The six leadership styles

Different people have different personalities, skills and strengths and so do leaders. As a result, different leaders may have different styles of leadership, each coming from different components of the leader’s emotional intelligence. The purpose of this post is to give a brief introduction to each leadership style, its impact to the organization and when the style works best.

According to Goleman (2000), there are six leadership styles:

Six leadership styles

  • Coercive: A coercive leader demands immediate compliance from his followers. A phrase that can summarize this style is: “Do what I tell you”. This style should only be used (with extreme caution) in a few situations such as crisis, turnaround or dealing with problem employees. Other than that, this style should be avoided due to the fact that it may demotivate as well as reduce the morale and feelings of the followers. In general, the  Coercive style is the least effective in most situations and it has negative impacts to the organization.
  • Authoritative: An authoritative leader mobilizes people toward a vision. If this style can be summarized in one phrase, it will be “Come with me”. This style works well in almost any situation but it is particularly effective when changes require a new vision or when a clear direction is needed. However, this approach may fail when a leader is working with a team of experts who are more experienced than he is; they may see the leader as arrogant or out-of-touch. Generally speaking, the Authoritative style is the most effective one and it has positive impacts to the organization.
  • Affiliative: An affiliative leader creates harmony and builds emotional bonds. “People come first” is the slogan of this leadership style. The affiliative style should be used when leaders try to build team harmony, increase morale, improve communication, or repair broken trust. However, this style should not be used alone since it may allow poor performance to go uncorrected as well as affiliative leaders rarely provide directions to their followers. In general, the Affiliative style has positive impacts to the organization.
  • Democratic: A democratic leader forces consensus through participation. Their most popular question is “What do you think?”. The democratic style works best when a leader is himself uncertain about the best direction to take and needs ideas and guidance from able employees. And even if a leader has a strong vision, this style works well to generate fresh ideas for executing that vision. However, the disadvantages of this style can be endless meetings where ideas are mulled over, consensus remains elusive, and the only visible result is scheduling more meetings. As a result, the Democratic leadership style is not as good as other styles even though it also has positive impacts on the organization.
  • Pacesetting: A pacesetting leader sets high standards for performance. We usually hear he says “Do as I do, now”. This style works well when all employees are self-motivated, highly competent, and need little direction or coordination. However, employees may feel overwhelmed by the pacesetting leader’s demands for excellence, and their morale may drop. Similar to the Affiliative style, the Pacesetting style should not be used alone and in general, it has negative impacts to the organization.
  • Coaching: A coaching leader develops people for the future and he usually encourage his followers by saying “Try this”. This style works well in many situation but it is most effective when people on the receiving ends are “up for it”. In other words, the coaching style works best with employees who would like to improve their performance and want to be coached. On the contrary, the style may not work when employees are resistant to learning or when the leader lacks the expertise to help the employee. Generally speaking, the Coaching style has positive impacts to the organization.

Goleman’s research also shows that leaders with the best results do not rely on only one leadership style; they may use different style on different situations or combine them together. The more styles a leader exhibits, the better. Leaders who have mastered four or more, especially the Authoritative, Democratic, Affiliative, and Coaching styles, have the very best climate and business performance. And the most effective leaders switch flexibly among the six leadership styles as needed.

Goleman, D., 2000. Leadership that gets results. Harvard Business Review, March-April 2006, pp.78-90.

Common influence tactics

The definition of power, which is “the ability to influence the behavior of others”, shows a strong relationship between power and influence, all together with leadership. According to Hughes, Ginnett and Curphy (2011), understanding about leadership can not be achieved without understanding the concepts of power, influence and influence tactics. Followed up on the six sources of power, this post will list some common influence tactics that can be used to achieve power.

