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▼ What does it mean to communicate effectively?

Communication is a transaction between two or more people, with all participants having an active role in the process. A speaker transmits a message and must ensure that the message is delivered clearly. A listener takes delivery of the message and must be an active listener. Effective communication takes place only when the listener clearly understands the message that the speaker intended to send.

▼ Why is effective communication important for the mentoring relationship?

By its very nature, the mentor-mentee relationship is not equally balanced, since the mentor holds greater power than the mentee. However, because communication is integral to the mentor-mentee relationship, the ability to communicate effectively is essential. The mentee must be able to be forthright with the mentor, and the mentor must be able to listen carefully and provide feedback while maintaining a cordial and productive relationship.

▼ What are common methods of communication?

Information can be shared face-to-face or by telephone, fax, e-mail, text messaging, videoconferencing, e-portfolios, instant messaging, memos, letters, reports, etc. The number and types of methods increase as information technology systems become ever more sophisticated.

▼ How do you convince someone successfully?

Successful communication is accomplished by being able to make people believe in what is being said. To do this, the speaker must be sincere and enthusiastic and have all the facts needed to back up the message.

▼ How do you know if communication is effective?

An effective communicator will succeed in persuading someone to act in a way that is desired and to enjoy acting in this way (e.g., to be motivated to carry out a task). If there is a concern with the effectiveness of the mentor-mentee communication, it is important to reiterate the message and determine if the message was sent and received.

▼ How can you use nonverbal communication?

With practice, the speaker sending the message can pick up visual clues (nonverbal feedback) about how the message is being received and then modify or rephrase the message to make it more understandable or acceptable.

▼ What are the most important skills for becoming an effective communicator?

  • The ability to understand the situation, the message, the listener, and the quality of the communication.
  • The ability to frame a message clearly, concisely, and directly.
  • The ability to ask or tell someone to do something without evoking negative emotions on either side.
  • The capacity to listen actively.
  • The ability to be attentive and observant.
  • The confidence to be sure of the message and convincing in relaying it.

▼ Why is listening such an important skill in effective communication?

Listening is critical because it provides direction. It helps to form good relationships and to encourage more open communication. Active listening helps move this process along.

▼ What can help most in understanding?

Understanding involves developing the ability to perceive, store, and recall the relevant information to reach an understanding of the situation as quickly as possible.

▼ What are the barriers to effective communication?

Both mentors and mentees can foster barriers to communication. Barriers include the following:

  • Barrier: The use of imprecise language that could be misunderstood or could distract from the message. Vague language can complicate a relationship and leave the listener unsure of what message is being conveyed. "Loaded" words can inflame a conversation and inhibit communication. The result of this could be that the listener carries out an activity that was not intended by the speaker or that the listener has the disadvantage of misunderstanding and then feeling defensive or angry.
    Solution: Before conveying the message, the speaker should think carefully about the message that he or she wants to send and select the words carefully. During the conversation, the speaker should pay attention to the words he or she is using and to the expressions and body language of the listener. If the listener looks defensive, hostile, puzzled, or confused, the speaker should repeat the message in clearer or more neutral words. On the one hand, it is not particularly useful for the speaker to ask, "Do you understand?" or "Did you get it?" The listener may feel that saying "No" may be construed as a weakness or failure. On the other hand, if the listener asks for additional information, it is critical to restate the message in different terms and not convey impatience or frustration with the listener. Active listening will contribute to a mutual understanding of the communication. The listener must take care to attend to the speaker fully and then repeat, in the listener's own words, what he or she thinks the speaker has said. The listener does not have to agree with the speaker or the tone or words with which the speaker communicates; the listener must simply state what he or she thinks the speaker said. This enables the speaker to find out whether the listener really understood and to offer additional explanations if the listener did not.

  • Barrier: The display of inappropriate body language or the misreading of body language. Body language helps us pick up visual clues from people's reactions to what we are saying to them. A defensive, hostile, antagonistic, or fearful posture can create concerns on the part of the listener or the speaker and can therefore inhibit communication.
    Solution: Body language can offer valuable feedback and help us interpret how others are responding to the message or style of communication. By consciously and actively being aware of our body language, the speaker and listener can defuse the negative energy surrounding an interaction.

  • Barrier: Defensiveness or premature assumptions. A defensive listener will be less able to "hear" what the speaker is saying. In some cases, instead of listening, a person is thinking about why an interaction is occurring or perhaps preparing a response to a message that he or she hasn't heard. By making assumptions about the speaker and the reasons that a conversation is taking place, the listener keeps himself or herself from paying attention to the real message.
    Solution: The listener should not presuppose that he or she knows the reason for or the basis of the communication, nor should the listener feel defensive without knowing what is being said. Being open and nonjudgmental will allow the listener to truly hear what is being said.

  • Barrier: Judgments based on cultural differences or interpersonal relationships. This problem goes hand in hand with that of making assumptions. In this case, the problem involves presupposing things about another person based on cultural differences and personal associations. This can result in not hearing a message or misinterpreting the message.
    Solution: It's important for the speaker and listener to be open with each other to dispel assumptions and biases. For this to happen, it may be useful to address biases straight on in an open dialogue. By revealing and discussing biases and assumptions, it is possible to eliminate them and thereby communicate more fully and effectively.

  • Barrier: A distracting environment. An environment that is crowded or noisy tends to be distracting, and this can prevent effective communication.
    Solution: Protect the receiver of information by providing a quiet and safe environment for conversation. It is helpful to use a private space. This allows the listener to focus on the message, instead of focusing on the venue and its noise.

  • Barrier: Mixed messages. A conversation that conveys contradictory messages or conflates the intended message with extraneous issues can cause confusion, concern, or resentment.
    Solution: Before speaking, people should think carefully about the points to be made. Written talking points can be useful in this regard. If there are multiple messages to convey (perhaps some positive and some negative messages), it may be better to present them on separate occasions or in different environments. Conveying only one message at a time can help avoid confusion and misunderstanding.

▼ How can you overcome these barriers?

Beyond the solutions suggested above, the barriers to communication can generally be lessened by making sure that the speaker is trying to be clear and explicit, that the listener is engaged in active listening, and that the speaker and the listener are bringing their complete attention to bear on the conversation and are considering the feelings of each other.