One of the keys to success in business and in life is good communication. There is a large gap between the meaning we intend and the meaning that the listener understands. It is a gap that has perplexed linguists, writers, artists and philosophers from the time of Socrates. In our daily lives we often find ourselves saying: ‘I didn’t mean what I said’. There is so much more to communication than just words. There is also context, body language and tone. Nowadays, there is also digital communication and communication between people of different native languages. These can all be impediments to conveying your meaning.
On the simplest level we cannot take language at ‘face value’. Someone might be standing in the rain, waiting for a bus and comment to another person waiting for the bus ‘what a wonderful day!’ In context it becomes clear that this is irony. It is also to be understood in a cultural context as a conversation gambit or an ‘icebreaker’. It is the invitation to interact. It is only when it is understood that comments about the weather serve often as a way of initiating communication, that the situation and the initial ironic or sarcastic comment can be understood.
We instinctively know all of this. Computers do not. When we go to a very different culture we have to learn these contextual meanings if we want to appear ‘polite’ and ‘not strange’.
Body language plays a huge part in communication. Potential lovers use lingering eye contact and unconsciously shadow each other – sipping their wine at the same time etc. By doing so they are signaling to each other on a non-verbal level that says so much more than any words can.
There are a whole range of body language signals for all types of interaction including business. For example the firm handshake to mark consent or the two handed handshake used by politicians when they are ‘pressing flesh’ to signal to the general public that they care, that they are a person of sincere beliefs.
One of the big advantages of learning a foreign language from a person who speaks that language as a native speaker is that while they are pursuing their pedagogical duties they are unwittingly bringing into the classroom the non-verbal communication signals from their own culture. Studying a foreign language abroad is even better because students become submerged in an entirely new communication nexus that forces them to release their propensity for the systems inherent in their own countries. Perhaps this is why they say that those who take foreign lovers learn the quickest.
On top of all these concerns, it is vital in business to master the new technologies of communication. This means Skype, social media, tweeting, texting and so on. Mastery of both the hardware and the software is required to use all these modern mediums of communication. Those who don’t keep abreast of new technologies to do with communication are those who will lose in the competitive world of business.
Perhaps the greatest tool for communication is Google.com. Those who are able to put themselves on the first page for important search phrases have the opportunity to communicate with thousands and potentially hundreds of thousands. In this sense business communication has become a cut throat competition to dominate profitable conversations. In many ways this is replacing the idea of ‘branding’ that sought to communicate through auto-suggestion to engender a mass response.
It is those who learn all these interpersonal, psychological, technical and SEO techniques who will be the most successful in making their communication count, in getting their message over, in being understood and converting that understanding into results.