According to Bauer and Erdogan (2009), there are nine commonly used influence tactics:
  • Rational persuasion includes using facts, data, and logical arguments to try to convince others that your point of view is the best alternative. This is the most commonly applied influence tactic.
  • Inspirational appeals focus on values, emotions, and beliefs to gain support for a request or course of action. Such sayings like ““Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” (John  Kennedy) or “Stay hungry, stay foolish” (Steve Jobs) are good examples of this tactic. Inspirational appeals are effective when they are authentic, personal, big-thinking, and enthusiastic.
  • Consultation refers to the influence agent’s asking others for help in directly influencing another person or group. Consultation is most effective in organizations and cultures that value democratic decision making.
  • Ingratiation refers to different ways of making others feel good about themselves. Ingratiation is effective when it is honest, infrequent, and well intended.
  • Personal appeal refers to helping another person because you like them and they asked for your help. Personal appeals are most effective with people who know and like you.
  • Exchange refers to give-and-take in which someone does something for you, and you do something for them in return.
  • Coalition tactics refer to a group of individuals working together toward a common goal to influence others. Unions are common examples of coalitions within organizations.
  • Pressure refers to pushing someone to do what you want or else something undesirable will occur. This often includes threats and frequent interactions until the target agrees.  Pressure tactics are most effective when used in a crisis situation.
  • Legitimating tactics occur when the appeal is based on legitimate or position power. This tactic relies upon compliance with rules, laws, and regulations. It is not intended to motivate people but to align them behind a direction.
There are three possible outcomes from influence attempts:
  • Resistance: occurs when the influence target does not wish to comply with the request and either passively or actively repels the influence attempt.
  • Compliance: occurs when the target does not necessarily want to obey, but they do.
  • Commitment: occurs when the target not only agrees to the request but also actively supports it as well.

The following table shows the usage frequency and outcomes of each influence tactic:


Bauer, T. and Erdogan, B., 2009. Organizational Behavior. 1st ed. Flat World Knowledge, Inc.
Hughes, R., Ginnett, R. and Curphy, G., 2011. Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience. 7th ed. McGraw-Hill.

Common traps in decision making

In the previous post, we have discussed about different types of decisions as well as different decision making models. However, no matter which model is used, there are some common traps that we can fall in while making decisions. The purpose of this post is to introduce those traps and suggest how to avoid them.

Decision making traps

According to Hammond, Keeney and Raiffa (2006), there are six psychological traps that are particularly likely to undermine decisions:

1. The anchoring trap
The anchoring trap refers to the tendency for us to rely too heavily on the first information we receives. It is very common that initial impressions, estimates, or data can anchor our subsequent thoughts and judgments.

For example: When we are asked these two questions in sequence: “Is the population of Turkey greater than 35 million?” and “What is your best estimate of Turkey’s population?”, it is very likely that the number 35 million in the first question will influence your answer for the second question. To be more precise, your answer for the second question will be likely around 35 million, even though this number may not be in the reasonably accurate range.

Here are several ways to avoid or minimize the impact of the anchoring trap:
  • Always view a problem from different perspectives.
  • Think about the problem on your own before consulting others.
  • Be open-minded.
  • Be careful to avoid anchoring your advisers and consultants.
  • Be particularly wary of anchors in negotiations.

2. The status-quo trap
By nature, people resist to changes and therefore, decision makers usually have a strong bias toward alternatives that prolong the status quo.

For example: When people inherits shares of stock that they would never have bought themselves, most of them don’t sell the shares and put the money into a different investment. Even though selling those shares is a straightforward and inexpensive alternative, people usually find the status quo comfortable and they avoid taking action that would upset it.

Here are several ways to avoid the status quo trap:
  • Always remind yourself of your objectives and examine how they would be served by the status quo.
  • Never think of the status quo as your only alternative.
  • Ask yourself whether you would choose the status-quo alternative if, in fact, it weren’t the status quo.
  • Avoid exaggerating the effort or cost involved in switching from the status quo.
  • Remember that the desirability of the status quo will change over time.
  • If you have several alternatives that are superior to the status quo, don’t default to the status quo just because you are having a hard time picking the best alternative.

3. The sunk-cost trap
The sun-cost trap refers to the tendency that we are likely to make choice in a way that justifies past choices, even when the past choices no longer seem valid. This happens because we are unwilling, consciously or not, to admit to our past mistakes.

For example: We may have refused to sell a stock at a loss, forgoing other, more attractive investments. Or we may have poured enormous effort into improving the performance of an employee whom we knew we shouldn’t have hired in the first place.

