Effective Communication and Successful Communication: The Difference

Did you know that the world over, in 90% of cases, a typical training need identified after an appraisal is “Effective Communication Skills”? I guess that might be true. However, the problem is in the interpretation of this phrase “Effective Communication Skills”!

Whether it a language problem, an expression problem, an interpersonal problem, a clarity of thought problem, an attention problem, a listening problem, a shyness problem, a hesitation from fear problem – everything is considered an inability to communicate effectively.

So what is effective communication?

A simple definition of effective communication is: A two way information sharing process that involves one party sending a message that is easily understood by the receiving party.

Here’s another definition that’s a definite improvement over the previous one: Effective communication requires that transmitted content is received and understood by someone in the way it was intended.

There’s yet another explanation that goes something like this: Effective communication is not merely about exchanging information between you and your audience. It is about ensuring consistency in what you want to say, what you actually say, and what your audience interprets.

Let’s try this in practice…

When I tell my teenage son to tidy his room, I give him a message that he understands perfectly, it is understood by him just the way it was intended, and there surely is absolute consistency in what I want to say, what I say, and what my audience (my 14 year old creation!) interprets.

But his room is never tidied. Alas! My communication to my teenager is not effective, even though it complies with all those definitions! So then what is effective communication?

Let’s take a business example…

The supervisor of a shop floor called one of his team members and told him, “John, there’s a problem with machine number S6 on line 7. Please take a look at it and get rid of it.” John looked at the said machine, realized that his supervisor was right about the machine having a problem, and got rid of the machine.

So, would you say the supervisor’s communication was effective?

Here’s the rest of the story…

The supervisor, angry and upset, did not understand how John could get rid of the machine! He’d only asked him to get rid of the problem in the machine!! The senior management members had been talking about cutting costs. They could certainly not afford to replace the machine with a new one. The problem had to be sorted and the machine repaired. He summoned John, admonished him for his action, and asked him to get the machine back and repair it.

So one could conclude that the supervisor’s communication would have been effective, only if John had repaired the machine, and got rid of the problem.

Can we say then say that effective communication is communication that serves the purpose for which it was planned or designed? Possible purposes might be to elicit change, generate action, create understanding, inform or communicate a certain idea or point of view.

Continuing the story of John and his supervisor…

John did as he was told, but submitted his resignation the next week, saying that he did not want to work for this supervisor. That communication resulted in a ruined relationship.

And this brings us to what’s essentially is the difference between effective and successful communication. Effective communication is communication that serves the purpose for which it was planned or designed.

Successful communication is communication that serves the purpose for which it was planned or designed, on time, and without jeopardizing/deteriorating the existing relationship between sender and receiver.

So communicate not only effectively, but also successfully!