Interpersonal communication is the foundation of human interaction. Its importance for innovation and change can hardly be overemphasized. In this section, communication from different viewpoints including listening and speaking is ex.



Principles of Communication
Oral Communications
Visual Communications
Written Communications


Communication is a two-way process of giving and receiving information through any number of channels.  Whether one is speaking informally to a colleague, addressing a conference or meeting, writing a newsletter article or formal report, the following basic principles apply: Communication is complex.  When listening to or reading someone else's message, we often filter what's being said through a screen of our own opinions.  One of the major barriers to communication is our own ideas and opinions.

There's an old communications game, telegraph, that's played in a circle.  A message is whispered around from person to person.  What the exercise usually proves is how profoundly the message changes as it passes through the distortion of each person's inner "filter."

Environmental factors

Communication can be influenced by environmental factors that have nothing to do with the content of the message.  Some of these factors are: People remember:

Communication with Decision Makers

Innovation and change often depends upon persuading potential users of the benefits of an innovation.

To deal persuasively with decision makers, it is necessary to know and understand their interests and opinions.  The following questions are helpful in organizing technology transfer efforts:

Principles of Effective Persuasion

Whether making a formal presentation at a meeting or writing a report or fact sheet, the following principles hold.

Selling New Ideas

Creating Isn't Selling
Often the creators of an innovation feel that convincing others of the idea's value is somehow superfluous to their activities.  To them, conceiving the idea is enough.  This combines with their inner conviction that their idea will "sell itself."  Change agents provide a link between creators of new techniques and users.

Ideas Need Selling
Someone must recognize when an idea is good.  It is important that when an idea is good it is sold to those who can act on it--those who have the power to evaluate and adopt it.  Understanding users is an important activity for any change agent.  People must be convinced that a particular idea or innovation has enough merit to warrant adoption.

Selling Ideas Takes Effort
Selling innovations requires preparation, initiative, patience, and resourcefulness.  It may take more effort than originating the idea.  In an age of technical complexity and information overload, new ideas seldom stand out.  Information on new ideas must be targeted to the appropriate users and relate to their needs and motivations.

Once is Not Enough
A new idea has to be suggested many times before it will "catch on."  Initial failures at promoting a new idea are to be expected, so don't get discouraged if you don't get the results you want the first time.  Some ideas take years to catch on.  However, first exposures are crucial to future prospects.  Do it right the first time

Feedback (Listening)

Getting and giving feedback is one of the most crucial parts of good communication.  Like any other activity, there are specific skills that can enhance feedback.  Listening is a key part of getting feedback:

Listen to the Complete Message.  Be patient.  This is especially important when listening to a topic that provokes strong opinions or radically different points-of-view.  In these situations, it's important not to prejudge the incoming message. Learn not to get too excited about a communication until you are certain of the message.

Work at Listening Skills.  Listening is hard work.  Good listeners demonstrate interest and alertness.  They indicate through their eye contact, posture and facial expression that the occasion and the speaker's efforts are a matter of concern to them.  Most good listeners provide speakers with clear and unambiguous feedback.

Judge the Content, Not the Form of the Message.  Such things as the speaker's mode of dress, quality of voice, delivery mannerisms and physical characteristics are often used as excuses for not listening.  Direct your attention to the message--what is being said--and away from the distracting elements.

Weigh Emotionally Charged Language.  Emotionally charged language often stands in the way of effective listening.  Filter out "red flag" words (like "liberal" and "conservative," for instance) and the emotions they call up.  Specific suggestions for dealing with emotionally charged words include

Eliminate Distractions.  Physical distractions and complications seriously impair listening.  These distractions may take many forms: loud noises, stuffy rooms, overcrowded conditions, uncomfortable temperature, bad lighting, etc.  Good listeners speak up if the room is too warm, too noisy, or too dark.  There are also internal distractions:  worries about deadlines or problems of any type may make listening difficult.  If you're distracted, make an effort to clear your head.  If you can't manage it, arrange to communicate at some other time.

Think Efficiently and Critically.  On the average, we speak at a rate of 100 to 200 words per minute.  However, we think at a much faster rate, anywhere from 400 to 600 words per minute.  What do we do with this excess thinking time while listening to someone speak?  One technique is to apply this spare time to analyzing what is being said.  They critically review the material by asking the following kinds of questions:

Sending Messages

Messages should be clear and accurate, and sent in a way that encourages retention, not rejection.

Selecting the Best Communication Method

In communicating with decision makers, use the most appropriate communications method.  One way to do this is to ask yourself the following questions. Telephone contact--requires good verbal skills and an awareness of voice tones as nonverbal communication.
Letter--requires writing skills.
e-mail—informal, needs to be short and to the point, but not get lost in clutter.  May require frequent follow-up.
News release--requires writing skills and cooperation of the media and time.


Speaking to Communicate

Spoken communication occurs in many different settings during the course of successful innovation and change.  These may be divided into three main types: Whether to use oral communication is a decision we all make frequently in the course of a workday.  The change agent must be able to identify those situations in which oral communication is the most appropriate one to use.  Don Kirkpatrick suggests the -following guidelines for making such decisions.

Use Oral Communication When:

Presentation Styles

There are different styles of making a presentation and different people will use the approach that suits them.

Good Old Boy:  This is usually an experienced person who is the peer of most of the audience. Generally, there is a lot of good information but it may be poorly organized or poorly delivered.

The Entertainer:  This person relies on jokes and stories to get their point across.  Good visual aids could be an important feature of the presentation.  Sometimes there is too much emphasis on satisfying the audience that little information is actually transferred.

