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Communicating honestly and effectively still matters

In today's world we have more ways to communicate than ever before. We chat via social media, smartphone applications and Skype, and many in the working world use video conferencing. Yet there is often no substitute for a face-to-face conversation.

When people meet face to face, there is verbal and non-verbal communication. It is the latter in particular that makes a face-to-face encounter more effective than an email or a chat message, since body language and facial expressions can speak volumes.

Effective verbal communication is a key success factor for any executive. There are many simple ways to communicate effectively, but the people who adopt these practices need to be mindful in order to stay on the right path to successfully getting their message across. The right issue is the starting point or the foundation of communication, which has four characteristics as follows:

1. Information is important: Conversation that focuses on the right information is necessary for a decision-maker in order to reach the proper decision. Discussion with no data or information is like walking into the dark without a flashlight. W Edwards Deming, the quality control champion who helped Japan rebuild after World War II, once said: "Without data you're just another person with an opinion."

It usually happens that a conversation involves less information than it should or, even worse, relies too much on imagination. The right information to be used for a meeting or conversation should be identified beforehand. This does not mean that nothing can be changed or added. It is a dynamic world. New information can be brought in at any time in verbal communication.

2. Fact, not fiction: Besides starting with the right information, we should engage in in-depth thought, not groundless imagination or instant, poorly considered responses. Discussions need to be rooted in logic and truth. If we know or see something, we can say we know or see. But if we do not know or see, we should not say we do. We should not say anything just to please others or for a reward.

In some cases, people become defensive and say they could not deliver what they promised because of conditions beyond their control. When we use this kind of argument, we have to seriously ask ourselves whether we can be considered dependable. It is important to deliver as committed.

This kind of logical discussion not only demonstrates the importance of keeping promises but also teaches us to have a clear and holistic view of the consequences of our statements. Hence, it can be implied that even before saying anything deep and analytical, based on facts and reliable information, it is necessary to be able to predict, or at least have a reasonably good idea of, the future outcome.

3. Keep your eye on the ultimate goal: It is crucial to have a clear idea of the purpose of one's work. This could refer to the vision of the organisation, corporate citizenship targets, cross-functional team projects, etc. Whatever it is, the expected result has to be clear from the start to the participants in a conversation or meeting.

Also, for communication to be truly effective, it should be about the present issue since talking about the past or future will waste time and energy. Abandoning idle chatter and keeping the topic connected to the goal at all times is advisable. Debating the wrong issue does not benefit anyone either.

4. Benefits to all: Smart people concentrate on the subject and the content that will benefit both the speaker and listener. In order to practise this approach successfully, one needs to be well prepared. This can be done though contemplative thinking and learning from others.

Stephen R Covey also identifies "think win-win" as one of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People in his famous book of the same name. But I consider this only a part of the story. Before a true win-win outcome can occur, there has to be honesty, respect and sincerity, which reflect a compassionate mindset.

People who feel compassion towards others will not lie. They are aware that lying will cause damage and misunderstanding for which one may have to accept consequences. In addition to a tangible outcome, one should also expect to build more goodwill for the future. Mindful people also know that regardless of how well-intentioned one may be, a white lie is never on their agenda.

In addition to respect for others, mindful people also respect themselves because they speak only words that do not harm themselves or others. For a successful conversation, keep in mind the importance of words that are endearing, agreeable and acceptable to others.

Sorayuth Vathanavisuth is the principal and executive coach at the Center for Southeast Asia Leadership and lectures at Mahidol University's College of Management. His areas of interest are corporate strategy, executive coaching and leadership development. He can be reached at