Storytelling as a Form of Business Communication

Abstract

Communicating effectively is a much-needed skill that individuals and organizations must learn if they want to succeed in their life and in their business goals. Being an effective communicator means the skill to narrate a story and put forth ideas and relay information clearly without any distortion and ensuring that the intended message is received and understood properly. The paper discusses various issues related to effective communication and analyses a model that can be used. There are various barriers to effective communication and these are related to cultural and group differences. The concept of transformation leadership communication behavior patterns has been discussed in detail and recommendations have been made to identify them. The paper has also examined the importance of effective communication for global leaders and presented the main concepts in effective communication. Global organizations have a difficult task as their global workforce hails from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The paper has also discussed the various steps and measures that have to be taken by global organizations to ensure that the intended meaning of their messages is received properly.

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Summary

Communicating effectively has been one of the important factors that help a person to succeed in the chosen profession. Studies have estimated that employees typically spend about 75% of their time in communicating with colleagues or customers. Personnel who interface with their clients need exceptionally effective communicating skills. Various features related to effective communications are discussed in this paper. Issues and opportunities such as what is effective communication, models of effective communication, global communication strategies and others are examined.

Communication Styles

Keane (July 2007) has suggested that effective communication is the skill of stating ideas, thoughts, instructions or report, in an un-ambiguous manner and with clarity so that the audience understands the intended meaning. Effective Communication is the process where information and ideas are relayed and received. Ideas are conveyed as spoken, written or visual contexts and when a person is speaking, the tone of voice and the body language are very important. According to Keane, words make up for 7 percent of the communicated information, tone accounts for 55 % and the body language for 38 %. To be effective communicators, people should be aware of these forms, their use and possible communication barriers The author rates effective communication along with skills such as delegation, time management, motivation and leadership skills. To work or lead effectively, a manager or supervisor has to know how to explain clearly what needs to be done and how it has to be done. Keane has argued that an organization in effect acts like a human decision taking system and the quality and depth of the decisions that are taken depend on the effectiveness of the system used for communication. The main styles of communication have been shown in the following table.

Table 1. Communication Styles (Communication Styles, 2005)

Factors: Expresser driver relater Analytical
How to Recognize: They get excited. They like their own way; decisive & strong viewpoints. They like positive attention, to be helpful & to be regarded warmly. They seek a lot of data, ask many questions, behave methodically & systematically.
Tends to Ask: Who? (the personal dominant question) What (the results oriented question.) Why? (the personal non-goal question.) How? (the technical analytical question.)
What They Dislike: Boring explanations/wasting time with too many facts. Someone wasting their time trying to decide for them. Rejection, treated impersonally, uncaring & unfeeling attitudes. making an error, being unprepared, spontaneity.
Reacts to Pressure and Tension By: “Selling” their ideas or argumentative. Taking charge taking more control. Becoming silent, withdraws, introspective. Seeking more data & information.
Best way to Deal With: Get excited with them. Show emotion. Let them be in charge. Be supportive; show you care. Provide lots of data & information.
Likes To Be Measured By: Applause, feedback, recognition. Results, Goal-oriented. Friends, close relationships. Activity & busyness that leads to results.
Must Be Allowed To: Get ahead quickly. Likes challenges. Get into a competitive situation. Likes to win. Relax, feel, care, know you care. make decisions at own pace, not cornered or pressured.
Will Improve With: Recognition & some structure with which to reach the goal. A position that requires cooperation with others. A structure of goals & methods for achieving each goal. Interpersonal and communication skills.
Likes to Save: Effort they rely heavily on hunches, intuition, feelings. Time. They like to be efficient, get things done now. Relationships. Friendship means a lot to them. Face. They hate to make an error, be wrong or get caught without enough info.
For Best Results: Inspire them to bigger & better accomplishments. Allow them freedom to do things their own way. Care & provide detail, specific plans and activities to be accomplished. Structure a framework or “track” to follow.

Models of Current Communication Styles

Blitefield (2006) has presented a detailed discussion of the process of communication. According to the author, the process of communication has one communicator and at least one of more receivers. Effective communication starts with the how completely the communicator is able to relate the information and how much of the information that is relayed is actually understood by the receivers. Effective communication between different disciplines has become one key aspects in organizations. In many cases, the communication process becomes complex when the subjects are controversial or there are multiple and diverse teams. The author speaks of the need to bridge the differences and this is one of the most important factors. The author has defined effective communication as the transmission of subjects and meaning between people and minimizing any misunderstand between them. A number of models have been proposed for effective communications and some of them are discussed in the next paragraphs.

