Chapter 1: Strategic Thinking for Smart Business Communication

Chapter 1: Strategic Thinking for Smart Business Communication

Chapter 1: Strategic Thinking for Smart Business Communication

Strategic Thinking for Smart Business Communication Objectives


In today’s diverse global economy, effective communication has become a key “make or break” component of business success. After completing this lecture, you will be able to answer the following questions:

  • How can you prepare yourself for today’s business world?
  • How does communication affect business successes and failures?
  • What are the four elements of any communication exchange?
  • What are the three levels of listening, and how do they relate to communication?
  • What three questions will help you think strategically about any communication exchange?
  • How can the skills you learn in this course help you in college, your career, and life?

Learning Objective 1

Prepare Yourself for Today’s Business World

How can you prepare yourself for today’s business world?

Many professionals agree that the world of business is dynamically changing. Because of this, it is important to prepare yourself in the following areas:

  • Diversity in the workforce
  • Global competition
  • Business climate
  • Communication in the 21st century


Some people think of diversity in terms of race and gender, but diversity in the workforce can show up in many ways, from varying skill levels and professional backgrounds, to differing work habits, age levels, cultural values, and so forth. Diversity can affect how people work together.

There are highly visible and less visible ways in which people differ from one another on the job. Click on the upper part of the iceberg below to learn more about the highly visible examples of diversity. Then, click on the lower part to learn about the less visible examples.

[Upper Iceberg:] Age, Gender, Language, Race, Physical abilities, Physical disabilities

[Lower Iceberg:] Beliefs, Values, Cultural practices, Sexual orientation, Political orientation, Professional background, Skills, Nationality, Work habits, Learning abilities

Global Competition

You will not only be working with people from diverse backgrounds but also will be competing with them for the best jobs in the market. Becoming gainfully employed today is different from 20 years ago. During 2000 to 2003, somewhere between one-quarter to one half-million U.S. service jobs moved to low-wage countries. This trend continues today. Today, students find themselves considering opportunities around the globe, some of which require working and communicating from remote, or off-site job locations. It’s smart to start thinking globally about your job search now and how telecommunications can help you make virtual connections around the world.

Business Climate

The last few years have presented economic challenges that have affected all areas of business. Beginning in 2008, industries shrank, and unemployment rates rose around the world. You can’t do much about the state of the economy. However, you can be smart about your education to position yourself to take advantage of the best career opportunities in the marketplace.


The leaders of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, an organization made up of education and business professionals across the country, have taken a careful look at what the 21st century workplace demands of employees and what it rewards. In response, they have developed a “Framework for 21st Century Learning” identifying that knowledge and the skills employees need to be successful. Exhibit 1-2 outlines them.

Click on each of the boxes below to learn more about the framework for 21st Century Learning.

Core Subjects & 21st Century Themes

  • Global awareness
  • Financial, economic, business, and entrepreneurial literacy
  • Civic literacy—community service
  • Health literacy

Information, Media, & Technology Skills

  • Information literacy
  • Media literacy
  • ICT (Information, communications, and technology)

Life & Career Skills

  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Initiative and self-direction
  • Social and cross-cultural skills
  • Productivity and accountability
  • Leadership and responsibility

Learning & Innovation Skills

  • Creativity and innovation
  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Communication and collaboration

Learning Objective 2

The Effect of Communication on Business

How does communication affect business successes and failures?

It is important to understand the direct link between communication skills and business results. Consider the following:

  • No matter how great the product or service, it will not be sold unless effective communication occurs.
  • Communication and business are therefore always tightly linked.
  • Good communication is the lifeblood of any business.
  • Failed communication will result in a loss of reputation, time, opportunity, talent, and revenues.

Click through the numbered steps at the bottom of the page to learn more about how communication affects business.

1. Communication Failure

When business communication failures occur, not only do exchanges not occur, but time, opportunities, and revenues are lost. Click on each of the colored topics below to learn more about how communication can fail:

What Suffers When Communication Fails…


A memo went out to 100 employees detailing changes to their healthcare and benefits structure. However, because the manager did not want to upset the staff, she embedded several important points in long paragraphs.

The result was a confusing, long-winded memo that caused many employees to call Human Resources and complain. After hours of calming distraught employees, another memo was sent to clarify the message.


A sales representative for a lumber company called on the largest home builder in his territory. Due to his poor sales presentation and lack of follow-up skills, the unimpressed customer went elsewhere for his lumber purchases.

The sales representative’s lack of training cost the lumber company the account—and millions of dollars in business.


