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Connect new information to existing ideas

The mind absorbs information by categorizing it into mental files. If you want the receiver to understand and remember hew ideas, you have to indicate how, those ideas are related to the files that already exist in her or his mind. When the connection with familiar concepts is lacking, the new material tends to get lost, to become mentally misplaced, because it doesn't fit into the receiver's filing cabinet.

By showing the audience how new ideas relate to familiar ones, you increase the likelihood that your message will be understood correctly. The meaning of the new concept is clarified by its relationship to the old. The receiver already has a wealth of information on the subject; all she or he has to do is apply it to the new idea.

Connecting new ideas to existing ones also helps make the new concepts acceptable. Most of us approach anything unfamiliar with caution. When we discover that it's similar to something familiar, we become more confident. We pick it up, look it over more carefully, and then take it home with us.

Emphasize and review key points

Another way to help the audience is to call attention to the most important points of the message. You can do this with your words, your format, and your body language. When you come to an important idea, say so. This way, you wake people up; you also make it easier for them to file the thought in the proper place. Underscore key points by calling attention to them visually. Use headlines, bold type, and indented lists to emphasize major ideas. Reinforce the text of your message by using charts, graphs, maps, diagrams, and illustrations that will help your audience "see" the point. If you are delivering the message orally, use your body and voice to highlight important concepts.

Before you conclude your message, take a moment or two to review the essential points. Restate the purpose and then show how the main ideas relate to it. This simple step will help your audience remember the message.

In addition, because business audiences are frequently interrupted, it's a good idea to provide summaries at the ends of major sections of a long message as well as at the end of a document or presentation. Such summaries not only refresh people's memories but also help simplify the overall meaning of complex material.


Even the most carefully constructed message will fail to achieve results if it does not reach the receiver. To the extent possible, you should try to eliminate potential sources of interference that stand between you and your audience. The key to getting through to the receiver often lies in the choice of communication channels and media. You should choose the method that will most likely attract the receiver's attention and enable him or her to concentrate on the message.

If a written document seems the best choice, try to make it physically appealing and easy to comprehend. Use an attractive, convenient format, and pay attention to such details as the choice of paper and quality of type. If possible, deliver the document when you know the reader will have time to study it.

If the message calls for an oral delivery channel, try to eliminate environmental competition. The location should be comfortable and quiet, with adequate lighting, good acoustics, and few visual distractions. In addition, you should think about how your own appearance will affect the audience. An outfit that screams for attention creates as much noise as a squeaky air-conditioning system. Another way to reduce interference, particularly in oral communication, is to deliver your message directly to the intended audience. The more people who filter your message, the greater the potential for distortion.


In addition to minimizing noise, you frequently need to give, the receiver a chance to provide feedback. But one of the things making business communication difficult is the complexity of the feedback loop. If you're talking face-to-face with one other person, feedback is immediate and clear. But if you're writing a letter, memo, or report that will be read by several people, feedback will be delayed and mixed. Some of the readers will be enthusiastic or respond promptly; others will be critical or reluctant to respond. As a consequence, revising your message to take account of their feedback will be difficult.

When you plan a message, think about the amount of feedback that you want to encourage. Although generally useful, feedback reduces your control over the communication situation. You need to know whether your message is being understood and accepted, but you may not want to respond to comments until you have completed your argument. If you are communicating with a group, you may not have the time to react to every impression or question.

For this reason, think about how you want to obtain feedback, and choose a form of communication "that suits your needs. Some channels and media are more compatible with feedback than others. For example, if you want to adjust your message quickly, you must talk to the receiver face-to-face or by phone. If feedback is less important to you, you can use a written document or give a prepared speech.

Feedback is not always easy to get, even when you have chosen a transmission method that encourages it. In some cases, you may have to draw out the other person by asking questions. If you want to know specific things, ask specific questions. But also encourage the other person to express general reactions; you can often learn something very interesting that way.

Remember too that in order to get feedback, you have to listen. Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton spends more time listening than giving orders. But listening is more difficult than you might think. We tend to let our minds wander, and miss important points, or we jump in too quickly with comments of our own so that the other person doesn't have a chance to complete a thought. We make the mistake of prejudging other people because we don't like the way they look or because they represent an opposing group. Often we lack patience, objectivity, and understanding. We send signals, subconsciously perhaps, that we don't value the other person's comments.

Regardless of whether the response to your message is written or oral, you have to encourage people to be open if you want them to tell you what they really think and feel. You can't say "please tell me what you think" and then get mad at the first critical comment. So try not to react defensively. Your goal is to find out whether the people in your audience have understood and accepted your message. If you find that they haven't, don't lose your temper. After all, the fault is at least partially yours. Instead of saying the same thing all over again, only louder this time, try to find the source of the misunderstanding. Then revise your message. If you keep .trying, you'll achieve success sooner or later. You may not win the audience to your point of view, but at least you'll make your meaning clear, and you'll part with a feeling of mutual respect.


Effective communicators use both nonverbal and verbal signals to get their messages across. Moreover, they pay as much attention to receiving information as they do to transmitting it.

Communication is a five-step process: The sender has an idea, the idea becomes a message, the message is transmitted, the receiver gets the message, and the receiver reacts and sends feedback. Misunderstandings arise when any part of this process breaks down.

Business communication is especially prone to misunderstandings because the message is complex, conditions are difficult, and psychological or social differences often separate the sender and receiver. To overcome communication barriers, think about your audience, let them know what to expect, use vivid language, stick to the point, connect new ideas to familiar ones, emphasize and review key points, minimize noise, and provide opportunities for feedback.

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