The Art of Effective Communication

By Ahmad Faizuddin

We communicate with people on a daily basis. Communication process is an art of sharing information and ideas through a medium of language in order to understand people’s mind and interact with them to understand their cultures. In its simple form, a sender known as encoder sends a message through specific channels to a receiver known as decoder. The message should be clear and accurate to avoid misunderstanding and confusion. Since we are living in multi-cultural and multi-lingual societies, mastering good communication skills is significant for a successful social interaction with others.

An effective communication is crucial to strengthen good relationships with fellow human beings. It may look quite simple, but in reality communication is often ineffective. Once, I read a rumour that Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori made an embarrassing mistake upon meeting with US President Barack Obama. Prior to Mori’s visit to Washington DC, he was taught some basic English conversation. The instructor informed Prime Minister Mori, “When you meet President Obama, please shake hand and say ‘How are you?’ Then Mr. Obama should reply ‘I am fine, and you?’ At this point, you should say ‘Me too.’ Afterwards, the translators will do the work for you.” When Mori met Obama, instead of saying, “How are you?” he mistakenly said, “Who are you?” It was surely a shocking moment, but Obama managed to react with humour, “Well, I am Michelle’s husband, ha-ha …” More surprisingly, Mori then replied, “Me too, ha-ha …” Then there was a long silence in the meeting room.

Political humour

Even though it may seem true, the above story is just a piece of recycled political humour. The fact Yoshiro Mori made a trip to Washington DC and met Barack Obama is very unlikely. Mori’s term as Japanese Prime Minister ended in April 2001, while Obama became the US President eight years after that in January 2009. This story was originally circulated during President Bill Clinton’s final year in office back in mid-2000. Before the G8 Summit in Okinawa, Prime Minister Mori was coached a bit of English language. Upon meeting Clinton, Mori was to say, “How are you?” However, he made a slip and said, “Who are you?” Humorously, Clinton responded, “I’m Hillary’s husband,” to which Mori replied, “Me too.”

This version was originally circulated in the Japanese tabloid press as a mock to the unpopular Mori’s blunders as prime minister. He made several controversial comments such as some teachers were controlled by communists. In January 2000, he made a joke about his campaign in 1969 election, “When I was greeting farmers from my car, they all went into their homes. I felt like I had AIDS.” In February 2000, he also commented on Year 2000 computer bug problem that breached US security system, “When there is a blackout, the murderers always come out. It’s that type of society.” The tales of Mori’s confusing English words also hit some other politicians from various countries, especially the non-speaking English ones. It does sound humorous, but it is really just a hoax.

Communication in Islam

As Muslims, we learn the art of effective communication from our beloved Prophet Muhammad SAW. In the daily practices of Sunnah, he showed us some guidelines to be a good communicator. The first ingredient for positive conversation is smiling before we start talking. It will remove any bad feelings and bring the joy to both the giver and the receiver. Prophet SAW said, “Your smiling in the face of your brother is shadaqah (charity)” (Jami’ At-Tirmidhi).

The second component of effective communication is giving salaam (Islamic greeting for peace) by saying Assalaamu’alaikum (peace be upon you). It is recommended to repel hatred and create love among Muslims. It was reported that a man came to the Prophet SAW and said, “Assalaamu’alaikum [peace be upon you].” Prophet replied his salutation and when the man sat down he said, “Ten [rewards].” Another man came and said, “Assalaamu’alaikum Warahmatullah [peace and Allah’s mercy be upon you].” Prophet responded to his salutation and when the man sat down he said, “Twenty [rewards].” Another man came and said, “Assalaamu’alaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakaatuh [peace and Allah’s mercy and blessings be upon you].” Prophet responded to him and said when he sat down, “Thirty [rewards]” (Sunan Abu Dawud). Thus, it is recommended to say the complete greeting when you greet fellow Muslims.

The third element of effective communication is shaking hands right after greetings. In Islam, this is to be practised with the same gender or unmarriageable kin (mahram). Prophet SAW said, “There are no two Muslims who meet and shake hands but they will be forgiven before they part” (Sunan Ibn Majah).

The fourth ingredient of effective communication is paying attention to voices and using simple words. Muslims should be aware of their tones and volumes in speaking for it will determine the success of communication. Any undesirable loudness will make communication futile. Allah SWT warned, “And be moderate in your pace and lower your voice. Indeed, the most disagreeable of sounds is the voice of donkeys” (Q.S. Luqman 31: 19). Prophet SAW always speaks in simple moderate language, clear tone and uses concise words so people can easily understand the messages. Abu Hurairah reported that Prophet SAW said, “I have been given superiority over the other prophets in six respects: I have been given words which are concise but comprehensive in meaning; I have been helped by terror (in the hearts of enemies): spoils have been made lawful to me: the earth has been made for me clean and a place of worship; I have been sent to all mankind and the line of prophets is closed with me” (Sahih Muslim).

The fifth component of effective communication is staying away from argumentation and evil words. Not all people are the same. There are many kinds of people in this life from nice ones to not-so-nice ones. Thus, we need to learn how to deal with people accordingly. Different cultures and educational backgrounds of people may be treated differently in communicating with them. Allah SWT warned, “And obey Allah and His Messenger, and do not dispute (with one another) lest you lose courage and your strength depart, and be patient. Surely, Allah is with those who are patient” (Q.S. Al-Anfal 8: 46). If the argument cannot be avoided, at least we have to be wise in arguing to find a solution and not to create more conflicts. For that reason, it is recommended to inquire about people by asking their health, families and friends. This kind of act will make people feel loved and cared for.

Finally, communication often leads to slips of tongues because of unnecessary joking, cursing, insulting, and lying. For that reason, Muslims are advised to think twice and even more before uttering any words and refrain from the common evils of the tongues. The habits of evil tongues may eat away rewards and blessings (barakah) in our lives. Prophet SAW said, “A slave (of Allah) may utter a word which pleases Allah without giving it much importance, and because of that Allah will raise him to degrees (of reward). A slave (of Allah) may utter a word (carelessly) which displeases Allah without thinking of its gravity, and because of that he will be thrown into the Hell-Fire” (Sahih Al-Bukhari).

Basic etiquette

From the above explanation, we can learn the basic etiquette from the Sunnah on communicating effectively with people. An effective communicator should always learn to listen and let others speak first. When we give ourselves enough time to listen, we can easily understand the context and respond accordingly. The fact that God has created us with a tongue and a pair of ears implies that we will learn more by listening rather than talking. ***

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