Here are several ways to avoid the sunk-cost trap:
  • Seek out and listen carefully to the views of people who were uninvolved with the earlier decisions and who are hence unlikely to be committed to them.
  • Examine why admitting to an earlier mistake distresses you.
  • Don’t cultivate a failure-fearing culture that leads employees to continue their mistakes.

4. The confirming-evidence trap
The confirming-evidence trap refers to the bias that leads us to seek out information that supports our existing instinct or point of view while avoiding information that contradicts it. The confirming-evidence bias not only affects where we go to collect evidence but also how we interpret the evidence we do receive, leading us to give too much weight to supporting information and too little to conflicting information.

For example: An CEO of a company may have a concern that US dollar may appreciate against other currencies. Before making the decision to adjust the company’s plan to adapt to that assumption, he calls up an acquaintance, CEO of another similar company to check her reasoning. She presents a strong case that other currencies are about to weaken significantly against the dollar. If the CEO makes his decision right after being confirmed, he may fall into the confirming-evidence trap.

Here are several ways to avoid the confirming-evidence trap:
  • Avoid the tendency to accept confirming evidence without question.
  • Get someone you respect to play devil’s advocate, to argue against the decision you’re contemplating.
  • Ask yourself if you are really gathering information to help you make a smart choice or you are just looking for evidence confirming what you would like to do?
  • Do not ask leading questions that invite confirming evidence when seeking advice from others.

5. The framing trap
The framing trap refers to the tendency of decision makers to be influenced by the way that a situation or problem is presented.

For example: When making a purchase, customers tend to prefer a statement such as “90% fat free” as apposed to “10% fat” even though those two options are actually the same.

Here are several ways to avoid the framing trap:
  • Always try to reframe the problem in various ways and look for distortions caused by the frames.
  • Try posing problems in a neutral, redundant way that combines gains and losses or embraces different reference points.
  • When others recommend decisions, examine the way they framed the problem and challenge them with different frames.
6. The estimating and forecasting traps
This type of traps can be split into three:
  • The overconfidence trap refers to the tendency that individuals overestimate their ability to predict future events.
  • The prudence trap takes the form of overcautiousness, or prudence: When faced with high-stakes decisions, we tend to adjust our estimates or forecasts “just to be on the safe side”.
  • The recallability trap refers to the tendency that we can be overly influenced by dramatic events in the past, those that leave a strong impression on our memory.

Example for the overconfidence trap: 82% of the drivers surveyed feel they are in the top 30% of safe drivers and 86% of students at the Harvard Business School say they are better looking than their peers.
Example for the prudence trap: Engineers design weapons to operate under the worst possible combination of circumstances, even though the likeliness of those circumstances is actually very rare.
Example for the recallability trap: People usually exaggerate the probability of rare but catastrophic occurrences such as plane crashes because they get disproportionate attention in the media.

Here are several ways to avoid the estimating and forecasting traps:
  • To reduce the effects of overconfidence in making estimates, always start by considering the extremes, the low and high ends of the possible range of values.
  • To avoid the prudence trap, always state your estimates honestly and explain to anyone who will be using them that they have not been adjusted.
  • To minimize the distortion caused by variations in recallability, examine all your assumptions to ensure they’re not unduly influenced by your memory.

Hammond J. S., Keeney R. L. and Raiffa H., 2006. The Hidden Traps In Decision Making. Harvard Business Review, January 2006, pp.118-126.

Understanding decision making

1. Introduction
Decision making is a mental process of making choice among alternative courses of action, which may also include inaction. In organizations, decision making is a very popular activity that can happen at all levels. The purpose of this post is to provide some basic understandings about decision making as as different types of decisions and the four decision-making models. More practical discussion about decision making will be provided in later posts.

Decision making

2. Types of decisions
In general, decisions can be categorized into two types:
  • Programmed decisions: This type of decisions is straightforward and occurs frequently enough that we develop an automated response to them. Example of this type is the decisions of what to wear, what to eat, and which route to take when we travel between our home and the office.
  • Non-programmed decisions: This type of decisions is unique and important that requires  conscious thinking, information gathering, and careful consideration of alternatives. Decision of which job offer to take or which business model to follow is a good example of this type.
In organizations, decisions can be classified into three categories based on the level at which they occur:
  • Strategic decisions: are made by top management team and set the course of an organization.
  • Tactical decisions: are made by managers and are about how things will get done.
  • Operational decisions: are made each day by employees to make the organization run.

