Developing Effective Communication Skills For Organizational Media/Public Relations

Dr. Ejike Okonkwo

Presented At A Three-Day National Media Workshop On Repositioning Public Officers For Improved Productivity By The National Institute For Cultural Orientation (NICO)

                                          On Wednesday, 30th October, 2013

Dr. Ejike Okonkwo, Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and Lecturer, Department of Psychology, Faculty the Social Sciences, Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Enugu
What is communication?
         Communication (from Latin commūnicāre, meaning “to share”)  is the activity of conveying information through the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, visuals, signals, writing, or behavior. It is the meaningful exchange of information between two or more people. Communication is, thus, a process by which meaning is assigned and conveyed in an attempt to create shared understanding. This process, which requires a vast repertoire of skills in interpersonal processing, listening, observing, speaking, questioning, analyzing, gestures, and evaluating, enables collaboration and cooperation. Communication may be intentional or unintentional, may involve conventional or unconventional signals, may take linguistic or non-linguistic forms, and may occur through spoken or other modes. This suggests that communication does not just occur; rather the participants consciously and unconsciously interact and negotiate their roles. Communicative competence designates the capability to install inter-subjective interactions, which means that communication is an inherent social interaction. Thus, as a social interaction process, communication is an act by which one person gives or receives information about another person’s needs, desires, perceptions, knowledge, or affective states. It is a mechanism we use to establish and modify relationships.
          Communication requires a sender, a message, and a recipient, although the receiver doesn’t have to be present or aware of the sender’s intent to communicate at the time of communication; thus communication can occur across vast distances in time and space.
Historical Development of Communication
          The progression of written communication can be divided into three revolutionary stages called “Information Communication Revolutions”. During the first stage, written communication first emerged through the use of pictographs. The pictograms were made on stone; hence written communication was not yet mobile. During the second stage, writing began to appear on paper, papyrus, clay, wax, etc. with common alphabets. The third stage is characterized by the transfer of information through controlled waves of electromagnetic radiation (i.e., radio, microwave, infrared) and other electronic signals.
          The medium most widely used for communication affects what people think about themselves and how they perceive other people, so this helps to divide the civilizations of world history into five “ages” or epochs: ideographic writing produced the first civilization; alphabetic writing produced the second civilization; printing produced the third civilization; electronic recording and broadcasting produced the fourth civilization; and computer communication produced the fifth civilization. This fifth civilization produced by computer communication is where we are today and is gradually evolving into higher form. This historical development in communication indicates that communication is among the factors that define human development, hence the need to develop effective communication skills for organizational media and public relations.
Theoretical Background
         These theories provide useful framework for understanding the need for effective communication skills for the organizational media and public relations.
Elaborated Likelihood Theory
         This proposes a peripheral route in which humans are influenced by such things as repetition, a highly credible spokesperson, or even tangible rewards (Dan Latimore, 2009). Media and public relations often use this route when designing their message.
Agenda Setting Theory
         This works on the premises that although media cannot tell people what to think, they are stunningly successful in telling them what to think about (Cohen, 2009). Here, the role of the media and public relations practitioners is to influence the media agenda by providing news items for public consumption (Dan Latimore, 2009).
         The essential components of human commitments that is synonymous with public relations practice, that is, the ability to build strong interpersonal relationships with the targeted publics (Hashin & Malipuz, 2011).
Types of Communication
         In order to achieve effective communication for the media and public relations, it is important to consider types of communication which are broadly categorized into communication channels, flow of communication and communication networks.
Communication Channels
           These include face-to-face conversation, telephone calls, text messages, e-mail, radio, television, written letters, brochures, reports and internet such as facebook and twitter. Choosing appropriate channels is vital for effective communication.
Flow of Communication
            In addition to channels of communication, the flow of communication is important to effective communication. Flow of communication includes downward communication, upward communication and lateral communication.
Downward Communication: From superior to subordinate. This condition affects effectiveness of communication because many superior personnel do not understand that their subordinates need information and directions to flow from the top to the bottom.
Upward Communication: From the subordinate to the superior. This affects effective communication because many superiors fail to appreciate the knowledge, intelligence, competence and technical ability of the subordinates.
Lateral Communication: From people of the same level.
Communication Networks
      The following communication networks are important for effective communication:
Centralized communication networks: In these, one or more individuals occupy central positions, have access and control the flow of messages. In centralized communication networks, messages move through central members. These communication networks include the following:
Chain Network: Messages originate at the top (downward) or bottom (upward).
Y Network: The end user or originator is more than one.
Wheel Network: It involves two levels status such that there is a work supervisor and four lower level members. These centralized communication networks are hierarchical.
Decentralized communication networks: In these, all the people have equal access and control of the flow of messages. In decentralized communication networks, communication paths are not directed through specific network members.  These communication networks include the following:
