07 February 2022

Stuart Hall MA PGMdip MCIPPdip, non-executive director at the CIPP provides some top tips on perfecting the invaluable art of communication

How often have you come across the quote,’communication is key?’ It’s something we do every day of our lives, whether it be the spoken word, written correspondence or through body language. But why is it so important? Well first, let’s understand what communication is. In simple terms, it’s the act of transferring information from one person to another.

However, it’s important to understand that communication is only effective if the receiver understands the message, and recently I’ve seen first-hand how my two-year-old grandson can get frustrated if what he’s trying to communicate is not understood. Maybe we should add to that quote that communication is only effective if the receiver understands the message as it is intended.

Communication is all around us, from the moment we wake and switch on the radio, read the newspaper, pass the advertising boards on the way to work and listen to the train announcements. During our working day, communication enables tasks to be completed diligently and ultimately makes us, and the company, more professional. In business, communication skills are highly valued. Leaders with ineffective communication skills can often be the root cause of productivity-related issues.

In our daily life, communication helps us build relationships by allowing us to share our experiences, and needs, and helps us connect to others. It’s the essence of life, allowing us to express feelings, pass on information and share thoughts. We all need to communicate.


Non-verbal communication

The words we use to communicate are important, but so is non-verbal communication. Non-verbal cues, such as signals, movements and expressions in our social and business life all help to deliver a specific message. Handshakes, eye contact and touching all help to show how we feel. I would even suggest that non-verbal communication is even more effective than verbal communication in some situations.

The continued popularity of sign language took a recent surge last year, when millions watched Rose Ayling-Ellis become the first deaf winner of Strictly Come Dancing. We could spend hours discussing her performances, especially her couple’s choice with dance partner Giovanni Pernice, which saw her dance for 20 seconds as a tribute to the deaf community. For me, what she communicated in that 20 seconds was bigger, bolder and brighter than anything I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime. And before I make any suggestions that we should learn to dance to effectively communicate to our senior executives – let’s move on.


How has the way we communicate changed?

Imagine what life would be like without communication. You have a brilliant idea but don’t have the power to pass it on, you have a strong desire for something, but cannot express it. Life would certainly be monotonous.

When the prime minister put the whole country into lockdown with the message to ‘work from home’, many of us found our new working environment exciting. But as time moved on, the excitement started to fade as we faced the challenges of communicating with each other.

Inside and outside of work, we had to learn new ways to hold meetings through the likes of Zoom and Teams. We acquired an insight into people’s homes, their kitchens and, in some cases, their bedrooms. Communication with work colleagues became a mosaic of pictures on a screen in front of us. Concentrating on what was being said, especially when the screen switched to PowerPoint slides, became a trial and boredom or distractions became a challenge. How many times did you see faces on the screen no longer looking into the camera, but looking at something far more important to the side of their screens?

Even if you did have some face-to-face meetings, we soon realised how much we rely on reading people’s lips as they speak to us, or even how much mouths help in recognising people. Recently, I was approached by someone I hadn’t seen for over 15 years, we shook hands and said hello, but it wasn’t until he removed his mask, I realised who I was talking to.

Covid-19 has completely changed the workplace climate and significantly affected the way we communicate, not least for the payroll department. As the pandemic unfolded, payroll departments found themselves at the forefront of managing a crisis. Communicating with employees became essential with new legislation to implement, changes to shift patterns, managing layoffs and more.

So, what next? The working from home trend isn’t likely to end soon and, as it does, what can we learn from the last couple of years? Payroll departments were classified as key workers and it’s important the role of the payroll professional continues and thrives in the post-pandemic environment. So, how can we be effective in our communication? What’s the journey of ‘next generation’ communications and how can we, as payrollers, improve our communications?


Be clear and concise while communicating

When communicating, be clear about the objective and purpose of your message. Make sure your message is easily understood by keeping it succinct. People prefer short, sharp messages, so stick to the point and be clear about your intentions. Don’t let them rely on assumptions to work out your message. Only when your message is clear will the receiver have a clear picture of what’s being expressed, so they can act and respond accordingly.


Don’t make any assumptions

Assumptions are formed when information is incomplete. It lacks evidence or facts, and it’s quite easy to form assumptions if you don’t ask the right questions. So, before you start, group your initial thoughts as fact or fiction. The more questions you ask, the less assumptions you’re likely to make.


Listen with empathy

Empathic listening is the practice of being attentive and responsive to others during a conversation. By listening with empathy, you can make an emotional connection with the other person and provide a more heartfelt, personal response. Learn to truly understand their emotions and perspectives.


Think before you speak

A person’s choice of words and tone reveal a lot about them, so it’s important to prepare before speaking. Effective conversations are possible with advanced planning, preparation, and the formulation of what you want to say, and what you want to get out of the conversation. Why not try the THANKS technique for improving your communication by thinking before you speak? To put it simply, what you say should be True, Helpful, Affirming, Necessary, Kind and Sincere.


Learn the basics of non-verbal communication

It’s said that non-verbal communication accounts for 55% of how an audience perceives a presenter. That means most communication is not through words, but through physical cues. Developing the ability to understand and use non-verbal communication can help you connect with others, express what you mean and build better relationships at home and at work. Body language is usually used to convey positive feelings, even when you’re not actually experiencing them. You can master the art of non-verbal communication by adopting a positive body language and maintaining a proper posture to signal confidence.


So, what next?

As we get ready to launch back into face-to-face meetings, now is the time to start brushing up on your communication skills. Remember, those who can communicate effectively with clear direction can help to deliver high-quality results. And by communicating effectively, you can build strong relationships with your colleagues and superiors. Working together as a team will ensure cohesion and long-term success. Not only will you be able to enjoy your work, but also to strive for better work performance.

To close, remember it’s important to understand communication is only effective if the receiver understands the message:

On my first visit to the United States, I ordered an entrée, and the waiter asked if I wanted ‘super salad.’ I said ‘yes’. He then asked again, ‘super salad?’ And, again, I said ‘yes!’. He sighed and then asked ‘sir, do you want salad, or soup?’

Happy communicating. 

Featured in the March 2022 issue of Professional in Payroll, Pensions and Reward. Correct at time of publication.