More details about the three categories of decisions can be found in the following table:

Three types of decisions in organization

3. Decision-making models
According to Bauer and Erdogan (2009), there are four models of decision-making:

Rational decision-making model:
This model describes a series of steps that decision makers should consider if their goal is to maximize the quality of their outcomes:


The disadvantage of this model is that it involves a number of unrealistic assumptions. It assumes that people know all the available choices, that they have no perceptual biases, and that they want to make optimal decisions. Research shows that this model does not represent how decisions are frequently made within organizations.

Bounded rationality model:
According to this model, individuals knowingly limit their options to a manageable set and accept the first alternative that meets their minimum criteria without conducting an exhaustive search for alternatives. This model helps us to make “good enough” decisions.

Intuitive decision-making model:
This model refers to arriving at decisions without conscious reasoning. This model is usually used under challenging circumstances such as time pressures, constraints, a great deal of uncertainty or changing conditions. In this model, only one choice is considered at a time and if it does not meet the criteria then it is discarded and a new choice is tested until a workable one is found.

Creative decision-making model:
This model refers to the generation of new, imaginative ideas and it has five steps:


  • Problem recognition: The need for problem solving becomes apparent.
  • Immersion: Consciously thinks about the problem and gathers information.
  • Incubation: Sets the problem aside and does not think about it for a while. At this time, the brain is actually working on the problem unconsciously.
  • Illumination: The insight moment when the solution to the problem becomes apparent, sometimes when it is least expected.
  • Verification & application: Verifies the feasibility of the solution and implements the decision

The following table suggests which decision-making model to use in a particular situation:

Decision making models

Bauer, T. and Erdogan, B., 2009. Organizational Behavior. 1st ed. Flat World Knowledge, Inc.

Tips for negotiating a higher salary

Every employee wants a higher salary, either when he is offered a new job or when he has been working for a company for a certain duration. But should we negotiate for a higher salary? The answer is Yes for both cases:
  • 58% of hiring managers say they leave some negotiating room when extending initial job offers.
  • Many hiring managers agree to a candidate’s request for a higher salary.
  • People who routinely negotiate salary increases will earn over $1 million more by retirement than people who accept an initial offer every time without asking for more.
  • The fact that an employee is doing a good job does not mean he will automatically get a raise because his boss may believe the employee is satisfied with what he is getting.

Salary negotiation

So, research supports the idea that you should negotiate for a higher salary if you think that you deserve it, either with the new job or the existing one. Here are the tips suggested by Bauer and Erdogan (2009) that you can use when negotiating salary:
  • Overcome your fear: Don’t be afraid of angering the boss if you think you deserve a higher salary. The boss may not know your contribution or he believe you are satisfied with your current salary.
  • Get the facts: Do some background research before the negotiation. Check within your company or the market to see if your expected salary is appropriate or not.

Salary negotiation

  • Build your case: Make a list of your contributions to the company and be sure to focus on the contributions that your boss values most. If another company has shown interest in you, mention that as a fact but do not use this as a threat unless you are prepared to take the other offer.
  • Know what you want: Set your expected salary based on your research and figure out:
    • What will happen if you can not get the expected salary? Will you quit or take offer from the other company?
    • What are the alternatives (such as higher title, more vacation, training …) that you can accept besides salary raise?

Salary negotiation

  • Begin assertively: Start the negotiation with your boss friendly with the list of your contributions to the company.
  • Don’t make the first offer: Instead, let’s your boss name the figure first. If your boss offer a range then ask for the high end. In case you are insisted to provide the figure, ask for the most that you can reasonably expect to get. This will leave some room for negotiation.
  • Listen more than talk: The more you listen, the better the boss will feel about you. People tend to like and trust people who listen to them.

Salary negotiation

  • Look for the future: If you can’t get a raise now, get your boss to agree to one in a few months if you meet agreed-upon objectives.

Bauer, T. and Erdogan, B., 2009. Organizational Behavior. 1st ed. Flat World Knowledge, Inc.


