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The 7 Cs of Communication Desperately Wants an Overhaul 

Everywhere in business, you see formulas for communication, and rules on how to talk to people for a good outcome. The 7 Cs of communication (developed in the 50’s) are another attempt in a long line of tactics to encourage a clear flow of information between people. 

But they’re flawed, or at best incomplete. 

In this article, we’ll get back to the true basics of communication, and give you a framework to do it simply and clearly. 

The 7 Cs state that effective communication is:

  • Clear
  • Concise
  • Concrete
  • Correct
  • Coherent
  • Complete
  • Courteous

This is all very well, and there’s not much to disagree with here – it’s a good list of virtues to include in your communication, written & spoken. However, it’s missing a huge section of what makes the transfer of information actually work, and we’ll explore this in the rest of the article. 

What is Effective Communication?

“The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” – Sydney J. Harris

Effective communication is when the information or picture in one person’s mind is being accurately transferred to another’s. That’s it. The question that answers whether communication has occurred is: do you have a shared understanding?

Communicating your idea doesn’t mean the other party necessarily agrees with you. However, the basic measure of success is that you both agree on the facts of what you are talking about. 

This is the first place where the 7 Cs falls down. Sure, you can use all of them in communication. However, maybe the person you’re on a conference call with doesn’t speak very good English, or the line is unclear.

In this case, unless you check their understanding, it’s highly likely that your clear, concise, concrete, correct, coherent, complete, and courteous message wasn’t received. 

Effective communication is a two-way street. 

It’s only when you verify the other person’s understanding of what you’re talking about, that you can know whether you’ve succeeded. 

Some great phrases for doing this are:

“When I say X, what does that mean to you?”

“Would you mind telling me, in your own words, your understanding of what we’ve just discussed?”

Once you start using these phrases, you’ll be amazed at how often your conversation partner has misunderstood you. Often this comes down to having a different set of base assumptions, or a different understanding of what specific words mean. 

Components of Communication

Communication is 70 – 93% non-verbal. This means that between 30% to just 7% of the meaning people receive from you comes from the words you use. The rest arrives via tone and body language.

The 7Cs of Communication completely ignore the majority of how humans gather meaning from each other. This is a weakness of most communication systems. They focus on the words you choose and ignore how they’re delivered. 

Non-Verbal Communication

“It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it.”

– Nicholas Boothman

We’ve probably all experienced saying something seemingly innocuous to a partner or family member, and they hit the roof. (Or maybe you’ve been the one who blows a gasket.)

When you’re left open-mouthed wondering ‘where did that come from?’ the most likely answer is your tone. It’s very common for us all to use an unintended tone in communications, especially when the subject is difficult, or we’re trying to avoid conflict. 

Passive-aggressive tones can be entirely unconscious, but they can trigger all sorts of unwanted emotional reactions from the people we’re talking with. Being able to adopt a neutral, natural tone, especially in a situation when tensions are running high, is one of the most useful verbal communication skills out there. 

The same goes for gaining control of verbal tics, and unconscious facial expressions, which are far more powerful in communication than we think. 

Practice & Feedback

In the ABA communication workshop, participants partner up and practice delivering simple statements in a natural and neutral tone. 

With each repetition, the person delivering the statement receives feedback on how it sounded to the recipient. This is very revealing.

People are often astonished to find their statements came across to the listener completely differently from how they believed they’d said them. This is the kind of skill that gets better with practice, and feedback is a vital part of this process. 

When someone is very skilled at this, they can deliver what could be highly confrontational statements in a neutral, natural tone. This has the effect of allowing the words to deliver the meaning, without the tone adding tension and escalating conflict. 

Body Language

There are several parts to body language. This often ignored part of communication plays a huge part in the conveying of meaning. 

Posture

Your stance: whether you’re relaxed, hunched over, tense, or slouched, all these postures give a lot of information to your listener about your mood. These will colour your listeners’ perception of the words you say.

Facial Expressions

The study of micro-expressions has gained popularity over the years. These tiny expressions reveal your true thoughts and emotions about what you are saying, or listening to. Humans unconsciously pick up on these expressions and will believe what you say based on this rather than the actual words you’ve used. 

Eye contact

Eye contact is a balance in communication. Too much, and you look like a psychopath, too little, and you look shifty. The right balance comes down to practice. However, you can often make more eye contact than you think. 

Hand Gestures

Politicians and experienced speakers often get coached on how to use hand gestures to make a point. If you haven’t ever thought about your hand gestures when you speak, be aware that they will often say a lot more than you think about your state of mind. 

Becoming aware of how you use your hands when you talk will open up a whole other communication channel. Body language is often picked up at the subconscious level by the listener, and it will either reinforce or undermine what you are saying. 

In Summary

While the 7 Cs of Communication are a good start, they are by no means a complete guide to how to communicate effectively. 

ABA runs several workshops focusing on how to communicate using non-verbal and verbal means, focusing on tone of voice, body language and facial expression. 

Communication is one of life’s meta-skills – a skill which enables and enhances every other aspect of your life. Mastering this skill will open doors in all areas of your life. 

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