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The Art of Communication

The Art of Communication

In college, business majors primarily take classes on finance, accounting, management, and marketing.  Actuarial science majors focus on statistics, risk management, and insurance.  Once one spends some time in the workplace, though, it’s easy to see that classes in communication and psychology may be just as important and applicable.  Very little time in an office is actually spent by one’s self working on a spreadsheet or crunching disability rates; even if one is online, they are likely sending emails or proofreading proposals.  Therefore, the ability to effectively communicate is essential to being a successful member of the business world, whether one is an intern, salesperson, or executive.

A workplace is an amalgamation of many different personalities, goals, and opinions.  To understand how a business operates, one must first understand how its workers operate, since a business is purely the sum of its workers (or multiple, depending how one views synergy).  It’s important to recognize that two people could have completely different reactions to the same email- wording and situation have a powerful impact on how a message is perceived.  If one asks a coworker a question or favor and they respond in an unexpected manner, there are a few possibilities to consider before continuing the conversation.  Have they just had a difficult meeting?  Are they preoccupied with a different project?  Are they excited for an upcoming vacation?  In all this, body language and tone of voice are equally as important as verbiage.  The ability to view and read these cues progresses and matures as one develops closer connections; even after just six weeks, I feel much more comfortable interacting with my coworkers and knowing things such as optimal times for detailed questions.  Effective workplace communication is key to maintaining good office relationships and a productive business environment, so one must be very vigilant on maintaining good communication practices.

Meetings serve as special cases of ordinary workday interaction where the importance of communication is multiplied many times over.  Rather than reading the body language and trying to interpret the meanings of just one person’s words, a person must simultaneously monitor many others.  This must be done properly and while continuing to successfully transmit the primary information or message to everyone else.  It is particularly imperative that everyone is able to understand the central message, because otherwise, not just one person’s time is wasted, but the company loses the working time of everyone present.  During these interactions, not all responsibility lies with the speaker, though.  It is equally as important that listeners are engaged, taking notes or paying particular attention that they are not only hearing but also understanding what the speaker is trying to say.

To fully understand a subject, it is extremely helpful to supplement one’s own knowledge with that of their coworkers, and meetings are prime opportunities to do so.  As everyone is working towards a common goal in such an employee gathering, it may seem that complete concordance should always be maintained.  However, positive conflict and disagreement can do much towards improving ideas.  Theories and plans can only gain credibility when they have been challenged and analyzed from all angles, and meetings serve as fantastic opportunities for many employees to openly voice their opinions.  By challenging old assumptions and identifying and rectifying shortcomings in proposed solutions, workers can combine their areas of expertise to create a more effective, functional, foolproof plan.

This is not to say that people should be disagreeable or overly argumentative at meetings; rather, questions should be posed in a polite, non-accusatory way, clarifying previous statements and addressing improvements to plans rather than to people.  In all, though, unless in a purely lecturing situation, one should always try to express their opinions and voice their ideas in meetings, never assuming that everyone else is thinking along the same wavelength but instead attempting to add insight that may seem obvious but will end up benefitting everyone present and the company as a whole.

Effective communication is unquestionably needed for a company to optimally function, from emails between executives to general staff meetings.  Monitoring of body language and individual personalities, engaged listening, and productive disagreement can all help to improve communication between employees, and awareness and modification of even simple communication shortcomings can greatly improve employee relations and company efficiency.  As much as I can write about communication, though, the best way to improve is not by a class or article but by practice, so I encourage all readers to particularly concentrate on communication in their various workplace interactions this week!

Paul Birch

Paul was a KIG intern during the summer of '16 where he earned himself the nickname "Pauly-B." In 2019, he graduated from Penn State University with a Bachelor's degree in Risk Management and Actuarial Science. He is now an actuarial analysis at Aetna, where they probably just call him "Paul."

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