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03.04.2009 Feature Article

Taking the Ghanaian Corporate Communication Far

Ghana and its citizens have chalked great successes overtime. We can ,at least, boast of being one of the leaders when it comes to economic improvement, great democracy and peace in Africa.
Talking about our citizens, we can boast of producing a UN Secretary General, a judge for the International Court of Justice, and very many more distinguished individuals.

I believe that Ghana and Ghanaians will continue to attain such heights. There is therefore the need to continue to maintain the standards that leads us into these eminent positions especially at the individual level.

One of these keys in this regard is corporate communication. It is in this light that I would like to share a few thoughts on how we can improve on our corporate communication as a back up to maintaining our international reputation.

In this vein, we will cover the basic important corporate communication skills that one needs to be abreast with.

We will thus cover the basic importance of communication in the corporate world and the barriers that can affect effective communication. We will also throw a bit of light on the communication process so the process in itself can be understood. I believe that if we understand the communication process, it will go a long way in boosting our communication. We will definitely improve since we will have the basic understanding and bear all factors in mind to ensure we are being effective. Then we look at factors to consider in selecting a channel for communication and then how to use feedback effectively. Next will be a brief on Organizational Communication and some business writing tips. We conclude with perhaps the very essentials of corporate communication today: Listening, Presentation and Telephone Skills.

  • IMPORTANCE OF CORPORATE COMMUNICATION

Corporate Communication, when effective, brings harmony and understanding. It also leads to cost-saving, time-saving and organizational effectiveness.

  •  BARRIERS TO EFFECTIVE CORPORATE COMMUNICATION
  • Language: Lack of a commonly understood language could affect the objective of communication which is to reach understanding
  • Noise: External Noise (distractions such as the noise of a car) and Internal ones (e.g headache) could affect messages being sent and received effectively.
  • Perceptual Biases: Our perceptions of the people we are communicating with could affect  the reaching of consensus
  • Cultural Barriers: Certain gestures or even words may mean differently in other places. Hence a problem could arise when people of different cultures communicate.
  •  THE COMMUNICATION PROCESS

The communication process starts with a sender, who develops a stimulus, out of which comes a motivation. With this motivation, he encodes a message, sends it through a channel to a receiver, who decodes the message, sends a feedback to the sender so that understanding is reached between them (the sender and the receiver). As the process continues, the initial sender becomes the receiver and vice versa.
  • FACTORS TO CONSIDER IN SELECTING THE CHANNEL

Most often, especially in the corporate world, efficiency and effectiveness are not ensured because of problems in channel selection. The following factors should thus be considered in selecting a channel:

    • The Importance of the Message: The essence of the message may require a faster means of transit. Thus depending on the situation, a telephone call may work faster than sending an email.
    • The Needs and Abilities of the Receiver: Some subordinates take instructions better when they meet face to face with their bosses. Hence to prevent time wasting and easy comprehension, bosses should figure out how best their subordinates receive and understand messages and use the appropriate channels. In meeting up a need, let's say a social or love need as set out in Manslow's hierarchy of needs, the appropriate channel should also be used.
    • The amount and Speed of the Feedback Required: Customer enquiry, for example, will require a faster channel.
    • The Necessity of a Permanent Record: For Record purposes in business, transactions may be done using a channel that will give reference. Thus in some business transactions of which records will be important, the use of email will be far better and appropriate than the telephone.
    • The Formality and Informality Required: We may choose a channel depending on how formal or informal we want to make our communication.
  • USING FEEDBACK EFFECTIVELY

We do not get much from our communications because feedback is often not used effectively or we do not ask of it at all.

Feedback, when used effectively, could lead to improvement in accuracy and productivity in organizations and in the lifes of individuals. It could also lead to employee satisfaction. However, there are some concerns about the use of feedback which could negatively affect its use.

The first of it is that feedback could make one feel under attack psychologically. Often when people are going to be given feedback, there is the fear of the negative being told them. In view of this, people will not even want to encourage feedback.

Another point is that feedback could be time consuming. It takes time to redo tasks that should have been accomplished correctly the first time. (Cheryl Hamilton, 2005 p.15)

Thirdly, Feedback is difficult to elicit.  In an organizational setting, for example, people ma y be shy to ask for clarification. The reason being they may look stupid if they did.

Feed back is also past experience. People may have reacted negatively to feedback in the past, or others may have reacted badly to theirs.