Circle Network: It exists among workers who are placed side by side.
All Channels Network: These allow complete freedom.
         In sum, centralized and decentralized communication networks represent formal communication patterns in organizations because they emanate from the hierarchy and organigram of the organization. In contrast, grapevine represents informal communication pattern in organization because it emanates from the organizational sociogram.
Effective Communication
           When is communication effective? Effective communication occurs when a desired effect is the result of intentional or unintentional information sharing, which is interpreted between multiple entities and acted on in a desired way. This effect also ensures the message is not distorted during the communication process. Effective communication should generate the desired effect and maintain the effect, with the potential to increase the effect of the message. Therefore, effective communication serves the purpose for which it was planned or designed. Possible purposes might be to elicit change, generate action (behavior), create understanding, inform or communicate a certain idea or point of view. When the desired effect is not achieved, factors such as barriers to communication are explored, with the intention being to discover how the communication has been ineffective.
Barriers to Effective Human Communication
           Barriers to effective communication can retard or distort the message and intention of the message being conveyed which may result in failure of the communication process or an effect that is undesirable. These include filtering, selective perception, information overload, emotions, language, silence, communication apprehension, gender differences and political correctness. In this context emphasis is on factors such as physical barriers, system design, attitudinal barriers, ambiguity of words/phrases, individual linguistic ability, filtering, censoring and exaggeration.
Physical barriers
          Physical barriers are often due to the nature of the environment. An example of this is the natural barrier which exists if staff are located in different buildings or on different sites. Likewise, poor or outdated equipment, particularly the failure of management to introduce new technology, may also cause problems. Staff shortages are another factor which frequently causes communication difficulties for an organization. While distractions like background noise, poor lighting or an environment which is too hot or cold can all affect people’s morale and concentration, which in turn interfere with effective communication.
System design
          System design faults refer to problems with the structures or systems in place in an organization. Examples might include an organizational structure which is unclear and therefore makes it confusing to know whom to communicate with. Other examples could be inefficient or inappropriate information systems, a lack of supervision or training, and a lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities which can lead to staff being uncertain about what is expected of them.
Attitudinal barriers
        Attitudinal barriers come about as a result of problems with staff in an organization. These may be brought about, for example, by such factors as poor management, lack of consultation with employees, personality conflicts which can result in people delaying or refusing to communicate, the personal attitudes of individual employees which may be due to lack of motivation or dissatisfaction at work, brought about by insufficient training to enable them to carry out particular tasks, or just resistance to change due to entrenched attitudes and ideas, it may be as a result delay in payment at the end of the month.
Ambiguity of words/phrases
      Words sounding the same but having different meaning can convey a different meaning altogether. Hence the communicator must ensure that the receiver receives the same meaning. It is better if such words are avoided by using alternatives whenever possible. This also includes a lack of expressing “knowledge-appropriate” communication, which occurs when a person uses ambiguous or complex legal words, medical jargon, or descriptions of a situation or environment that is not understood by the recipient.
Individual linguistic ability
      The ability of the sender and receiver to understand the appropriate language and jargon needed in a field in which the communication is taking place.
       Selective presentation of the content of communication may leave out some of the important issues.
        Purposeful omission of information presented to a receiver. While filtering involves the omission of some aspects of the message, in censoring a choice is made not to send a message. Censoring occurs when the receiver feels the receiver does not need the information or it could be disruptive to the receiver.
     It is the distortion of information which involves elaboration or overemphasizing certain aspects of the message to draw attention.
Developing Effective Communication using the 8-Wheel Drive
The 8-wheel Drive of Effective Communication:
1.    Cognitive Ability: Knowledge of what to be communicated. Develop a general and technical knowledge of the subject matter. This is on the basis of having in depth knowledge of the topic; else the audience will be bored and leave. Be specific and avoid ambiguity. Read between the lines by understanding what is not said, witnessed and heard. Know how to keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut. If you do not know the meaning of a word and how to pronounce it, do not use it.
2.    Psychological Ability: Be assertive and have the courage to say what you think. Be confident in knowing that you can make worthwhile contributions to conversations. Replace ego with empathy. Communicate with care, empathy and not prideful arrogance. Remember, the attitude you bring to communication will have a huge impact on the way you compose yourself and interact with others. Choose to be honest, patient, optimistic, sincere, respectful and accept others. Develop emotional intelligence by being sensitive to other people´s feelings and believe in their competence. These will earn you their trust and admiration.
3.    Social Ability: Social and verbal skills are key to effective communication. Developing social and verbal skills begins with simple interactions. It can be practiced everyday in settings ranging from social to professional. Adequate social and verbal skills enhance effective communication by helping you to speak confidently with open mind rather than being rigid. These skills help one to speak clearly without mumbling. They facilitate speaking slowly with low pitch. Speaking fast with high pitch makes one appear nervous, unsure of oneself and people will perceive you as a prey rather than authority. These skills help one to speak with appropriate volume such as speaking softly when one is alone and louder to larger groups and spaces.  They enhance affective listening skills. One should not only speak effectively but listen effectively as well. One should know when to shut up and listen. Communication is best when it is a conversation rather than lecture or monotone. It is better to interact with the audience.