A senior manager failed to listen, clarify goals and procedures, and support her staff through effective communication. This caused her talented employees to look elsewhere for work.

The costs of recruiting and training talent, and then losing employees because of failed communication, can add up quickly and cause troubling morale problems.

Communicating effectively to retain the best and brightest workers must be a priority for any company.


Merck, the pharmaceutical company, went to trial to defend its drug Vioxx. The company was unable to effectively communicate scientific explanations about the drug to the jury, which ultimately cost Merck the verdict.

Losing a highly visible trail not only hurt the company’s bottom line, but its reputation as well.

2. Most Valued Skills and Qualities

An impressive résumé and a high GPA might land you an interview, but you’ll need an arsenal of tangible and intangible skills to make a grade-A impression. These are some of the skills and qualities that employers value the most:

  • Critical-thinking skills
  • Written and verbal communication skills
  • Listening skills
  • Conflict-resolution and problem-solving skills
  • Computer/technical skills
  • Arithmetic/math skills
  • Ability to be organized, multitask, and meet deadlines
  • Ability to work well with others/teamwork
  • Energy/passion/enthusiasm/initiative/positive and professional attitude
  • Dedication/loyalty/reliability
  • Flexibility
  • Self-confidence and self-motivation
  • Honesty/integrity/morality
  • Creativity/innovation
  • Sense of humor


  • Proofreading/attention to detail
  • Money management/budget skills
  • Willingness to learn
  • Leadership abilities
  • Long-term potential
  • Analytical skills
  • Interpersonal abilities
  • Intelligence
  • Social skills

3. Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Communication

See the graphic below to learn more about interpersonal communication. For tips on improving your interpersonal skills, click on the purple arrow.

Intrapersonal Communication

  • The communication you have with yourself that then informs how you communicate with others
  • Having internal thoughts and conversations
  • Listening to your “inner voice”
  • Reminding yourself to go with the flow
  • Telling yourself to relax

Interpersonal Communication

  • The process of exchanging words and ideas with another person; evolves from intrapersonal communication
  • Expressing ideas, your tone, mannerisms, and gestures
  • Interpreting what is being said along with nonverbal cues

[Purple Arrow:]

  • If the communication is face to face, maintain eye contact.
  • Don’t multitask during conversations.
  • Try to express your points clearly and concisely while providing the background information listeners need.
  • Concentrate on hearing others, even if you don’t agree with what they are saying.
  • Don’t let your mind race ahead to what you want to say next. Instead stay in the moment and listen to what others are saying.
  • Ask questions if you don’t understand, and use questions to draw others into the conversation if necessary.
  • If the conversation is emotionally charged, take a breath before you respond. Don’t raise your voice.
  • Try to avoid making assumptions about the person with whom you are speaking. Instead concentrate on the information being conveyed.

Learning Objective 3

The Four Elements of Any Communication Exchange

What are the four elements of any communication exchange?

Whether you are writing a letter, composing an e-mail, reciting a speech, or presenting an idea to a teammate, the keys to communication are the same. Click on each of the steps in the diagram at the bottom of the page to learn about the four elements of communication and see an example of each element. What happens when parts of this four-step flow break down? Click through the steps below to see examples of communication breakdowns.

  1. Messenger formulates the idea to be communicated.

An employee wants to ask her boss for a raise. She has been with the company for over a year and believes she has performed well on the job.

  1. Messenger delivers the message through a channel.

The employee sends a formal letter to her boss requesting a raise and detailing the reasons why she believes she deserves it.

  1. Recipient receives and interprets the message.

The boss reads the letter and agrees with her employee’s justifications for a raise. She decides to increase her salary at the start of the next month.

  1. Recipient provides sender with feedback.

An employee fails to submit his justification for a raise in a well-documented and well-written e-mail format. His poor business communication, in his manager’s view, matches his average job performance. He doesn’t get a raise.

1. Level of Formality

Gear the format to the audience at hand.

Communication Scenario: The sales rep has developed her message in the form of a speech and multimedia presentation.

Communication Breakdown: This won’t allow for an interactive question/answer session.

2. Poor Lighting

Choose appropriate lighting to promote alertness.

Communication Scenario: The recipients of the sales rep’s message sit in a dark conference room as they listen to and decode the message.

Communication Breakdown: The room should be bright enough for group alertness and note taking. If the light is too dim, it can reduce the audience’s attention.

3. Audience Receptivity

Tailor the message to the current needs of the audience.