Robbins (2003) has suggested that the models of effective communication essentially start with a clear understanding of how People Bridge their communication differences or the communication gap as it is called. The author argues that people have a tendency to interpret information by using their own reference frame and these references have been shaped by cultural backgrounds or group associations. The process of bridging is an try to minimize the inherent differences by trying to understand the reference frame that others are using. The process if bridging again needs to be a two way process and both the sender and receiver have to attempt to remove any obstacles. The process if bridging the cultural differences among different groups becomes very important in business contexts such as management. Hofstede (1980) had proposed a framework that would help to assess the cultures by identifying 5 important value dimensions of the national cultures. The model was later expanded by other research organizations till none dimensions were identified. Myers (1985) has proposed the Myer Briggs Type Indicator that makes of the personality framework and explains the behavior of individuals and the concepts can be used to explain the different relationships between cultures.

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The MBI Communication Model

The Map-Bridge-Integrate model has three interacting components and provides a means to bridge the cultural differences (DiStefano et all, 2002)

The MBI Communication Model
Figure 1. The MBI Communication Model (DiStefano et all, 2002)

MapUnderstand the Differences: The Map component is used in describing and understanding any differences between team members and also specifying the impact that these differences have on team objectives. There are three aspects and they are: selecting the characteristics to be mapped; description of members’ characteristics and identification of the impact of the characteristics.

Bridging – Communicate across the Differences: The Bridging component deals with communicating effectively across the group differences with the intention to bring ideas and people together. The main aim of this component is to stop miscommunication There are three aspects to this component: preparing and motivating members to build confidence and communicate so that problems are overcome. This is important since there is a possibility that because of lack of motivation, communication may not happen even after the differences are understood. De-centering where the team members try to explain their understanding of the difference in the process of communication by altering their behavior and though process. This allows other cultures to be accommodated in their understanding. Re-centering is another aspect and team members try to create a new basis on which interactions can be created. A good understanding of differences is required and consent on shared norms has to be agreed upon.

Integrating – manage the Differences: The integrating component ensures that people use their differences to make good decisions. The understanding developed in the mapping component is converted to obtain positive results. There are three aspects for this component and they are: managing the participation to ensure that all members have an equal opportunity to participate by accommodating different norms for participation that would result from cultural differences; resolving disagreements or possible conflicts so that any disputes are addressed before they increase. The mapping component helps to detect early any probable areas and conflict zones while the bridging component helps to make manageable any personal conflicts. The third aspect is the building on ideas which is the final aspect. Individual ideas are taken as the starting point for any discussion and the concept of ownership needs to be left.

How communication fails due to lack of shared experiences

McAteer (March 2007) speaks of certain barriers to communication and why these barriers cause communication failure due to lack of shared experiences. The author defines barriers as factors that breakdown or impede a continuous relay of information. These barriers tend to disrupt the process and act of communication. The author has suggested a number of factors that act as barriers and they are: Non assertive behavior, Task preoccupation, frustration and anger at the communicator, any personal enmity or bias, diversity in the team with little areas of common interest, lack of confidence in self or on the communicator; complex organizational structure, distractions, tunnel vision, external and internal interruptions and so on.

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Barriers to Communication
Figure 2. Barriers to Communication (McAtee, March 2007)

Smith (December 2007) has pointed that there are two types of major differences that create barriers to effective communication and they are: Cultural differences and Group differences. Cultural differences occur when the people from different cultures are involved in the communication process. Culture is defined informally as a set os shared traditions, values and beliefs that control the formation and behavior of different social groups. The author argues that cultures have a strong influence on the way in which people communicate and relate with each other. The cultural differences often create a bias or a barrier between the communicator and the receivers. Group differences on the other hand are due to the peer pressure among group members and it is the predominant group mentality that creates a barrier against communication. The author argues that groups can be based according to work natures, ethnicity and nationality, profession and gender. Groups can also be formed as per the roles they play such as engineers, doctors, students, teachers and so on and in many cases, the groups may even form associations. Groups with whom people are associated are called as in-groups while groups with which people are not associated are called as out groups. The author suggests that these groups often have their own vocabulary, mannerisms and code of conduct and when one such group tries to communicate with the others, these mannerisms are not carried through and it can result in miscommunications.

