, the British, or other English-speaking Europeans. The foreign accent and speed of speaking sometimes make it difficult to follow what is being said. Even though the conversation takes place in English, two persons from different cultural backgrounds rarely speak English in the same way or understand it to the same extent.
In business, the use of telephone, voice mail, phone conferencing, video conferencing, cell phones, and e-mail occurs in accordance with the need and purpose of the communicator. Since the communicators in these situations are not face-to-face, one has to have a high level of oral communication skills to be able to communicate effectively through these methods.
Apply oral communication skills to new communication technologies.
In business, for immediate information and response, the handiest mode of communication is the telephone. Though convenient for the caller, it is often viewed by top managers or very senior executives as a source of interruption. Hence, the phone is often received by an administrative assistant. After the caller explains the purpose of the call, he or she is put through to the concerned person.
Most organizations have a standard way of answering phone calls. The normal practice is for the receiver to greet the caller and then state his or her name and department. On picking up the phone, one should never say, “Yes—who is it—what do you want?” Instead, the receiver should sound polite by saying something like “May I know who is calling?” or “May I know in what regard you are calling?”
Nowadays, organizations have automatic exchanges that facilitate direct connections with the desired extension; alternatively, the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) may guide callers to the extension or ask them to wait for the operator. The operator usually begins by stating the organization’s name, or by a greeting such as, “Good morning, IMT.”
In business, courtesy counts. One doesn't automatically know how important the caller is for the company’s business. So, every phone should be received with a standard sequence of phrases. If the intended receiver is not available, courtesy demands that a message be taken. But for that one has to be ready and equipped with a pen or pencil and paper. If the call reaches the receiver directly, generally, the response is just the name of the person, for instance, “Vinod”.
Business telephone conversations should be only as long as is essential. If the other person starts going off-topic, the receiver may indicate that he or she wants to close the conversation by summarizing and repeating the intended/decided-upon action. The call should end with some expression of goodwill, such as “Thanks for calling”, “Pleasure talking with you”, or “I will get back to you.”
Voice mail facility is a common feature of an organization’s phone system. It is a means of digitally recording voice messages that can be saved and forwarded, or skipped and deleted. It allows executives to attend to calls when they are free. When they are busy with meetings or work outside the office, they can transfer their calls to voice mail and check messages from any location at any time.
The voice mail message should sound as natural as possible and should be courteous. The caller should be able to recognize it as the intended receiver’s voice. The recorded message may be something like “This is Pallavi Mehta in the R&D department. Please leave me a message. I shall call you back. Thank you.”
Telephones and cell phones have a conferencing system that allows several persons to talk with each other at the same time. This technology is now commonly used by companies across the globe.
There can be two types of business calls. The first is a one-way closed circuit communication that allows employees to tune in and hear an announcement; for example, daily/early morning progress reports, plant production reports, or other briefings are simultaneously heard by dozens of widely spread out persons via the phone and/or a public announcement system.
The second type of call is interactive. A number of persons can be on the same conference call. In this system, each participant can listen as well as talk. Through a conference call, different members of a team working on a project together are able to update themselves on the progress made by the team without conducting meetings face-to-face. Through the interactive conference call system, each team member can interact with others from their own work location. This saves companies time and transportation costs. Moreover, the interaction is real-time and can happen as and when required.
Conference calls are used by most organizations as a routine communication channel for planning, updating, coordinating, and monitoring activities without requiring employees to travel long distances for a meeting of a few hours.
Cellular phones are a popular instrument of communication worldwide. Their utility for business executives has been greatly enhanced by the introduction of General Packet Radio Services (GPRS) technology. GPRS technology allows the radio transmission of small packets of data, especially between mobile phones and the Internet. Mobile handsets enabled with GPRS technology do the work of laptops/computers and voice recorders. They are more convenient than laptops, as they are smaller and easier to transport.
Internet-enabled video conferencing is an electronic version of face-to-face communication. Business meetings, interviews, and other urgent interactions among several distantly located individuals can be effectively conducted without requiring participants to move from their respective places of work. Video conferencing is more complex than talking on the phone. It involves the use of cameras for images and phones for speech and sound communicated back and forth over the Internet. As with face-to-face communication, video conferencing calls for a whole range of oral skills, such as clear and natural speaking, attentive listening, and positive body language. For successful video conferencing, the following points may be kept in mind:
- Choose a quiet place as this will eliminate background noise.
- Set sound/volume to an appropriate level.
- Ensure that the faces of the speakers are visible by checking the lighting in the room.
- Sit comfortably facing the camera. Do not move unnecessarily.
- Wait for the image of the other person and your own image to appear on the screen before beginning the discussion.
- At the beginning of the conversation, introduce yourself and your team to the other party.
- Wait for the transmission to complete before responding. Due to technical issues, there may be pauses between the two speakers.
- Always direct your message or question by specifying the person you are addressing.
- Treat video conferencing as an audio–visual medium of relaxed business and social communication connecting people in different locations.