Feedback can however be used well inspite of these negativities. Hence in receiving feedback:

  • Tell People you want feedback: When people feel that their opinions and observations may be used against them or that your feelings may be easily hurt, they withhold feedback. It is important to therefore let people know you consider feedback.
  • Identify the areas in which you want feedback
  • Use statements that encourage feedback
  • Reward feedback

When giving feedback to others:

  • Direct feedback toward behavior rather than the person
  • Recognize that feedback involves sharing ideas not giving advice
  • Remember that effective feedback should be immediate and well timed
  • Only include as much information as the person can handle at one time
  • ORGANIZATIONAL COMMUNICATION

Basically, two types of communications occur in every organization: The Formal and Informal
With the formal communication, there is Upward, Downward and Horizontal or Lateral communications. Upward communication refers to communication from subordinates to superiors. An example could be the submission of assignments.

Downward communication is from Superiors to subordinates. Examples are tasks being handed down, leave letters, promotion letters, dismissal letters etc…

Horizontal or Lateral Communication is that which takes place between staff members of the same level. It could be a discussion on a group assignment. Formal Communication thus flow through the official paths prescribed by the chain of command.

The Informal is characterized by the Grapevine and the Rumour Mill. Information carried by the grapevine is75-95% accurate (Caudron 1998, Walton 1961 pp 45-49). In the Rumour Mill, the employees just discuss what they think about the organization.

  • BUSINESS WRITINGS

TIPS ON PRODUCING PERFECT LETTERS, PROPOSALS AND REPORTS (Robert Heller, 1998 p.32, 48, 50)
LETTERS
  • Plan what you want to say in your letter
  • Write the whole letter without a pause
  • Reread the letter when you have finished
  • Edit the letter by cutting ruthlessly
  • Check punctuation, spelling and grammar and then send

PROPOSALS
  • Set out the Proposal
  • Explain why it is needed and what it contributes to
  • Estimate the resources required, and show how the proposal meets financial criteria
  • Specify who will be responsible and the proposal's timescale
  • Conclude with a plan of action

REPORTS
  • Make report interesting
  • Do use verbatim quotes from Interviewees
  • Do emphasize your most important findings and facts
  • Do use numbered paragraphs to make cross-referencing easier and to keep points separate
  • Use headings for changes of subject and sub-headings for related themes
  • THE ART OF LISTENING

In the corporate world, one important skill which has not been upheld seriously is the art of listening. A lot of time has been wasted in the corporate world as a result of information or instructions which need to be repeated. Wastes have also occurred as a result of work that needed to have been done over and over again.

Signs of Poor Listening

  • Always breaking the chain of command: A subordinate who listens poorly always finds himself going round to clarify information from others.
  • Increase in Written Communication: Because bad listeners easily forget what they are told, information given needs to be backed by a written one.
  • Information Must be repeated: Poor listeners give their managers the arduous task of making them repeat information over and over again
  • Tasks given to others: Poor listening may result in one's tasks being given to another person
  • Learning about events too late: When information given to poor listeners is not backed by a written one, they may not act quickly till the last minute.
  • Always Putting Out fires:  Poor listeners always find themselves trying to solve problems after they have reached crisis proportions

Barriers to Effective listening

  • Physical Barriers: Examples such as hearing loss, noisy office equipment, or a loud conversation could prevent one from hearing an important message.
  • Personal Barriers: Illness, Fatigue and discomfort can also prevent one from listening effectively
  • Gender Barriers: Gender differences, for example the influx of women into occupations and positions traditionally occupied by men could also cause people not to listen. Men who have female bosses and are gender bias may not listen effectively to their bosses.

How to Listen Effectively

  • Pay Close attention when listening
  • Ask questions and seek clarification
  • Summarize to make sure you have got the information right.
  • PRESENTATION SKILLS

Tips on Effective Presentation

  • Know your audience: This is important so as to use the right language and settings
  • Know your subject very well: You engage your audience very much when they see you know your subject. Your audience get bored when you show you are not on top of the subject. It is therefore important to study your subject very well.
  • Maintain eye contact and be confident: Your audience will be interested in seeing you engage them so do that well
  • Give some focus to the non verbal side of your presentation: Use appropriate body movements and materials
  • Practice, Practice, Practice: Practice makes perfect so before any presentation, there is the need for practice.

During Delivery:

  • Begin with a Bang (a story, humour etc.. that can right away capture the audience attention)
  • Have a great opening
  • Mention your main points
  • Explain your points
  • Give examples to make your points clearer
  • Summarize what you have said
  • End with a bang
  • TELEPHONE SKILLS

Tips on Effective Telephone use

  • Write down in advance what you want to cover and in what order
  • Speak slowly and pace yourself with the other person
  • Always be polite and friendly
  • Smile – A smile invites a positive response and encourages a smiling voice (A smile raises your voice and makes it warm and friendly)
  • Follow a script so you do not lose track
  • Time your calls to make sure you do not overrun

Martin Nana Baffoe Pieterson
Martin Nana Baffoe Pieterson, © 2009

This author has authored 9 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: MartinNanaBaffoePieterson

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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