Transformational Leadership and Communication

Jeroen (et all, 2007) has suggested that effective communication strategy is very important and crucial for an organizations growth and reflects directly on transformation leadership. The authors have emphasized that the communication strategy is not just limited to verbal communication but extends to other media such as Fax, email, newsletters, brochures, presentations, merchandise, etc. Many large organizations have a fully staffed and dedicated internal communications and publicity department and it is the work of this department to take care of all internal communication with the employees as well as customers. If an effective communication strategy is not in place, then the organization suffers from poor and a negative image and the consequences can have a negative impact on the bottom line. This section provides information on how to communicate effectively and also the importance of Effective Communication in the Global Context.

Strategies for Transformational Leadership Communication

Taylor (July 2006) has stressed that effective communications has to be a two-way process and begins with the communicator or the sender who would convey the required information necessary. The sender must have to be proactive and ensure that the receiver can understand the information. Certain key factors that need to be followed are: stating one idea at a time; putting forward the ideas in a medium that is understood; take extra care to elaborate and repeat if required, understand the body language of the audience and ask questions now and then to keep them involved in the discussion. Taylor has defined the four A’s of successful communication and they are: Attention; Appreciation, Action and Assimilation. The Four A’s are illustrated in Figure 3.

Attention: This is the first step in the process of effective communication and it deals with getting the receivers attention. This can be achieved by: overcoming distractions such as disturbing mannerisms, noise, emotional and attitude problems, negative and sarcastic attitude and so on; using an appropriate greeting, showing respect and empathy for the people

The Four A’s of Successful Communication
Figure 3. The Four A’s of Successful Communication (Taylor, July 2006)

Appreciation: Appreciation is a critical step and it is the responsibility of the communicator to ensure that understanding takes place and that there is a positive reception of the message. A good relationship between the sender and the receiver will help to ensure that appreciation is received. Encouraging a free flow of input from the receiver is also a good way to ensure that this step is carried out properly.

Assimilation: This is the third step and though a person understands a message, it may not be accepted fully. Communication is considered only after the recipient assimilates the information, takes and uses it. It leads to active participation, collaboration and harmony.

Action: This is the final step and moves the theory of communication into reality. In some cases, a good idea or a meaningful message is accepted superficially but is not translated into action. If complete assimilation takes place, the action from the receiver has to follow. A two-sided communication is brought into action and results in the required activity.

Behavioral Patterns for Transformational Leadership Communication

Successful and effective leaders are excellent communicators and are able to effectively mold people’s behavior. The communication is not restricted to only speeches they make but the way in which they behave with others. Each action is designed to send a message and each action is defined by a behavior pattern and such a leadership is regarded as transformational leader as the role is designed to bring a transformation. Jeroen (et all, 2007) have conducted studies to understand the understand leadership communication behavior or what qualities and behavioral patterns in communication are needed to make a good leader. The authors combined in-depth interviews and literature research to develop the inventory of leader behaviors. The in-depth interview is a qualitative research technique that is particularly useful for exploration purposes, such as developing propositions on a particular subject. It is a suitable research technique for relatively unexplored subjects. Information from the field was used for the theorizing on leadership, and idea generation and application behavior. A survey instrument was used to collect views of leaders on factors that defined behavior patterns. The leaders were asked to make a choice to what the behavior related and they could select both idea generation and application. The instrument and the responses are shown in the following table. Analysis for each behavior pattern is also given.