- There are advantages of oral communication over written communication, such as its immediacy and directness, the scope for immediate feedback and interaction, and the inclusion of nonverbal communication such as body language and gestures.
- There are also some disadvantages of oral communication when compared to written communication. These include the lack of a record that can be referred to later, the inability to rephrase or revise ideas and words once they have been expressed, the difficulty in controlling one’s body language, and the inability to circulate the communication to a large group of people at a later time.
- The principles of effective oral communication include paying attention to tone and body language, modulating one’s pitch, speaking naturally, listening thoughtfully, using simple language, and pacing one’s speed when speaking.
- It is important to be careful and thoughtful when communicating in an unfamiliar culture.
- New electronic technologies call for skillful oral communication and should be thoroughly understood by business executives.
“I don't want to speak to you. Connect me to your boss in the US,” hissed the American on the phone. The young girl at a Bangalore call centre tried to be as polite as she could.
With the increasing resentment over jobs lost to countries like India and the Philippines, hate calls and mails are a common occurrence, say call-centre executives and industry experts. According to them, many callers from the West refuse to speak to an Indian. When callers are unhappy with the fact that jobs are being outsourced to low-cost offshore destinations, their frustration often turns racist or sexist. A young girl at a call centre recalls how a Londoner unleashed himself, “Young lady, do you know that because of you Indians we are losing jobs?”
Call-centre employees are advised to “be cool” in such situations. They are often taught how to use neutral accents and say “zee” instead of “zed”, and some call centres even try to educate their employees about American lifestyle and culture. Some call centres provide gyms and pool tables to help their employees counter the stress they experience as a result of irate or racist calls.
The furor raised by the Western media over job losses because of outsourcing has made many citizens resent the fact that their calls are answered by people in foreign locations. Angry outbursts are a reality that call centre executives are trained to deal with. “It’s happening often enough, so let’s face it,” says a senior executive of a Gurgaon call centre, adding, “This doesn't have any impact on business.”
Questions to Answer
- Assume you are working as an operator at a call centre in India and are receiving irate calls from Americans and Western Europeans. How would you handle such calls? Imagine a situation and state what your response would be.
- “Keep your cool.” What does this mean in terms of business courtesy?
- Do you agree with the view that such abusive conversations on the telephone do not have any impact on business? Give reasons for your answer.
Sources: Based on “Outsourcing Backlash Gets Abusive, Ugly,” Hindustan Times, December 21, 2003, New Delhi; and Rama Lakshmi, “India Call Centres Suffer Sturm of 4-letter Words,” The Washington Post, February 27, 2005.
- Give five reasons for choosing the oral mode of communication instead of the written form.
- What skills does a speaker need to be successful in communicating with others? Give an example of difficulty or failure in oral communication.
- Discuss some of the principles of effective oral communication.
- In intercultural conversation, both how you talk and what you say is equally important for building good professional relations. Give examples and explain.
- Why do conversations go wrong? Illustrate your answer with analysis of a situation you have actually experienced.
- What is fluency of speech?
- How would you improve a person’s fluency of spoken English?
- What are the average per-minute speeds of speaking and listening?
- How does a marked slowdown in the pace of speaking affect interpersonal communication?
- What is the effect of electronic media on oral communication?
Romil and Sandeep had to go to Khan Market to run some errands. They decide to borrow a bike from one of their friends in college. When they asked him for the bike, he responded, “Normally, I do not lend my bike to anyone. A few days ago, I lent it to Arpan and the bike developed some problem—there was an overflow of petrol.” Romil and Sandeep thanked their friend curtly and left without further conversation. Their friend was surprised. He wondered why they did not take the bike they had wanted to borrow.
Analyse the friend’s response to Romil and Sandeep’s request. What did he really intend to convey when he gave Arpan’s example?
From the given options, please choose the most appropriate answer:*
- Oral communication is the interchange of _____ between the sender and receiver.
- signs and gestures
- cues and clues
- verbal messages
- written messages
- Body talk is also known as:
- physical communication
- Oral communication is better than written communication for:
- providing opportunity to refer back
- conveying facts and opinions
- conveying feelings and emotions
- saving time
- The limitation of oral communication is that:
- it is irreversible—what is said cannot be taken back
- it is not affected by the speaker’s feelings or stress or excitement levels.
- it is easy to be aware of our body language
- it does not require on-the-spot thinking
- In business, oral communication is face-to-face:
- in all situations
- in some situations
- in no situation
- in all but one situation
- The foremost barrier to oral communication is:
- poor listening
- The effectiveness of oral communication depends on the speaker’s ability to use:
- complex words
- long sentences
- simple language
- foreign words
- In oral communication, what matters most is:
- what you say
- how you say it
- when you say it
- where you say it
- Oral communication is also known as:
- verbal communication
- non-verbal communication
- impersonal communication
- face-to-face communication
- In business, oral communication is suitable for:
- recording things
- discussing things
- delaying the decision-making process
- confusing workers