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Communication Skills - a Simple Method to Improve your Skills

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Posted 16 May 2011 by Chris FarmerChris Farmer

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You may find the following will help with the development of your communication skills training.

Communication skills: A simple method to improve your skills

Communication is the accurate transfer of information and emotion.

The key word here is Accurate.

An inaccurate transfer of information would spell trouble for all concerned.
An inaccurate transfer of information would lead to people doing the wrong things: and that leads to confusion and conflict.

So, accurate communication is a virtue:

And vagueness is a vice.
Vagueness is "any word or phrase that can properly be interpreted in more than one way".

Vagueness is a vice:

Clarity is a virtue.

You should become sensitive to those words and phrases that introduce vagueness into your thoughts and language. Treat them as sources of infection: they need to be identified and destroyed so that they do not corrupt your message.

I want to bring to your attention one of the major sources of such infection and corruption

It is a word that everyone loves to use:
Hardly anyone knows that it is a poor choice of wording.
(You will soon join the select group of those who do!)

Beware of the question word: WHY?


The question word "why" is vague: i.e. ambiguous: i.e. has more than one meaning: and therefore must be treated with caution or even replaced!

To explain
"Why?" has TWO, major and different, possible meanings:
"Why?" in the sense of "For what purpose?"
"Why?" in the sense of "For what reason?"

Communication Skills Training

Communication Skills Training

Do you ever think to yourself, "I know what I mean, but I can't explain it"? You need to be able communicate facts, feelings, information and ideas, in a clear, professional and confident manner. If you want to learn more about our communication skills training, please click here.

For example: to illustrate this point, on training courses, I ask the delegates to consider the following question:

"Why am I here, in front of you, doing this training?"

This question may properly be interpreted as:
"For what purpose, am I here, in front of you doing this training?"

Notice that this is a future based orientation: it looks towards the future to obtain the answer.
So you might answer in the following way:

In order to:

  1. Teach the material
  2. Improve the skills of the delegates
  3. Earn money

BUT......The same question may properly be interpreted as:

"What causes have led up to me being here in front of you conducting the training?

Notice that this version looks back into the past to obtain the answer.

You might answer as follows:

You are here because:

  1. Three months ago our training manager discovered a training need centred around communication skills.
  2. She found your website on the GOOGLE.
  3. She spoke to you, and as a result of your discussions, she decided to run the programme using you..

Notice again, that this is past tense!
So please note and remember this:

The question "why?" is ambiguous

EVERY time you hear the word, see the word, say the word, and think the word, then:

Split it into two meanings and label them, as:

  1. For what purpose (future tense)
  2. For what causes, reasons? (Past tense)

Then decide:

  • Which one do you really mean? Purpose or reason?
  • What are they really asking for here? Purpose or reason?

Don't guess.

  • If in doubt check it out,


  • Answer both possibilities.

Concrete Example

This issue came up at home yesterday when Scotty was asked in a school biology paper, the following question:
In 1847, in Vienna, why did the surgeons and doctors, start washing their hands between patients?

The answer that the teacher was looking for was
"The surgeons began washing their hands between patients In order to kill any microscopic organisms (bacteria and fungi and viruses) that may lead to an infection".

Note that this statement presupposes the "for what purpose" version of Why.

The answer that Scott gave was as follows:
"Because it had been observed that the death rate of women giving birth IN the hospital was greater than for those woman giving birth at home, away from the hospital. So there was some factor that was causing the increased death rate in women".

Note that this statement presupposes the "what causes" version of why.

Here is the sting in the tail of the story.

Scot was awarded NO MARKS for his answer.
BUT Scott's answer was a correct answer.
Can you see that there was an ambiguity present in the framing of the question?

Question: How could you have rephrased the question in order to avoid the confusion?

My suggestion to you:

When you are writing, thinking, speaking: don't ask WHY? Unless you specify which version you mean.

WHY? In the sense of "for what purpose?

Example: For what purpose did you move to London to live?

Why, is the sense of "what caused"

Example: What caused you to move to London to live?

In addition:

Don't answer the question until you have clarified with the questioner, which version he/she has in mind.
If you cannot verify (because the question is a written one), then answer both version: purpose and reason.

For more information about communication skills training visit the Corporate Coach Group website

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