Friday, December 23, 2016

4 Cs Series: Communication

In part two of this four part series on the 4Cs in education, we’re going to examine communication. Whether it is written or oral, what we say and how we say it is the most important part of getting something done. And, in this ever-growing global world, effective communication is paramount to being successful at whatever we are setting out to do.

It is interesting that every industry from the jewelry arena to the food service market, has communication standards, rules, tips and tricks. It seems that everyone is doing whatever they can to convey how important communicating with clients, peers, colleagues, and within families truly is. Successful communication must be practiced and teachers from K to 12 have a unique opportunity to teach effective communication habits. I’ve listed five of these habits we can teach and activities that will allow students to practice them.

Clarity is such a big word for communication. Whether it is written or oral communication, we must be clear about what we want to say and how we say it. The first thing we want to remember is not to utter the first thing that comes to mind and instead pause to reflect what and how we want to say something. Of course this is much easier to say and agree to than actually do. It requires practice and opportunities need to be given our students to train their brains and mouths.

Along the lines of what we’re actually saying, we also need to work on not using fillers such as “um” and “like.” As a 12th grade English teacher, I was always astounded at how these fillers were so ingrained in the thought patterns of my students that they used them in their written work - even formal essays. Again, by pausing to consider what we say before we say it, we can learn to eliminate these fillers and get comfortable with pregnant pauses.

Another habit we want to avoid is to use jargon, especially in written form. As educators, our world is full of it and our spouses have learned to nod and smile when we use acronyms. There are more universal forms of jargon that we want to try to avoid as well. For instance, the acronym “asap” means different things to different people. For some, it is “drop everything and get this done” and for others it means “get to this as soon as you have room in your schedule.” For clarity’s sake, say what you mean and be clear about what and when you need it. The best advice I’ve heard comes from a poster from the Food Service Industry with their own 4Cs of Communication that reads:

Clear: Say things simply enough that they cannot be misunderstood.
Concise: Get to the point. Do not go on and on with confusing details that do not matter.
Complete: Give the complete message. It is easy to forget to include one part especially when you think your listener already knows that part.
Correct: Make sure that what you say is true. Do not repeat rumors or gossip. Build your reputation as a person who speaks truth.

Classroom Activity:
Monsters. Each student designs an original monster on an 8.5x11 paper in color but doesn’t show it to anyone else. Partners pair up however their backs are to one another so they can’t see each other. One partner will verbally describe the monster he/she drew and the other partner will try to recreate it and vice versa. When finished, the partners can share the original drawings and discuss what they may have said to make the drawings more accurate.

Jokes and Stories:
A colleague of mine, Bob Pappert, has a very important task for his students on the day before the winter holiday break and the day before spring break. His students must give oral presentations in the form of telling a good joke or a good story. His theory is this, if you can be comfortable relaying a story or joke with others by having good cadence and getting the punch line on target, you are most likely going to be much more comfortable in social communicative situations. What a wonderful way to give our students opportunities to be good communicators!

Non-Verbal Communication:
What we don’t say is as important as what we do say. UCLA professor, Dr.Mehrabian, has done extensive communication studies and has found a rather astounding conclusion. When we speak and are trying to get our point across to people, what we say, the actual words that come out of our mouths, are only 7% of the equation. 38% centers around our cadence and tone and the other 55% focuses on our facial expression and body language.

The first rule of engaged body language is eye contact. Maintain it. I have a another colleague, Jay Camiling, who, when I speak with him, makes me feel that I am the most important person in the world. He doesn’t look around to see who is coming or what is happening. He focuses on me and only me and I never question that he isn’t listening. Looking away or multi-tasking during a conversation implies we don’t care nor do we have time for what is being said.

As we maintain eye contact, we’ll also want to think about our facial expressions. Are we smiling? Do we have a welcoming, pleasant aura about us? Are we occasionally using encouraging words that invites the person we are speaking with to carry on? Is our posture relaxed and are we nodding our head to indicate we are following? When we do speak, are the cadence of our words and tone of our voice relaxed and positive?

How do we start? Robinson, Segal and Smith suggest “You can enhance effective communication by using open body language—arms uncrossed, standing with an open stance or sitting on the edge of your seat, and maintaining eye contact with the person you’re talking to.” This is easy to remember and we can create small cards to refer to while we are in group discussions to remind us of this engaged position.

Classroom Activity:
Ask students to set their phones/devices up to record a conversation they have with another person. Ask them to watch their recording and evaluate themselves in a rubric. Ask them to create a goal to work on over the next week and do another recording in a week to evaluate the results.

Listening vs. Hearing
They seem like the same thing at first but in reality listening is very different from hearing. I am hearing music in a coffee shop and coffee being made by a barista right now as I type but I am not listening to it. The difference is what I am paying attention to. Listening is a learned skill and  what I choose to concentrate on and comprehend. It is easy to hear what someone says but how often do we choose to actually listen to what they say? This means we allow ourselves to interpret what they say without interrupting them nor would we think about what our response is going to be while they are still talking. It is hard! Humans have a knack for being easily distracted!

We want to learn to become engaged listeners. This means we show interest in what is being said and give feedback to what is being said.

Classroom Activity:
Student get into groups of two. Once student will share an autobiographical story about something that happened to them and, when the story is over, the partner must retell the story. The original storyteller can evaluate how accurate their partner was.  

Kate Petty
Director Certification Programs

Works Cited
""Silent Messages" -- Description and Ordering Information." "Silent Messages" -- Description and Ordering Information. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.
"Effective Communication." Effective Communication: Improving Communication Skills in Your Work and Personal Relationships. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.
"Tools and Tips for Trainers." Tools and Tips for Trainers. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.

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