The following suggestions should help make communication more effective:

Why Use Feedback? Many communication problems are directly attributed to misunderstanding and inaccuracies. These problems are less likely to occur if the manager gets feedback, both verbal and nonverbal.

A manager can ask questions about a message to determine whether it was received and understood as intended. Or the manager can ask the receiver to restate the message in his or her own words. If the manager hears what was intended, understanding and accuracy should improve. Feedback can also be more subtle as general comments can give a manager a sense of the receiver’s reaction to a message.

Feedback doesn’t have to be verbal. If a sales manager e-mails information about a new monthly sales report that all sales representatives will need to complete and some of them don’t turn it in, the sales manager has received feedback. This feedback suggests that the sales manager needs to clarify the initial communication. Similarly, managers can look for nonverbal cues to tell whether someone’s getting the message.

Why Should Simplified Language Be Used? Because language can be a barrier, managers should consider the audience to whom the message is directed and tailor the language to them. Remember, effective communication is achieved when a message is both received and understood. For example, a hospital administrator should always try to communicate in clear, easily understood terms and to use language tailored to different employee groups. Messages to the surgical staff should be purposefully different from those directed to the marketing team or office employees. Jargon can facilitate understanding if it’s used within a group that knows what it means, but can cause problems when used outside that group.

Why Must We Listen Actively? When someone talks, we hear. But too often we don’t listen. Listening is an active search for meaning, whereas hearing is passive. In listening, the receiver is also putting effort into the communication.

Many of us are poor listeners. Why? Because it’s difficult, and most of us would rather do the talking. Listening, in fact, is often more tiring than talking. Unlike hearing, active listening, which is listening for full meaning without making premature judgments or interpretations, demands total concentration. The average person normally speaks at a rate of about 125 to 200 words per minute. However, the average listener can comprehend up to 400 words per minute. The difference leaves lots of idle brain time and opportunities for the mind to wander.

Active listening is enhanced by developing empathy with the sender—that is, by putting yourself in the sender’s position. Because senders differ in attitudes, interests, needs, and expectations, empathy makes it easier to understand the actual content of a message. An empathetic listener reserves judgment on the message’s content and carefully listens to what is being said.

The goal is to improve one’s ability to get the full meaning of a communication without distorting it by premature judgments or interpretations. Other specific behaviors that active listeners use include making eye contact, exhibiting affirmative nods and appropriate facial expressions, avoiding distracting actions or gestures that suggest boredom, asking questions, paraphrasing using your own words, avoiding interrupting the speaker, not talking too much, and making smooth transitions between being a speaker and a listener.

Why Must We Constrain Emotions? It would be naïve to assume that managers always communicate in a rational manner. We know that emotions can cloud and distort communication. A manager who’s upset over an issue is more likely to misconstrue incoming messages and fail to communicate his or her outgoing messages clearly and accurately. What to do? The simplest answer is to calm down and get emotions under control before communicating. The following is a good example of why it’s important to be aware of your emotions before communicating.

Neal L. Patterson, CEO of Cerner Corporation, a health care software development company based in Kansas City, was upset with the fact that employees didn’t seem to be putting in enough hours. So he sent an angry and emotional e-mail to about 400 company managers that said, in part: We are getting less than 40 hours of work from a large number of our K.C.-based EMPLOYEES.

The parking lot is spars zely used at 8 a.m.; likewise at 5 p.m. As managers, you either do not know what your EMPLOYEES are doing, or you do not CARE. You have created expectations on the work effort which allowed this to happen inside Cerner, creating a very unhealthy environment. In either case, you have a problem and you will fix it or I will replace you . . . I will hold you accountable. You have allowed things to get to this state. You have two weeks. Tick, tock.”

Although the e-mail was meant only for the company’s managers, it was leaked and posted on an Internet discussion site. The tone of the e-mail surprised industry analysts, investors, and of course, Cerner’s managers and employees. The company’s stock price dropped 22 percent over the next three days. Patterson apologized to his employees and acknowledged, “I lit a match and started a firestorm.”

Why the Emphasis on Nonverbal Cues? If actions speak louder than words, then it’s important to make sure your actions align with and reinforce the words that go along with them. An effective communicator watches his or her nonverbal cues to ensure that they convey the desired message. Learn more about effective communication and other management related matters only at LSBF.