1. Introduction
Negotiation is a process in which two or more parties work toward an agreement. Negotiation can occur everywhere: in business, in organizations, between nations as well as in personal situations such as marriage, divorce, shopping and everyday life. In addition, negotiation is also a common way to deal with conflict. The purpose of this post is to provide some basic knowledge about negotiation such as:
  • The five phases of negotiation
  • The two approach for negotiation
  • Some common mistakes in negotiation
  • Third-party negotiation techniques


2. The five phases of negotiation
A typical negotiation process usually includes five phases:

Five phases of negotiation

  • Investigation: In this phase, information related to the negotiation process should be gathered. Here are a few questions that the parties can ask themselves in this investigation phase: What are my goals? What do I want to achieve? What would I concede? What would I absolutely not concede? What is the other party likely to want? Which aspects could be changed and which could not?
  • Determine BATNA: BATNA is an acronym for the “Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement”. In this phase, we need to know what our alternatives are. It should be noted that the party with the best BATNA has the best negotiating position, so the more possible  alternatives we can explore, the better it is. Here are some good practices when determining your BATNA:
    • Brainstorm a list of alternatives
    • Identify the most beneficial alternative to be kept in reserve as a fall-back
    • Keep revising the BATNA since they may evolve over time
    • Don’t reveal the BATNA to the other party
  • Presentation: In this phase, the parties assemble the information they have gathered in a way that supports their position.
  • Bargaining: In this phase, each party discusses their goals and seeks to get an agreement. A natural part of this process is making concessions, which means giving up one thing to get something else in return.
  • Closure: In this phase, either the parties have come to an agreement on the terms, or one party has decided that the final offer is unacceptable walked away from the negotiation. This phase is also a chance to learn why a deal can not be reached in case the negotiation fails.
3. Negotiation strategies
There are two approaches when negotiating:
  • Distributive approach: In this approach, negotiators see the situation as a pie that they have to divide between them. Each party tries to get more of the pie and “win”. This is also called the “win-lose” approach.
  • Integrative approach: In this approach, both parties look for ways to expand the pie, so that each party gets more. This is also called a “win–win” approach. This approach require cooperation, listening and trust between the parties.


4. Common mistakes in negotiation
According to Bauer and Erdogan (2009), there are five common mistakes in negotiation:
  • Accepting the first offer: Some people are taught to feel that negotiation is a conflict situation, and these individuals may tend to avoid negotiations to avoid conflict. However, research shows that those who accept the first offer without negotiating usually receive less than those who are willing to negotiate. Research also reveals that more women usually make this mistake than men.
  • Letting your ego get in the way: If we are thinking only about our own needs, it is very likely that the deal can not be made. People usually don’t accept a deal that doesn’t offer any benefit to them so it is very important to help the other party to meet their own goals while achieving ours.
  • Having unrealistic expectations: Setting reasonable goals that address each party’s concerns will decrease the tension in negotiation and will improve the chances of reaching an agreement.
  • Getting overly emotional: Research shows that those who express anger negotiate worse deals than those who do not. However, research also shows that those with more power may be more effective when displaying anger.
  • Letting past negative outcomes affect the present ones: Research shows that negotiators who had previously experienced ineffective negotiations were more likely to have failed negotiations in the future. In other words, there is actually a tendency to let the past repeat itself and being aware of this tendency allows us to overcome it.
5. Third-party negotiations
Sometimes, it is more effective to have a specially trained, neutral third party involved in the negotiation process, especially for challenging problems. There are several approach for third-party negotiations:
  • Mediation: In mediation, an outside third party (the mediator) enters the situation with the goal of assisting the parties in reaching an agreement. The mediator can work with both parties to facilitate, suggest, and recommend but does not represent either side. The mediator’s role is to help the parties share feelings, air and verify facts, exchange perceptions, and work toward agreements. This approach should be used when:
    • The parties are unable to find a solution themselves.
    • Personal differences are standing in the way of a successful solution.
    • The parties have stopped talking with one another.
    • Obtaining a quick resolution is important.
  • Arbitration: In arbitration, the parties submit the dispute to the third-party arbitrator. It is the arbitrator who makes the final decision.
  • Mediation – Arbitration: This approach starts with mediation and then followed by arbitration. At the beginning, the third party will play the role as the mediator to facilitate the negotiation process. After that, the final decision will be made by the arbitrator.
  • Arbitration – Mediation: In this approach, both parties formally make their cases before the arbitrator. The arbitrator then makes a decision and places it in a sealed envelope. Following this, the two parties work through mediation. If they are unable to reach an agreement on their own, the arbitration decisions will be applied.