Table. 1. Communication Behavior patterns of leaders (Jeroen, et all, 2007)

Sr. No. Behavior Consists of Relates to
Idea Generation Application
1 Innovative role-modeling Being an example of innovative behavior, exploring opportunities, generating ideas, championing and putting efforts in development
2 Intellectual stimulation Teasing subordinates directly to come up with ideas and to evaluate current practices Yes Yes
3 Stimulating knowledge diffusion Stimulating open and transparent communication, introducing supportive communication structures like informal work meetings Yes
4 Providing vision Communicating an explicit vision on the role and preferred types of innovation, providing directions for future activities Yes
5 Consulting Checking with people before initiating changes that may affect them, incorporating their ideas and suggestions in decisions Yes Yes
6 Delegating Giving subordinates sufficient autonomy to determine relatively independently how to do a job Yes Yes
7 Support for innovation Acting friendly to innovative employees, being patient and helpful, listening, looking out for someone’s interests if problems arise Yes Yes
8 Organizing feedback Ensuring feedback on concepts and first trials, providing feedback to employees, asking customers for their opinion Yes Yes
9 Recognition Showing appreciation for innovative performances Yes
10 Rewards Providing financial/material rewards for innovative performances Yes Yes
11 Providing resources Providing time and money to implement ideas Yes
12 Monitoring Ensuring effectiveness and efficiency, checking-up on people, stressing tried and tested routines Yes
13 Task assignment Providing employees with challenging tasks, make allowance for employees’ commitment when assigning tasks Yes

The study helped to define the behavioral patterns that leaders use for transformational leadership. According to the authors, many interviewees suggested that it is beneficial if they themselves are examples of innovative behavior. For instance, interviewees from the front-runners group stated: “I am always looking for ways to do things better and improve results. It stimulates some of my employees to do the same.” Or: “Some of my employees tend to behave like I do, particularly the younger ones.” The authors also speak of intellectual stimulation as a communication tool to increase employees’ awareness of problems and stimulating them to rethink old ways of doing things (Hartog, 1997). Intellectual stimulation may create opportunities for employees to voice ideas that may otherwise be overlooked and is, therefore, believed to trigger idea generation in particular. Many respondents believed that stimulating the dissemination of information among subordinates enhances idea generation. They sometimes arranged informal meetings solely for the sake of knowledge diffusion, while the non-innovative respondents usually paid little attention to this. Interviewees tried to anchor the innovative activities in their firms by providing their employees with a sense of direction and overarching goals as well as some general guidelines. The innovative respondents attempted to communicate their ambition and drive and wanted to provide their employees with a beacon for innovative efforts. Providing an overarching vision was believed to enhance both idea generation and application behavior for various reasons. First, it provided a frame of reference that indicated what kind of ideas would be appreciated. One interviewee from the innovative subset told us: “We want to be a leading firm in language technology. Of course, ideas that fit within our mission have a better chance of being implemented.” To ensure proper communication the leader maintained a “loose” management style and was convinced of the value of asking subordinates for their opinion. Interviewees suggested that when something new is implemented, those who have to adopt it should be allowed to influence decision-making. Extensive delegation was part of the communication strategy for the leaders. The leaders tried to provide subordinates with sufficient autonomy to ensure high-quality work results some even connected delegation to innovative behavior.

Importance of Effective Communication in the Global Context for Leaders

Yates (et all, 2006) has stressed the importance of effective communication for organizations that operate globally. Such organizations operate in different time zones and have employees who have different background and nationalities. In such a scenario, a proper communication strategy has to be in place to ensure that the messages given out by management is not distorted and the true intent is assimilated. The authors carried out a survey of some leading global organizations to understand how they managed the communication strategy. They used a survey instrument to identify the best practices and the response percentages are shown in Figure 4.

Communicating indicators for global employees
Figure 4. Communicating indicators for global employees

The study showed that only about 18% of the organizations had an established and documented global communication strategy. What many enterprises are learning is that the traditional approach to global communication – translating messages into several languages and shipping them to local managers for dissemination – simply doesn’t work. This approach often results in messages that are misunderstood, mis-communicated and sometimes not communicated at all. A number of multinationals have recognized the value of bringing a global perspective to their communication strategies. The author has reported a number of steps that such companies are taking up and they are:

Getting global participation: One of the biggest challenges in developing a global strategy is ensuring that the strategy supports and drives corporate goals without overlooking the distinct needs of separate regions, countries and business areas. Inputs from people around the world are needed to strike the right balance (Maznevski, M. L., 1994).

Making global teams effective: Enterprises that put together effective global teams to develop and maintain the communication strategy are achieving some very positive results. The key word here, though, is effective. Research into the performance of global teams – and this is not just global communication teams – shows that such teams don’t always deliver the value the enterprise expects. Cultural differences represented in multicultural teams provide great potential for creating value.