4.    Physical Ability: Body Language/Non-verbal cues. Non-verbal involves the use of body language, eye contact, posture, facial expression, sign language and media content such as pictures, graphics, sound and writing. Making eye contact by looking into the eyes of the audience can make the interaction more successful. Eye contact conveys interest and encourages your partner to be interested in you in return. Research has shown that 55% of spoken communication may occur through facial expressions (Dan Latimore, 2009). Make your body talk by making gestures with your hands and face. The smaller the number the less the gestures while the larger the number, more the gestures. Remember to be aware of what your body is saying. Body language can say more than a mouthful of words.
5.    Quality of the Message/Motive: This involves encoding and decoding of message using the appropriate media and models. Make the motive/message (appeal) explicitly positive or negative. Do not send mixed messages. Make your words, tone, gestures and facial expression match. Do not smile while disciplining someone because it sends mixed messages.
6.    Sustaining Attention Ability of the Audience: Sustaining the attention of the audience begins with understanding the audience. Who are the audience? Are they children, adults, students, employees or consumers? This facilitates what to give and how to give it to the audience. Engaging the listener effectively involves making the communication interactive by speaking to groups as individuals and vice versa. Encourage the audience to be active and not passive in the process by using questions, humors, stories and relevant data.
7.    Eliciting Feedback Ability: Response from the listener. Receivers of messages are likely to provide feedback on how they have understood the message through both verbal and non-verbal reactions. Effective communication should pay attention to feedbacks as they ensure how well the message has been understood.
8.    Behavior Change Ability: Changing the thinking, attitude, performance, value, motivation behavior and performance of the listener should be paramount. Although it appears last on the 8-Wheel Drive, yet it is what guides the goals of effective communication.
These 8 factors demonstrate that effective communication is a dual process and not one way. In addition, these 8-Wheel Drive is reduced to 3-Wheel Drive comprising the sender, the receiver and the channel.
Sender (Encoder) ———————— Channel—————————–Receiver (Decoder)
Sender: This is the first stage in the 3-Wheel Drive because it is the originator of the message in the communication process. The sender encodes the message to be communicated to the receiver. Encoding of the message depends on the cognitive and linguistic abilities of both the sender and receiver. First, the sender should be equipped with the appropriate knowledge and language of the subject matter in order to encode the information properly for the receiver to decode with ease. Second, the sender while encoding the message should consider the receiver´s knowledge and linguistic abilities. This consideration will enable the sender encode the information in a manner and language within the level of the receiver.
Channel: This is the medium or vehicle through which the sender communicates the encoded message to the receiver. These media include face-to-face conversation, telephone calls, text messages, e-mail, radio, television, written letters, brochures, reports and internet such as face book and twitter. The choice of the medium depends on the media exposure of the receiver. For instance, it is inappropriate to use newspaper as a medium when communicating information to children. The communication will be ineffective because very few children read newspaper. Television as a medium will be more effective since children spend time on television watching children´s programmes such as cartoon.
Receiver: This is the last phase in the 3-Wheel Drive because it is the decoder and user of the communicated message. The receiver or audience factors such as attention span, perceptual ability, ability to process information, the receiver´s relationship with the sender and the decoding skills of the receiver affect the effectiveness of communication.  In sum, to build effective communication for the media/public relations, the 3-Wheel Drive involving the sender, channel and receiver should be considered.
Implications of these for Organizational Media and Public Relations
         Practically, effective communication skills engender the following:
Increased Productivity: Appropriate communication in organizations and the entire society creates the platform necessary for efficiency and effectiveness because it builds transparency and trust. If information about the activities in an organization is properly communicated, the members of the organization are likely to believe in the policies of the organization and give their best. This without doubt will enhance the productivity of the organization.
Increased Levels of Employee Satisfaction: Sending (downward and upward) message and receiving (downward and upward) message increase level of satisfaction.  For example, lateral communication enhances job performance. Effective communication skills reduce worker stress, absenteeism and turnover rates.  
Conflict Resolution: Miscommunication –based disagreements across cultures can be lessened when people attempt to be mindful of their own imbued ways of viewing the environment around them (Hidasi, 2005). Thus, effective communication channels can provide adequate information necessary for appropriate perception of and positive attitude towards other people in the environment. This will help in conflict resolution in every sphere of life.
Enhancement of Public Relations: Public relations is the strategic management of relationships between an organization and its diverse publics, through the use of communication, to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals and serve public interest (Canadian Public Relations Society, 2009). There has always been a need for government communications to inform citizens of the services available in the manner in which they may be used (Wilcox & Cameron, 2009). The use of public relations strategies and tactics are pervasive in many areas of governmental and political communication (Adnan, 2010). Thus, central to organizational media and public relations which is the strategic management of the relationships between an organization and its diverse publics is effective communication, hence the need for effective communication skills.

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