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“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach.”
–Strother Martin, as the warden in the movie Cool Hand Luke 

RISMEDIA, September 15, 2009—Failure to communicate is a fact of everyday life. “Nobody told me.” “I couldn’t open my e-mail.” “I didn’t get the message.”

Your success in business will largely be dependant on your ability to transmit your message. What you say, how you say it, and the media you employ are critical to effective communication. You will regularly collect, process and distribute vital information.

You will set appointments and reschedule them. You will make representations and commitments. You will interpret laws and rules. You will be responsible for millions of dollars changing hands based on representations made by you.

And, if you have a failure to communicate in business, you could lose a client, lose a friend, lose a transaction, lose a suit, lose your license and maybe even your freedom. And, it can happen so easily.

I was lost in thought when my concentration was shattered by the ringing of the phone. Not wanting to get derailed from what I was working on, I decided to let voice mail take care of it. Though it turned out to be a wrong number, I had to pick it up. It was a government agency and the message was intended for a prospective grant recipient. The caller warned that she had 48 hours to respond to his call and no other attempt would be made to contact her.

Had the intended recipient been “The Amazing Kreskin,” she would have known that someone was trying to reach her. And, doesn’t that make you wonder about the important message you never got?

Now I bring this up not to disparage the inefficiencies of government employees, but as prelude to the most important lesson you will ever learn.

It is the most fundamental and immutable law of human relations.

The sender of the message is always responsible for whether or not it is received.


The entire point of communication is to get the message delivered. If I write and no one reads it, I haven’t communicated.

A real estate company owner flew from Austin to Chicago to meet with an agent. When the agent was a no show, he called the woman. She was still in bed and told him that she had canceled the meeting by leaving him a voice mail message the night before. Who is responsible for his wasted cross country trip?

For all the communication devices we have, we are by every measure less skilled at the art of communication than our grandfathers.

We have reverted to monosyllabic grunts. “Yo! Yo! Whassup?”

Soon, we’ll never be out of cell phone bars but we won’t know how to say anything. Our writing seems to be devolving into a hybrid of primitive cave scratching and Gregg shorthand.

Most of us take for granted that we are good communicators. But, without proper focus, and some actual study of the skills necessary to foster effective communication, there is always the possibility for miscommunication.

As a businessperson, you want to employ strategies that minimize the potential for miscommunication and enhance your ability to communicate more and more effectively with your target audience.

Fortunately, there are principals and techniques that you can learn that will improve your communication ability. But first, let’s take a look at the bigger picture.

There are two modes of communication: verbal and non verbal.

Factors which influence the effectiveness of verbal communication include:

Clarity—Is the message concise and to the point, and does it flow in a logical order?

Vocabulary—the very words you use create the flavor and nuance necessary to transmit complex and precise information.

Denotative meaning—this is the specific meaning of a word. For example, let us say that we describe Jack as being determined.

Connotative meaning—this is the suggested meaning. By saying that “Jack doesn’t know when to quit,” we have attached a negative connotation. If we say that “Jack has stick-to-itiveness,” we make his determination a positive quality.

Pacing—Is the delivery fast and excited or measured and calm?

Timing—If it seems like a bad time to launch into a topic, maybe it is.

Relevance—Communication can often be derailed or delayed by either straying from the topic or with the introduction of non-sequitors and “red-herrings.”

Factors which influence the effectiveness of non verbal communication need little explanation. They include:

Personal appearance
Facial expression
Eye contact
Posture and gait

Additional factors that impact both types of communication include:
Sociocultural background
Roles and relationships
Space and territoriality

Here are 15 steps you can take to become a great communicator:
1. Keep the objective in mind. You are in a personal service business and good communication is your ultimate objective. Why? You need to get things done. Much of it requires the voluntary cooperation of others. You deal with facts and figures that have meaning and must be conveyed to the extent that the ramifications are clear to the other party. You have the responsibility of being certain that the people who rely on you are informed about the decisions they are making.

2. Seek first to understand. The better you understand what other people are feeling and wanting, the better you can fulfill your role as a trusted advisor.

3. Think like a detective not a judge. Ask questions that are open-ended. Probe the answers. Clarify.

4. Listen more carefully and responsively.

5. Retain your perspective. This will help you to be a better listener. See yourself outside of the dialogue rather than getting caught up in it.

6. Take responsibility for your message getting through. Sending an email or leaving a voice message isn’t communication. It is attempted communication and should be followed up on until confirmation of receipt is certain.

7. Stay in character. Never, ever, ever let them see you sweat. As a professional, it is unacceptable for your personal feelings to obscure the communication process. Displays of anger will not encourage what you need most from other people—open dialogue leading to cooperation.

8. Be forthright.