Bauer, T. and Erdogan, B., 2009. Organizational Behavior. 1st ed. Flat World Knowledge, Inc.

Effective meetings

Similar to communication, meetings can be considered as a primary process for organizational life. As a result, it is essential to keep meetings effective because they can have significant contribution to the productivity and the success of an organization. In general, meetings can be categorized into 5 types:
  • Informational: The main purpose of the meeting is to provide the information to the attendants.
  • Problem solving: The attendants work together to find solution for a specific problem.
  • Decision making: The attendants discuss together to make a decision on a specific issue.
  • Planning: The attendants work together to provide planning for an objective or a project.
  • Feedback: The main purpose of the meeting is to react or evaluate an issue or a situation.

Effective meetings

From my experience, most of the meetings are not very effective. Here are several popular complains that I usually heard about meetings:
  • People come to the meeting without knowing about the purpose of it.
  • Irrelevant people are invited to the meeting.
  • People do not know what are the expected outputs of the meeting.
  • Attendants are not prepared for the meeting.
  • Sometimes the meeting ends with no outcome.
  • Meeting takes longer than expected.
  • There are no follow-up actions after the meeting.
Effective meetings
In general, meetings are effective when they:
  • Are held only when needed
  • Have a specific purpose and expected results
  • Are held at an appropriate location and time
  • Have the right participants
  • Have a clear agenda
  • Start on time and end on time
  • Stick to the agenda
  • Encourage everyone’s participation
  • Have balanced and productive discussions
  • Have minutes and distribute them
  • Have follow-up plan if it is required

Effective meetings
In my company, we have adapted some of those ideas to create some kinds of “templates” for effective meetings. There are two templates: one for meeting invitation and one for the structure of the meeting.

The template for meeting invitation suggest that the invitation should have the following information:
  • Purpose: Why do we have this meeting?
  • Background: Some background information about the topic of the meeting. This can be optional.
  • Agenda: Agenda with time frame is strongly encouraged.
  • Expected outcomes: Whether it is a document, a plan, a solution or a decision.
  • Homework: What attendees should do to prepare for the meeting.
Here is the template for the structure of an effective meeting:
  • Purpose, expected outcomes and agenda: Even though these information are available in the meeting invitation, they should be confirmed again by the facilitator at the start of the meeting.
  • Follow-up from last time: If this is a follow-up meeting, the facilitator should update the attendants with the progress of follow-up actions since the last meeting before going to the main agenda.
  • The main agenda: Now it is time to follow the items in the agenda.
  • Conclusion: Sum up and compare the actual outcomes with the expected outcomes.
  • Follow-up plan: Decide on what the next actions are or when the next meeting will happen. This can be optional.
  • Taking notes: This step happen from the beginning to the end of the meeting. Each meeting must have a note-taker role appointed. Note-taker will send meeting minutes to all stakeholders right after the meeting.

Tips for effective communication

The previous post is all about theoretical knowledge of communication. In this post, I will make it more practical by suggesting tips that can be used to improve the effectiveness of communication. The tips will be categorized into 4 sections: conversation, listening, writing and emails.