Creating messages with global appeal: Global input provides insight into cultural sensitivities, compliance and legislative differences, and the unique characteristics of each market. Effective communicators use this insight to craft messages that are easy to interpret, translate and adapt to local needs. They also look at the type and content of messages to determine how widely they need to be communicated. The best global communicators determine which messages cannot be tinkered with and which areas of content are open for local customization. Moreover, they make it clear to local managers, which messages must be delivered exactly as presented and which ones can be adapted or expanded to address local needs.

Training local managers to communicate: While some multinationals have dedicated internal communicators on a regional basis, some of them have dedicated communicators on a country or local basis. Some companies rely on local managers to interpret and deliver messages. Functionally, these managers might be responsible for HR, plant management, or operations, so they often don’t have expertise in communication. Unfortunately, few companies provide training and support for these local managers and fewer still have processes in place to ensure that messages were actually delivered and understood.

Choosing the right delivery mechanisms: Effective internal communicators take advantage of a variety of media and technologies to communicate corporate messages. Options enable local managers to select the tools and information that work best for local employees. Face-to-face presentations work better in some parts of the world, while self-learning tools work better in others.

Measuring success: There are a variety of ways to measure, from focus groups and comprehensive annual employee surveys to quarterly targeted surveys, short feedback questionnaires for forums and workshops, and phone calls to local managers and employees. Such activities help to keep a pulse on whether or not people are receiving, understanding and embracing messages. As the measurement processes is developed, the ultimate goal should be to identify the links between communication effectiveness and improved productivity and business performance.

Conclusion

The paper has discussed various issues related to effective communication. Effective communication is the process where the exchange of information takes place in a clear an unambiguous manner. There are many different styles of communication and each is used for a specific reason and occasion..The paper also examined the MBI communication model or the Map-Bridge-Integrate model has three interacting components and provides a means to bridge the cultural differences. This model is recommended when critical communication system is to be established. There are many barriers that cause the failure of communication and are due to lack of shared resources and these barriers disrupt the flow of communication. A through literature review has been provided to understand what behavior patterns are used for transformational leadership communication and a research has been analyzed in detail. A certain set of strategies is recommended for the transformational leadership. With the increase in the large companies that operate across the globe, organizations find it challenging to ensure that people from different cultures and ethnicities are able to understand the intended communication. The paper has recommended a set of strategies for communication in the global context.

References

Blitefield Jerry. (Winter 2006). The Rhetoric of RHETORIC: The Quest for Effective Communication. Journal of Rhetoric & Public Affairs. East Lansing. Volume 9. Issue 4. pp: 710-714.

Communication Styles. (2005). Communication Styles and Factors. 2007. Web.

DiStefano, J. J. Ekelund, B. Z. (2002). The MBI Model of Managing Differences Effectively. In Heritage & Management: Identity as a Competitive Tool, J. M. Fladmark (ed.), Donhead Publishing, Edinburgh.

Hofstede, G. (1980). Cultural Consequences: International Differences in Work Related Values. Sage, Beverly Hills, CA.

Jeroen P.J. de Jong. Deanne N. Den Hartog. (2007). How leaders influence employees innovative behavior. European Journal of Innovation Management. Volume 10. Issue 1. pp: 41-64.

Keane Tess. (July 2007). Power of effective communication. Nursing Standard: Harrow on the Hill. Volume 21. Issue 45. pp: 78-80.

Maznevski, M. L. (1994). Synergy and Performance in Multicultural Teams, Ph.D. dissertation. The University of Western Ontario.

McAteer Teal. (2007). Strategic Organizational Change. Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences. Halifax. Volume. 24. Issue 1. pp: 74-76.

Robbins, S. P. (2003). Organizational Behavior. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.

Smith Marolee Beaumont. (2006). A Study on South African Corporate Business Failures. Journal of The Business Review, Cambridge. Hollywood. Volume 6. Issue 1. pp: 168-173.

Taylor Shirley. (2006). Communicating across Cultures. The British Journal of Administrative Management. Orpington. pp: 12-15.

Yates Kathryn. Beech Roger. (2006). Six crucial steps to effective global communication. Journal of Strategic Communication Management. Chicago. Volume 10. Issue 5. pp: 26-30.

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