Bonus Thots

Purr-fect communication skills wanted

English chemist and clergyman Joseph Priestley must have seen the future when sometime during the late 1700s he said, “The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.”

Pertinently so in today’s gadget filled lifestyle, I was thinking aloud while casually taking in the whiff from the cup of hot chocolate held under my nose. As I glanced around the café and at my lunch companion who was trying his best to discreetly reply an SMS – he was once enlightened on how much I detest people tending to their phones during meals – patrons were either tapping away on their BlackBerrys or staring trance-like into their laptop computers.

On my right, the over-tattooed boyfriend was occupied with memorising the arrangement of the latest tunes on his iPod shuffle while the girlfriend was seemingly engrossed with the latest fraternity gossip via online chat on her striking red netbook.

To my left, the jaded-looking wife was more interested in plastering her face into the five-year-old, no-longer glossy fashion magazine instead of speaking with her life partner. But then, the husband was not doing much to encourage verbal interaction either as he was presumably busy replying to by-the-minute football SMSes from his betting buddies.

This is a familiar scene everywhere you go these days; eateries, cinemas, lecture halls, business meetings, wedding dinners, and thanks to Bluetooth technology, even while walking hand-in-hand on the street. People are communicating more with their gadgets instead of their fellow beings.

“With so much to talk about and so many ways to communicate, our society must be very good communicators these days,” replied Sean to my observation after quickly putting aside his iPhone.
“On the contrary, the reverse seems to be the case.” I quoted Priestley’s affirmation and added, “Technology has in fact made us less personal and weaker communicators.”

Less personal because now we can divorce our partners though SMS; submit job resignations by email; send seasonal electronic greeting cards; and have affairs online without getting physically mucky.

We are also becoming weaker communicators because we don’t actually verbally talk anymore. The couple in the café who hardly shares a word; fresh graduates who cannot form two error-free English sentences; resumes that come in with SMS lingo such as ‘btw’ and ‘txs’; salespeople who don’t enjoy talking in public.

There is no arguing that communication has always been the cornerstone of success. Be it marketing, business, politics, sports or the military, the best leaders are always those whom have mastered the art of communication.

Even back in secondary school, the one that got the most Valentine Day cards from secret admirers from our nearby all-girls school was neither the one who had accumulated the most sports trophies – I’m living testament to that – nor the one who scored the most As. It was the smooth talking, snooker-going, cigarette-puffing gang member who had the guts to approach those girls to ‘communicate’ their trustworthy intentions.

Enough about my tormented childhood and back to what this column is about… entrepreneurship. All great business ideas or gigantic entrepreneurial visions are only useful if they are rightly communicated to the respective audiences.

The would-be entrepreneur needs to write and confidently express her business plans for the bank to approve the loan. Sales targets have to be clearly spoken and personnel verbally moved by the business owner. Entrepreneurs have to lead team leaders who in return need to openly communicate their strategies to their own members.

While it is not within my professional capability to address the mechanics of communication and all the literate mumbo-jumbo involving communication channels, encoding, decoding, sender and receiver, it would be fair to say that regardless of whether it is sales targets, deadlines or business processes, they all involve some form of communication.

Former chairman and CEO of General Electric Jack Welch was renowned for demanding simplicity in written and verbal communications from his managers. Welch insisted that they focus on the basics by eliminating jargon and speaking in clear and simple terms.

Another excellent communicator of the modern world is Apple Computer founder and CEO Steve Jobs whose messiah-like charisma alones captivates millions of customers, employees, and fellow peers around the world. His presentations are downloaded daily and communication style copied by many entrepreneurs and corporate leaders across diverse business industries.

Now before you proceed to Google ‘Improving business communication skills’ and to browse through all 60,700 results, understand that communicating the message by itself is not enough. As Irish playwright and Nobel Prize winner George Bernard Shaw justly warned that the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place, we often take for granted that having communicated our message, it has been received and acted upon.

We have all experienced it; e-mails left un-replied; phone calls and SMS not returned; meetings cancelled due to memos not attended to. Yet all this while, we have time to update our Facebook status, exchange rumours with the accounts clerk in the next cubicle over Yahoo! Messenger, and even play online games.

“But much of those are essential communication tools to keep track with the rest of the world out there,” argued Sean while finishing up his plate of fish and chips.

I guess then updating that that one is ‘Thinking of Jessica Alba’ on Facebook and determining who went out with who for lunch have taken higher priority over replying to business enquiries and improving customer services.

Having personally observed many entrepreneurs over the years, I realised that communication within the organisation has always been given upmost emphasis by successful entrepreneurs, including this newspaper’s founder who industriously reminds us, “As there will always be something else tomorrow, act on things now!”

E-mails, regardless of formal or casual – except for infuriating jokes and marketing spams – should be acknowledged and if requested, acted upon swiftly. If you are in my line of media-related work and receives over 45 work-related e-mails a day, then “Get back to this when I’m free later” excuse may not work. And if you have a cat at home, you will also likely not have a free moment.

Chris Tan

Dewey – finally our six-month old domestic short hair tabby (okay, it does sounds better than what it actually is, a kampung cat) gets its chance to be mentioned – clearly communicates its intent to us each morning.

It jumps on the bed, strides in between us, and meows out softly respecting our inclination to be woken up gradually. It pauses for one of us to take a peek at him before letting out another mewl and jumping onto the floor.

If we are not following him to his food tray by then, Dewey would return and his soft mewl would very quickly turn to the loudest yowl you can ever imagine a feline’s capable of. It’s either you feed the potential Asia’s Biggest Feline Loser candidate or answer to your neighbour’s wrath.

Mission accomplished as his communication was clearly expressed and action taken to ensure that the message was effectively acted upon.

With any communication, it often involves at least two parties. One who speaks and one who is expected to respond to it. Without response, American president Barrack Obama’s heart-rending acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention in Denver would not have won him the ensuing presidential elections two years ago.

Without response, Nelson Mandela’s “I am prepared to die” speech in his 1964 trial would not have captured the hearts of millions around the world. Without response, the words of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s immortal “I have a dream” speech delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in 1963 would not have moved the whole country towards racial integration.

And without both clear communication and prompt response by its owners, Dewey would be super thin!

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