Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Solving The Crisis Of Poor Communication Skills In Nigeria








With this post, I probably won't win any brownie points in this country but the truth must be told.


As Nigerians, we're not in denial about many truths - endemic corruption in the public sector, epileptic power supply, chronic unemployment, and the slow or non-existent dividends of democracy such as equity, good governance and the effective rule of law. Yet, we're clueless about our inability to communicate effectively as professionals. This fact is evident not only in the ridiculous speeches given by our leaders, but also in the error-ridden content often printed by our newspapers or visible in other media.



I'll thus take my cue from a quote by Ernest Hemingway, beloved American author and Pulitzer Prize winner, who gave sound advice for writer's block:



"Write the truest sentence that you know."



And for years, I have mulled over what I consider the appalling rate at which our ability to communicate has deteriorated, as easily illustrated in our public speaking, but more excruciatingly, in our writing.


Although the point below is not about writer's block, it is the truest sentence that I know as a communications coach and advocate, about our ability to communicate professionally:



Nigerians suffer from a crisis of poor communication skills.


Specifically, we struggle with two of the three types of communication: the oral and the written. Nonetheless, we could become communicators who are more competent in our fields if  we acknowledge the problems below and strive for change.



Problem #1: Much a-speak about nothing





Nigerians love to talk.



Or rather, we love to hear the sounds of our own voices.



So we waffle on.




Politicians, industry leaders, youth representatives, team players, religious personalities, etc. - we do it in small gatherings, in public arenas and on television. We rarely get to the point on time. We also use big, redundant words/phrases to impress. Let's also not forget the Nigerian way of reeling off our titles as our identities when introduced in public: 'Barrister A B', 'Engineer C D', or 'Architect X Y'. Non-Nigerians would have a good laugh at our expense every time this happens. 




In the business setting, we love to use jargon and other annoying examples of corporate-speak such as 'leverage', 'paradigm shift' and 'striking while the iron is hot'. I'm sure we'll identify many of our faux pas mentioned in the video below.











Now you may say that we're no worse off than professionals in other countries.




Probably. 





But because other people are doing it doesn't give us the pass to remain complacent. 







Solution:



First, let's realise that we tend to sprout lengthy, often meaningless utterances in public. A more effective method to garner support and influence people is to aim for simplicity, brevity and clarity in all our communications, beginning with the way we speak.




Next comes the education of public speaking. We could take some courses, or go online to watch some TED talks to study others who have perfected the art. Let's also observe the styles of charismatic figures whose eloquent speeches and masterful deliveries on radio, television, at work, and during various events inspire us to make changes. 




A good example of an effective talk is the speech below given at the Bpifrance Inno Generation Event  by Nigeria's renowned entrepreneur and philanthropist, Tony Elumelu. Note his use of simple language, his comfortable poise, and his clear message about using 'africapitalism' to change the negative narrative about Africa.    




To speak convincingly in public, we should imitate what we admire the most from others—such as how to use presence, pitch, tone and pauses—to create impact and connect with our audiences.



Finally, we must practise and continue to do so, even after we are told that we have improved. Public speaking is more than just blabbering about whatever comes to mind. We should strive to master this art so that we could become relevant in our businesses, in our careers and on the social scene.





Problem #2: Weak, inept writing


 


It's everywhere.



We break so many grammatical rules that often, entire sentences don't make sense.




There's also a predisposition to ‘nigerianise’ the English language. And because after secondary school few of us took refresher courses in grammar, the wrong terms, over time, became widespread and easily accepted.



Cases in point:


1) What is good for the goose is good for the gander. (Nigerian English) 



Versus


What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. (Standard idiom) 




2) The soup should be cooked until the desired doneness is achieved. (Nigerian English) 


Versus


The soup should be well cooked/cooked thoroughly. (Standard English)  

 

3) "You're not going to work today?"



"Yes"/"Yes I'm not going". (Nigerian English)


Versus



"No"/"No I'm not going". (Standard English) 



4) "Please borrow me some money". (Nigerian English)


Versus


"Please lend me some money". (Standard English)




And so it continues.



Other problems in writing are not adhering to basic subject-verb agreement; wrong word choice when choosing synonyms, (words having similar meanings e.g. big/colossal, laughable/absurd); and confusion with homonyms, (words sounding the same but having different meanings e.g. son/sun, lunch/launch), etc. 



Let's not even get into the misuse of certain punctuation marks - with the comma (,), colon (:), semi-colon (;) and the apostrophe ('), being the most abused. 


