Verbal Communication Skills

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Words are a powerful tool. Knowing how we use words to communicate is vital in understanding where it fits into diversity. Saying the right thing or even more important not saying the wrong thing will help you in your everyday life. Through this module we will touch on differences between listening and hearing, and asking the right questions and communicating with power.

Listening and Hearing; They Aren’t the Same Thing

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Hearing is the act of perceiving sound by the ear. Assuming an individual is not hearing-impaired, hearing simply happens. However listening is something that one consciously chooses to do. It requires concentration to allow the brain to process the meaning from words and sentences.

Listening leads to learning, but this is not always an easy task.  Adults speak at a normal rate of 100-150 words per minute.  The brain, however, can think at 400-500 words per minute, leaving extra time for daydreaming, or anticipating the speaker’s next words.

Listening Skills

Listening skills can be learned and refined. The art of active listening allows you to fully receive a message from another person. Especially during a conversation with someone who has a different accent or perhaps a speech impediment. Active listening allows you to be sensitive to the multiple dimensions of the communication that make up an entire message.  These listening dimensions include:

  • What is the reason the person is communicating with me now?
  • What does the length of the message tell me about its importance?
  • How is the message being made? 
  • What clues do the loudness and speed of speaking give me?
  •  How do pauses and hesitations enhance or detract from the message?
  • What do eye contact, posture, or facial expressions tell me that perhaps words do not?

Barriers to Effective Listening

In order to listen effectively, one must overcome several barriers to receiving the message:

  • The message content
  • The appeal of the speaker
  • Any external distractions
  • Emotional interjections
  • The level of clarity in the language
  • Perceiving only parts of the message selectively
  • The absence of or poor, inappropriate feedback

Communication at Meetings

People from some cultural groups prefer in-person meetings more than other groups. Face-to-Face meetings are more important to people from Africa, East, South and Central Asia, and the Middle East and Arabic countries. Virtual (electronic) meetings work for Latin Americans, and people from Europe, Australia, and North America.

Using an Interpreter

There may be times — especially if you work in an organization with locations around the world – which the use of an interpreter can help overcome language barriers as everyone listens. This reduces frustration with the communication process, and allows participants to stay focused on understanding the messages.

Asking Questions

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Especially when communicating interpersonally in a diverse workplace environment, good question-asking skills are critical so that the message you are receiving is accurate and complete.

Active listeners use specific questioning techniques to elicit more information from speakers.  Below are three types of questions to use when practicing active listening.

Open Questions

Using an open question stimulates thinking and discussion or responses, including opinions or feelings.  Open questions pass control of the conversation to the respondent. Leading words in open questions include: Why, what, or how, as in the following examples:

  • What are our benchmarks for improving our diversity training?
  • How are we conducting diversity initiatives in our organization?

Clarifying Questions

Asking a clarifying question helps to remove ambiguity, elicits additional detail, and guides the answer to a question. Frame your question as someone trying to understand in more detail. Often asking for a specific example is useful. This also helps the speaker evaluate his or her own opinions and perspective. Below are some examples:

  • I’m not sure I understood that correctly. How will we deliver the online training?
  • I heard your proposed budget number, but what sort of diversity program training modules can we really afford?

Closed Questions

Closed questions usually require a one-word answer, and effectively shut off discussion.  Closed questions provide facts, allow the questioner to maintain control of the conversation, and are easy to answer. Typical leading words are: Is, can, how many, when, or does.  While closed questions are not the optimum choice for active listening, at times they are necessary, and may be helpful when you are interacting with someone who speaks in a different language or who has a speech impediment. Examples of closed questions are: 

  • Do we have a diversity program at our company?
  • When will the new inclusivity training course be launched?

Communicating With Power

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It’s been said that you have between thirty seconds and two minutes to capture your participants’ attention.  In a diverse cultural work environment, this time frame is even more challenging.

In addition to voice characteristics, there are methods you can use to make communication with a non-English speaking person – or a hearing impaired person more efficient and message-effective.

Ten Tips for Communicating With a non- Native English Speaker

  1. Make clear eye contact, right from the beginning.
  2. Speak a bit more slowly than you normally do so the non-native speaker or hearing impaired person can keep pace with you.
  3. Enhance your message with facial expressions that convey emotions such as joy, frustration, fright, or anger.
  4. Try different words that accomplish the same purpose. Many people from different cultures have a passive knowledge of English gained through the media. Try saying a word slowly or with a different pronunciation.
  5. Draw a concept if you realize that words alone are not conveying it. Repeat the word or phrase as you draw.
  6. Confirm meanings by using an open-ended question or command such as “Please say back to me what we discussed”.
  7. Enlist the assistance of a translator of necessary.
  8. Be patient; the key to overcoming a language barrier is patience.
  9. Use short words and short sentences. Keep your words very literal.
  10. Avoid slang (technical person, instead of “geek”) and contractions (do not, instead of don’t).

Seven Suggestions for Communicating with a Person who is Hearing Impaired

  1. Attract the listener’s attention
  2. Speak clearly and naturally
  3. Move closer
  4. Face the listener
  5. Take the surroundings into account
  6. Understand that using hearing instruments can be tiring
  7. Restate your message


38% of a particular message received by a listener is governed by the tone and quality of your voice. The pitch, volume, and control of your voice all make a difference in how your message is perceived by your audience.

PitchHow high or low your voice isAvoid a high-pitched sound. Speak from your stomach, the location of your diaphragm
VolumeThe loudness of your voice must be governed by your diaphragmSpeak through your diaphragm, not your throat
QualityThe color, warmth, and meaning given to your voiceAdd emotion to your voiceSmile as much as possible when you are speaking

Module Five: Case Study

Greg sat down for a meeting with Karnell. Karnell worked at their branch in India and was working at their location for the next few months. While Karnell spoke English fluently, Greg sometimes had a difficult time understanding his wording due to his accent.

Greg kept eye-contact with Karnell. He spoke more slowly and enunciated his words a little more than he would have normally. He exaggerated his expression slightly at times to convey his meaning, but most of all, he was very patient.

At the end of the meeting, Greg asked, “Karnell, please say back to me what we discussed. I want to make sure we’re both clear about our next steps.”

Karnell repeated back what they had discussed. Greg and Karnell both looked forward to their next meeting.