The Academic:  This person tends to be very precise and deliberate in presenting information. There is considerable content and it usually is well organized.  Unfortunately. it can also be boring and irrelevant and not relate well to the audience.

The Reader:  This person decides to read his material word for word.  The material is often not especially prepared for an oral presentation and can be overly technical, boring and hard to understand.  All topics are covered and what is said is precise and accurate.

The Snail:  This person is nervous about the presentation and goes into a shell.  Like a snail, this person also moves slowly and the presentation seems to last forever.  What is best?  You have to have a style you are comfortable with.  Ideally, you have the rapport of the good old boy, the organization and content of the academic, the ability to get and maintain interest of the entertainer, and the precision of the reader.  If you do this you will avoid the slow pace of the snail and effectively present information to your listeners.

The Gadgeteer:  This person uses every gimmick and technique in his or her presentation and visual aids.  It can be overdone with the message getting lost among the bells and whistles.

Components of an Effective Oral Report

Introduction Capture the attention of the group right from the start. Organization Content Conclusion
Conclude your report with finality in terms of one or more of the following: Question Period Delivery


There's an old saying that "a picture is worth a thousand words."  Life would indeed be difficult without paintings, photographs, diagrams, charts, drawings, and graphic symbols.  These are some of the reasons why SHOWING is such an important form of communication. Visual aids--used imaginatively and appropriately--will help your audience remember more. Consider the following:

Questions to Ask about Visual Aids:

Visual Aid Checklist

(    )  Does the projector work properly? Bulb, lenses, change mechanism, fan.
(    )  Does each slide present a simple, clear message?
(    )  Are the slides arranged and numbered consistently and consecutively?
(    )  Are the slides clean and mounted properly?
(    )  Will the audience be able to see slide details in the location I plan to use?
(    )  Does the slide tray have a title slide at the beginning and a blind slide at the end to avoid blinding the audience with light?

Power Point or Transparencies
(    )  Is the lettering large enough to be seen by the audience?
(    )  Is the projector placed so that the audience has an unobstructed view?
(    )  Is the projector and slide color scheme adequate for the lighting of the room being used?
(    )  Does the projected image fit the screen?
(    )  Are my slides in proper order?
(    )  Does each present a clear message?
(    )  Is the projector compatible with the computer being used?

Video Tape
(    )  Do you have the correct machine for the tape you plan to show (Beta or VHS)?
(    )  Is the equipment in proper working order?
(    )  Is the tape set to start at the proper place and does it "track" properly?
(    )  Will the WHOLE audience be able to see the presentation?
(    )  Is the sound level on the monitor(s) set at the proper level?

The Location
(    )  Does the room match the size of the audience?
(    )  Is the location accessible to the physically disabled?
(    )  Can the lighting be controlled for showing slides and transparencies?  If so, is a reading light available?
(    )  Is the location equipped with a projector cart or table?
(    )  Are electrical outlets conveniently located--do I need extension cords?
(    )  Is the room equipped with an adequate screen?
(    )  If using video equipment, can monitors be set up at appropriate locations?
(    )  Does the room have a speakers table or podium?
(    )  Will the location be available prior to your meeting so you can set up and test your equipment?
(     )  Is the room equipped with a newsprint easel or chalkboard?
(    )  Does the room have chairs and tables or desks?  Can they be rearranged if needed?
(    )  Is the main entrance separated from the speaker area so that late arrivals will not disrupt your presentation?

Always check out the room and equipment in advance to see that it works properly!  Never assume that it will work without trying it first.  As a general rule, the more complicated the technolgy for an oral presentation, the more likely it will fail

Checklist for Tables and Charts

(    ) Be ruthless with numbers: use the fewest possible that will still convey the point of the visual.  Do not exceed twenty numbers or a single slide.
(    )  Combine numbers into larger sums wherever possible; eliminate any number that does not contribute significantly to your message.
(    ) Consider using a chart (pie, bar, etc.) for presenting some information, especially if you want to draw comparisons between two or more items.
(    ) When preparing charts use colors or patterns with a lot of contrast.
(    ) Split information into two or three smaller tables rather than using one huge table.  Use no more than three or four columns per table.
(    ) Have a short, yet descriptive, title that states the point of the visual.  Put it at the top.  Include a date at the bottom.
(    ) Label columns clearly and at the top.  Show the units (dollars or tons, for example).  On the left, label the statistics being compared.
(    ) Avoid footnotes and symbols that may not be generally understood by your audience.
(    ) Use light horizontal lines if they improve readability.
(    ) Be consistent.  Do not mix pounds and tons, years and months, gross and net.
(    ) Avoid decimal points whenever possible.  Use round numbers for tables and graphs.
(    ) Highlight the most important numbers with boxes, underlining, or color.
(    ) If arithmetic operations are not obvious, state them: (less), or "Less Depreciation Expense."
(    ) Eliminate zeros by expressing numbers in thousands or millions, if possible.
(    ) Show negative numbers in parentheses, not with minus signs.


Written materials often bear the greatest burden for the communication of new ideas and procedures.  Effective writing is the product of long hours of preparation, revision and organization.  One book that follows its own rules is Strunk and White's Elements of Style, a short book which argues persuasively for clarity, accuracy, and brevity in the use of English.  Its entire philosophy is contained in one paragraph:

“Vigorous writing is concise.  A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reasons that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.  This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that EVERY WORD TELL.”

Clear, vigorous writing is a product of clear, vigorous thinking.  Clarity is born of discipline and imagination. Kirkpatrick gives the following guidelines for using written communication:

Use Written Communication When:

Advantages of Written Materials

Disadvantages of Written Material