Communication Scenario: New math textbooks are not a priority for some of the superintendents in the audience who deal with large budget cuts.

Communication Breakdown: This fact clouds their receptivity to the sales rep’s message. Take into careful account any overriding issues some listeners may be having.

4. Diversity of Visual Aids

The content of visual aids should reflect the demographics (age, gender, race, nationality, etc.) of the target audience.

Communication Scenario: The sales rep’s slides contain images of Caucasian males only. However, the student population is more diverse.

Communication Breakdown: If the visual aids don’t reflect the demographics of the audience, audience members may not connect with the message.

Learning Objective 4

The Three Levels of Listening and Their Relationship …

What are the three levels of listening, and how do they relate to communication?

Listening is not simply the act of hearing. It is a process of actively gathering information through hearing and the ability to read nonverbal cues, such as a person’s hand gestures, facial features, and body language.

Click the tabs to learn about the three levels of listening.

Levels of Listening

Surface Listening

  • Listening while distracted, without paying full attention.
  • Results in superficial understanding while missing important details.

Listening for Meaning

  • Listening to the point of being able to give appropriate feedback about the message.
  • Results in being able to extract meaning from the message.

Perceptive Listening

  • Listening for what is unsaid as well as for what is said.
  • Requires taking into account nonverbal cues while determining the overall gist of the communication.

Barriers to Effective Listening

There are four main barriers to effective listening: assuming, advising, showboating, and overreacting. Click on each of the barriers in the table below to learn more about strategies for dealing with them.

Barriers to Effective Listening / Strategies for Dealing with Listening Barriers
Assuming you know the answer or what is going to be said.
Making assumptions limits your ability to fully listen. They can lead you to interrupt the speaker, prejudge the message, or formulate a hasty response. / Don’t comment until the speaker is completely finished. Remind yourself to keep an open mind.
Trying to be helpful and offer solutions.
Although your intention might be to help the speaker, your efforts to offer solutions can short circuit your hearing the complete message. You can get caught up in delivering the best advice at the expense of hearing the whole problem. / Listen to the speaker as if you are a detective gathering information. Later, if appropriate, offer any advice you might have.
Aiming to impress or influence.
Trying to come up with great comebacks, interesting questions, and so forth, can distract you from fully hearing the message. / People enjoy being heard. The fact that you are a capable and conscientious listener will impress people and make them want to communicate with you.
Reacting to strong words or red flags.
Certain phrases, words, or examples can cause an emotional reaction that is unintended. This, in turn, can color your listening and become a barrier to your understanding the true meaning of the message. / Ask the speaker for clarification, if possible. Generally, your desire to clearly understand the message will be appreciated. If the situation doesn’t allow you to ask for clarification, keep an open mind. Know that people interpret different phrases, words, and examples differently.

Learning Objective 5

Thinking Strategically about Communication Exchanges

What three questions will help you think strategically about any communication exchange?

One of the keys to business success is to think strategically about communication. There are three questions that you can ask yourself, which will help you think strategically before attending that meeting, pressing that “send” button, or making that announcement. Click through the numbered steps at the bottom of the page to find out what these three questions are and to learn more about them.

1. What Is the Purpose of My Communication?

What do you want to accomplish? If your purpose is to inform others of a changing policy, you must first understand the policy, consider the consequences changing it will create, and the questions the new policy might generate. The bottom line: Do your homework. Know all that you can about what you are trying to communicate. Purpose is different from context. Reflecting on your purpose will help you organize your thoughts so that you include all the essential elements in your message. This step aligns your message with the expected outcomes you hope to achieve.

2. How Should the Message Be Adapted for the Recipient or Audience?

Not considering the audience is perhaps the number-one cause for failed communication. Knowing your audience can make or break your communication efforts. Take into account the following: The audience’s communication medium preferences, the audience’s abilities and limitations, and the timing of the message. Considering your audience will help ensure you have crafted your message so that it will be well received by your recipients. This step will help you to eliminate many of the interference factors that can derail your communication.

3. How Can Goodwill Be Created and a Positive Impact Be Made?

Business relationships are built as a result of goodwill, the value a company creates for itself by developing positive business relationships; demonstrating loyalty to its customers, employees, and community; and committing to conscientious and ethical business practices. Creating goodwill should always be a goal in your business communication, especially when you are dealing with conflict or delivering bad news. Taking extra time to connect with your recipient in a positive way can build and sustain business relationships and add value to the company. Click on the boxes in the graphic at the bottom of the page to learn more about creating goodwill and a positive impact with written or spoken communication.