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The art of effective communication
Anil Kaul | April 10, 2007
You are what you communicate. Good communication matters because your ideas are as good as your ability to communicate them. Robert Kent, former dean of Harvard Business School, said, "In business, communication is everything."
Traditionally, business schools have not done a good job of teaching business communication. While many schools have recently added courses on the subject, these courses tend to be theoretical and more focused on 'traditional' forms of communication such as writing text reports and summaries.
How many B-schools teach their students to put together an effective Power Point deck?
How many classes teach you to make an effective argument in a business setting? How many professors spend time explaining how to engage an audience that might be busy, distracted or sceptical of what you are communicating?
These are the practical issues you face once you are installed in the coveted job. Some examples of practical communication challenges you face are: how to present a complex argument in a concise way; how to handle both planned and unplanned discussions; how to bring up uncomfortable issues, such as a disagreement with your superiors, without creating a negative impression; and how to adjust your communication style while dealing with different parties.
While engaging in any kind of communication, it is important to properly structure your ideas. There are four principles that you should use for structuring ideas: be brief, convincing, flexible and prioritise. One tool that I have found very effective for this is the Minto Pyramid principle, developed by Barbara Minto.
A number of high-performing organisations, such as McKinsey, have utilised the principle to train their employees in effective communication. It does not focus on writing good sentences and paragraphs, rather on the thinking process that one should go through before creating the communication - whether it is a PowerPoint presentation or a voicemail you are leaving for the CEO.
The 'pyramid' component stems from the idea that there should be a main governing thought for the communication. This should, in turn, be supported by a group of ideas, each one of which should be supported by a group of facts, effectively constructing a logic pyramid.
The Pyramid principle has the power to help you develop effective documents as short as a one-page memo to exhaustive, 500-page books.
Unfortunately, not many B-schools include these techniques in their curricula. Some universities such as Columbia University in the US have developed courses where these principles are taught along with practical exercises. Hopefully, more business schools will include such ideas in their teaching.Anil Kaul graduated from The Faculty of Management Studies, University of Delhi, in 1989