Tips for better conversation
  • Think before you speak: Some people response very quickly to other’s saying or questions, thinking that it would make them look smart. However,  a careful silence moment for preparation can make us sound more intelligent and prevent mistakes.
  • Be receptive to new ideas: By saying “Tell me more” instead of “That’s stupid” when hearing something that you do not agree to can help you to get more information and move the conversation forward.
  • Ask questions: This show that you are interested in the topic.
  • Listen as much, if not more, than you speak: You can not learn from the conversation if you are the only one who speak.
  • Use eye contact: Eye contact shows that you are engaged in the conversation. It should be noted that for some cultures, it is rude to maintain eye contact with the speakers. For other cultures, such as in the US, maintaining eye contact shows that you are a trustworthy person.
  • Mirror the other person:  Repeat what the other say in your own words “So you mean that …”.
  • Have an exit strategy: Sometimes, good conversation is a brief one, leaving others wanting more.
Tips for active listening:
  • Pay attention: This can be done by keeping eye contact with the speaker and avoiding having distracted thoughts. Research also shows that people listen more effectively when they do nothing else at the same time. So no multitasking while listening, including taking note. In addition, the body language of the speaker should also be checked to see if it actually matches with the message or not. If they do not match, the message should be confirmed with the speaker.
  • Show that you are listening: This can be done by nodding occasionally or by other facial expressions such as smiling. In addition, such small verbal comments as “Uh…”, “Yes…” should be used to encourage the speaker.
  • Provide feedback: This can be done by asking questions or reflecting what has been said by paraphrasing.
  • Defer judgment: Preparing for counter arguments while listening is strongly not recommended. This is also consistent with the first tip about no multitasking while listening. In addition, it is very important not to interrupt the speakers with counter arguments. Interrupting can be offensive and aggressive in some situations.
  • Silence can be a beautiful thing: It is totally fine to have a moment of silence for some preparation before you start your turn to speak.
Tips for effective writing:
  • Picture the receiver in your mind before you begin to write: This can help you to select the words and expressions that can be understood by the readers.
  • Choose simple words: For words that have the same meaning, simpler one should be used. For example, “car” should be used instead of “automobile”.
  • Be polite: It is always good to be polite in your writing.
  • Trim redundant words or phrases: “Having thus explored our first option, I would now like to begin to explore the second option that may be open to us.” should be replaced by “After considering option 1, I would like to look at option 2”.
  • Choose strong, active verbs: Instead of writing “It would seem to me that we might…”, “I suggest…” should be used.
Tips for emails:
  • Be concise: The shorter the email is, the better it is. It is also a good practice to have only one topic for one email.
  • Communicate “action steps” first, not last: Make the request in the first line (or even in the subject) of the email. Repeat the request again at the end if the email is long.
  • Number the questions or ideas: When there are multiple questions or ideas in the email, they should be numbered. This can help the recipients to address those questions or ideas more quickly in their replies.
  • Include deadlines: If the request in the email has a deadline, it should also be included in the email.
  • Use “FYI” for emails that have no actionable information: This is more convenient for the recipients to prioritize their emails.
  • Tell them that you will get to it later: This can minimize the anxiety of the senders and prevent them from sending the email again.
  • Avoid sending “Thanks!” emails: This can be arguable. Some people prefer receiving replied email with just the word “Thanks!” but for some people, this type of email is quite spammy because it has no value information.
  • Check before “Reply All”: This is to avoid sending sensitive information to some recipients who should not receive it or spamming unrelated recipients with irrelevant information.

Bruno Kahne . (2008). Lessons of Silence. Available: Last accessed 26th Nov 2012.

Jocelyn K. Glei. (2010). Email Etiquette for the Super-Busy. Available: Last accessed 26th Nov 2012.

Mind Tools. (2012). Active Listening: Hear What People are Really Saying. Available: Last accessed 26th Nov 2012.

Talya Bauer and Berrin Erdogan (2009). Organizational Behavior. USA: Flat World Knowledge, Inc.


During my bachelor degree at University of Technology, Sydney, I had a course called “Engineering Communication”. That was a compulsory course for all engineering students and it was a 6 credits one. Basically the course taught us a lot of knowledge about communication as well as good practices to have effective communication not only at work but also in our daily life. It has been nearly 10 years since I studied that course and I still appreciate it. The course does not only improve my communication skills but it also helps me to acknowledge the significant importance of communication, both at work and in my daily life. As a result, I would like to write about this interesting topic, may be in several posts. I will begin with the general knowledge about communication in this post. Discussion about good practices and tips for effective communication will be provided in the next post.

