Communicating in the Office

A recent recap of a friend’s management training experience inspired me to look into what has changed over a generation in how we communicate in the office and remotely to our customers.

The written word has been given a much better ride since electronic advancements came on the scene. Who remembers when words were spoken by a person of authority into a dictating machine and transcribed via typewriter by a clerical assistant? Who remembers carbon paper and correction fluid, or when Spellcheck was provided by a bound dictionary, or when female professionals were advised not to do their own typing?

Transitional electronics entered the scene around fifty years ago, when a computer occupied a room of its own. Advances crept along, and offices acquired memory typewriters and floppy disks. Photocopiers replaced spirit duplicators and mimeograph machines. Scanners replaced microfiche. The personal computer became an office staple, and with it came all manner of software and means of delivery.

The written word has changed as well, as cultures have adapted with widespread use of handheld devices and instant communication. My friend related how the written word itself, in the context of the office environment, accounts for five per cent of human communication. It remains important to use verbal communication effectively – the written word – to convey concisely the intended message with consideration of its intended audience. When it stands alone, without aid of voice inflection and body language to support intention, the written word is at the mercy of its reader to interpret the intended message with understanding and acceptance. When a message you put onto a water bill announces a citywide meeting or a rate increase or shutoff fee, you hope the customer receives “just the facts” and doesn’t infer negativity. When you draft minutes of a board meeting, your intention is to craft a factual and neutral report of actions and decisions.

Engaging a customer by telephone, your voice inflection and manner count much more than the words you speak. The words may come from a document or script, but what comes from your own mood and concern for the customer will impact the conversation and its outcome.

When a customer presents at your counter, you make the biggest impression. What you deliver when you interact verbally – body language and facial expression – comprises 55 percent of the communication. Add to that the visual presentation – dress, grooming, signage, symbols and objects that reveal the office environment – and the communication is delivered.

Understanding the different types and styles of communication gives you confidence in your everyday interactions with people. You can be clearer in your words and actions to enable understanding and generate mutual respect in your interactions on behalf of your enterprise.

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