Then there's the issue of excessive capitalisation. This is the single most prevalent grammatical error in Nigeria today. We see it in emails and newspapers; in formal documents and contracts; in content online; on vans/trucks/buses; and on television.


It's really a scourge.



Some examples of unnecessary capitalisation  are underlined below:



Over 90 per cent of the nation's foreign exchange is derived from the Oil & Gas sector...



Our company, ABCD Limited, is into Trading, Manufacturing, Banking...



We are Resellers of imported merchandise...  

 

During my coaching sessions, I've noticed with concern, the excessive use of capitalisation in the work of different MBA participants - from the younger, full-time MBA students, to the senior professionals in the executive batches.


Given that our talent pool of such highly educated and well-rounded professionals reflect the society, I've come to realise that unfortunately, the root of our weak writing is twofold:


 
A) Poor reading culture



We simply stopped reading good materials—well-written books by respected authors, plays, short stories, articles, etc.—after school. Instead, we've developed an unhealthy penchant for poorly written content, that is rife on social media.




Be honest. When was the last time you read a good novel, short story or a poem? How about reading classics such as Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice; Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities; Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo; Chinua Achebe's renowned Things Fall Apart; or any of the numerous plays, poems and novels penned by the first African Nobel laureate in literature, Wole Soyinka? 


We need to read to feed our brains, to expand our vocabulary, and to sharpen our writing.




B) Laziness/unwillingness to brush up on grammar and to practise writing



Realistically, we would not remember all the grammatical rules we memorised at school. Furthermore, language evolves over time and as professionals, we must keep abreast of the changes.


Regretfully, we've become lazy and/or unwilling to do the work. Not only do we need to register for lessons in English grammar, we should also practise business writing at every opportunity we get: at work, in business circles, and even during our leisure. Let's practise in season and out of season. It's only by consistent practice that we steadily improve.


It's that simple.  





Solution


We should sign up for business writing training and use tips given on how to improve our writing chops. Let's also develop a habit of reading good content to increase our knowledge of the English language.


The Lagos Business School offers MBA programmes and executive courses for professionals at different stages in their careers. A useful module in both the full-time MBA and Executive MBA courses, Management Communications, offers effective support and coaching for oral and written communications. It's worth some consideration.  


 

Conclusion


There's evidently a crisis of poor communication in this country. Nevertheless, this crisis can be contained, and with the right strategy, solved...only if we become open to change.




The good news is that Nigeria is blessed with ample intellectual capital and the steely resolve of its citizens. These are the reasons we excel in various fields abroad.




Therefore, despite our shortcomings in oral and written communication, let's strive to improve and to be consistent in our efforts. 


We owe it to ourselves to become the best  versions we can be.


We should thus not tarry in our progress.




Who's with me?


  
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   Hire me for:


     - Communications training sessions for your staff and executives;

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  - Speeches and keynote presentations at your corporate events.


  Let me help you get results. 


      

Contact me:


A) Send an email to: Lucilleossai@gmail.com.


B) Call for a free consultation: 

Nigeria:           0704 631 0592
International:  +234 704 631 0592  



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N.B- First image courtesy of Criminalatt; via freedigitalphotos.net. Second image courtesy of Master Isolated Images; via freedigitalphotos.net. Third and fourth images courtesy of Stuart Miles; via freedigitalphotos.net.


2 comments:

  1. This is another gem of an article. I must confess many business professionals fall into this trap, particularly when it comes to public speaking, quite simply we have learnt the wrong thing. I especially like the video on the worst speech in the world. There is a general impression that using industry buzz words, company abbreviations (specific to each organisation) and even certain catch phrases makes a good public speaker. This is a gross misconception and unfortunately is taken as the benchmark and is shamelessly adopted, sometimes without even communicating.

    Thanks for sharing the difference between the worst speech and an example of a better one, effective public speaking should be learnt, practiced and adopted and most of all should be individual and direct conveying the message needed. Lets not even get started on business writing I make similar mistakes probably need one of those refresher courses!

    Kudos the impact of being able to communicate properly in public speeches and effective business writing cannot be overstated. Loving this keep it up!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you so much for your detailed comment!

    We could all improve our communication skills as Nigerians; we simply need to recognise the wrong way and take concrete steps to learn. And we should realise that less is more when it comes to public speaking. For our business writing, simplicity and clarity should be prioritised.

    As professionals in this global village, we must update our communication skills if we want to be taken seriously.

    It's never too late to learn...

    ReplyDelete

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