1. Understanding communication

According to Webster’s dictionary, communication is a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior. The following diagram explains the communication process:
Communication process
A communication process must have at least two people: a sender and a receiver. The sender has some ideas in his mind and he translates the ideas into words by encoding the message. The medium of this encoded message can be spoken words, written words or signs. This message is transmitted to the receiver and the receiver decodes the message by assigning meaning to the words. However, the understanding of the receiver about the message may not be the same as what the sender means. This problem is caused by noise. Noise is anything that interferes with or distorts the message being transformed and it can be both external or internal. External noise is noise that is in the environment such as distractions whereas internal noise occurs within the sender or the receiver. For example, the sender may be too upset to encode an accurate message or the receiver may be too nervous to pay attention to the message.

Communication is important due to the following reasons:
  • In most organizations, communication is considered as one of the most important soft skills that employees should have and it is assessed in most performance appraisal evaluations.
  • Researches have shown that from 50% to 90% of a manager’s time is spent on communicating.
  • Poor communication also has significant impact on productivity. According to Bauer and Erdogan (2009), 14% of each workweek is wasted on poor communication.
  • Miscommunication is a causal factor in approximately 70% to 80% of all accidents (Bauer and Erdogan, 2009).

2. Types of communication

There are 3 types of communication:
  • Verbal: Verbal communications take place over in person or over the phone. The medium of the message is oral.
  • Written: The medium of the message in written communications is printed.
  • Nonverbal: In nonverbal communications, the messages are transmitted via eye contacts, tone of voice, facial expressions, postures, touches, body languages or even the distance between the sender and the receiver.

Research has shown that only 7% of a receiver’s comprehension of a message is based on the sender’s actual words, 38% is based on para-language (the tone, pace, and volume of speech), and 55% is based on nonverbal cues such as body language (Bauer and Erdogan, 2009). Another interesting fact is that our average speaking speed is just approximately 150 words per minute whereas the listening speed is about 400-500 words per minute. This simply means that the audience has more than enough time to hear and as a result, their minds may wander during the conversation.

In communication, the distance between the speakers is also important and this varies from culture to culture. The following chart shows the relationship between the distance and the intimacy level between people when communicating in Western culture:
Communication distance
People have intimate distance when they are really close to each other such as couples. Personal distance is for friends and family members whereas social distance is the distance that one keep with strangers. The distance between people while communicating can tell the intimacy level between them and vice versa, people adjust the distance according to the relationship between them. However, this can vary from culture to culture. For instance, people in such Asian cultures as Vietnamese or Chinese may stay closer when communicating and the chart above may not be applied to them.

3. Communication channels

Different communication channels have different levels of information richness. The following table illustrate that:
Information richness
The key to effective communication is to match the communication channel with the goal of the message. The following table suggests the usage of written communication versus verbal communication depending on the scenarios:
Written communication versus verbal communication

4. Barriers to effective communication

There are a lot of barriers to effective communication. In this post, I only discuss the four barriers that are important in my opinion:

Selective perception
Selective perception refers to the fact that we automatically filter what we see and hear to suit our own needs. This process happens unconsciously and it can act as a time-saver to help us process huge and complex information. However, it can also lead us to missing important or urgent information.

Information overload
Information Overload
In this information age, we are bombarded daily with so much information that we can take in. Those information can come from many sources: TV, newspapers, magazines, mail, emails, faxes and the world wide web. Research shows that information overload can significantly impacts our efficiency, creativity, and mental acuity.

Emotional disconnects
Emotional disconnects
Emotional disconnects happen when the sender or the receiver is emotional upset. A sender who is emotionally upset may be unable to present ideas or feelings effectively. Similarly, a receiver who is emotionally upset tends to ignore or distort what the sender is saying.

Same words can mean different things (or sometimes, nothing at all) to different people and this is called semantics. This usually happens with the usage of acronyms. For example, in my company, we have a project called DFS, which stands for Dragon Fly System. This same DFS acronym may have different meanings for different companies: for an IT company, DFS can stand for Distributed File System whereas for another company, it can stand for Department of Financial Services. Semantics can also happen in the usage of buzzwords, business jargons or technical jargons. For instance, the word “driver” can be understood as a person who drive a car but as a technical jargon, it also means “a computer program that operates or controls a particular type of device that is attached to a computer”.

5. References

Bauer, T. and Erdogan, Berrin., 2009. Organizational Behavior. 1st ed. Flat World Knowledge, Inc.