ORAL COMMUNICATION

 

Definition

Makes clear and convincing oral presentations to individuals or groups, listens effectively and clarifies information as needed, facilitates an open exchange of ideas and fosters an atmosphere of open communication. 

 

Importance

Clear and accurate communication, the process by which two or more parties exchange information verbally and share meaning, is essential in life and in the workplace.   Inaccurate, incomplete or poorly understood communication has been correlated with injuries, death on the job, and business failures.  There is a mandate that government communication is accurate and supported with adequate data and research.  Thus, the civil servant must be articulate, clear, concise and effective, actively checking to make sure that the message has been understood.  This minimizes misunderstandings that can undermine organizational effectiveness.  In addition, in today’s multicultural federal workplace, clarity of meaning is increasingly important.

Good oral communication also provides internal and external stakeholders with a “human voice” and is a vital factor in developing and maintaining positive relations with Congress and national or international groups.  This “human voice” is equally an essential element in successful performance management.  On the management and executive levels, the requirement stretches to include abilities to foster good organizational communication skills.

 

How is This Competency Demonstrated?

Individuals at all levels of the organization use oral communication to achieve organizational goals and must consider the receiver(s) and their familiarity with the topic, treating all with respect and fairness and using common conventions of language and grammar.  They should prepare in advance for such communication whenever possible, speak accurately and clearly in all settings, support thoughts with facts, recall that non-verbal and tonal elements are projected along with the verbal message and therefore should use pitch, rhythm and pauses effectively.  All individuals should monitor the receiver’s behavior, clarify the message as needed and seek feedback to ascertain that the message has been received.  All persons should actively consider the environment in which the communication occurs so as to minimize potential barriers to the communication process and they should be able to effectively use a variety of channels, choosing those appropriate to the situation. 

First appointment leaders must effectively communicate the team’s role in the Agency’s mission, both to the team and to others within the organization.  They effectively reduce and communicate complex goals or tasks to a workable set of fundamentals so that others can understand and take necessary actions.  They must help team members learn to communicate in productive ways, with each other and with other units or groups.  First appointment leaders must develop sensitivity to personal space, cultural nuances, and individual differences that affect the communication process and they should model reciprocal, dynamic communication processes, consistently reinforcing the need to check for understanding. 

Mid-level leaders should plan effective strategies for communicating complex messages; providing information to help focus attention and anticipate and control distracting behaviors.  They must plan strategies to manage challenging or difficult exchanges and identify strategies to integrate reticent participants into the discussions.  They should expand presentation skills including voice quality and non-verbal behavior, effectively use a variety of media and minimize environmental distractions.  Mid-level leaders should ensure mutual understanding of goals and performance expectations, objectively describing performance problems and providing feedback that is candid, timely, and fair.

Senior leaders and Executives must provide accurate, current and understandable information to policy makers and citizens by effectively communicating Agency and Federal policies by fully preparing for presentations and deliberately selecting communication styles to fit the audience and situation.  When addressing legislative hearings, large employee forums or external stakeholders, presentations should be well planned, consistent, clear, powerful, and persuasive.  They should identify and plan to overcome potential barriers to communication, be adept at handling contentious situations, and use a variety of nonverbal techniques to enhance and reinforce the message.  Senior leaders and Executives should develop a climate that encourages open communications, ensure that others understand the power of open communication to enhance workplace relationships, and be accomplished at using a wide variety of media.  They should plan a crisis communications strategy that can support quick and flexible organizational responses to unforeseen, new, and complex situations.  During crisis situations, they should be articulate spokespeople, projecting a personal and organizational image of competence and credibility. 

Elements of the Competency and Distinguishing Behaviors

 

Element

Distinguishing Behaviors

Speaks honestly, effectively and with integrity.

FOR ALL EMPLOYEES:

  • Demonstrates belief in the concept of human dignity; treating all others with respect and fairness, and openly, consistently challenging bias, intolerance, and incivility.
  • Expresses one’s position and feelings clearly and concisely without accusation, sarcasm or hostility.
  • Publicly supports and defends others against unfair or inappropriate criticism.
  • Refrains from spreading gossip, rumor, and false information.
  • Persuades others and is assertive when necessary.

ADDITIONAL FOR SENIOR LEADERS AND EXECUTIVES:

  • Uses fact, reason and persuasion to bring others in line with the vision, rather than skewed arguments that are not a fair representation of the issue.
  • Provides accurate, current and understandable information to policy makers and citizens, exposing the implications of choice in an unbiased fashion.
  • Does not sacrifice civility for short-term productivity goals.
  • Models assertive communication and positive attitudes even in extremely challenging situations.
  • Communicates with customers, employees and other key stakeholders with openness and transparency.
  • Fosters a climate that allows any subordinate to pose a challenge to any idea, encouraging their own skills at leading.
  • Creates a recognizable “voice” that is personal, visible and recognizable and that inspires trust and commitment among employees and stakeholders alike. 
  • Communicates the public service vision of the organization.

Makes convincing, articulate and accurate oral presentations using non-verbal and vocal qualities that support the verbal spoken message. 

FOR ALL EMPLOYEES:

  • Speaks in a way that reflects and communicates clear and compelling thought processes, and authenticity of message.
  • Is accurate; supports communication with fact and research.
  • Is articulate, clear, concise and effective in communicating with others.
  • Understands that good communication skills, oral and written, are an integral element of one’s professional competence, and works continually to improve them.
  • Stays composed, positive, civil and unflappable even in trying moments.
  • Gains customer confidence through competence, good communications and trust.
  • Uses a vocabulary that is appropriate for oral presentations, that enhances clarity and that conveys professionalism.
  • Ensures that colleagues, supervisors and other key decision makers are well informed.
  • Uses common conventions of language and grammar appropriate to professional settings.
  • Uses gestures, eye contact, vocal pitch and intensity appropriately to add positively to the impact of the message.

ADDITIONAL FOR FIRST APPOINTMENT LEADERS AND ABOVE:

  • Communicates the team’s role in the Agency’s mission, both to the team, and to others within the organization.
  • Articulates and can generate enthusiasm for a shared vision and mission.
  • Champions necessary change and enlists others in its pursuit.
  • Regularly, clearly and enthusiastically communicates to team members high expectations for good customer service.

ADDITIONAL FOR MID-LEVEL LEADERS AND ABOVE:

  • Projects competence and credibility.
  • Responds appropriately, accurately, and with composure to challenging questions or comments.

ADDITIONAL FOR SENIOR/EXECUTIVE LEADERS:

  • Shapes the debate and influences how an issue and potential solutions are perceived by others.
  • Distills the vision and new ideas into focused, strategic and targeted messages that inspire and guide others in times of change.
  • Understands and uses marketing techniques that are appropriate for enhancing customer knowledge and use of government services. 
  • Gives clear and explicit view that signals where the organization is headed and why.
  • Creates broad ownership of the vision throughout the organization, engendering energy and voluntary engagement which is the key to the vision’s sustainability.
  • Publicly challenges the status quo by comparing it to a vision of change and takes dramatic action to enforce the change effort

Effectively uses various communication channels, including meetings, presentations and briefings.

FOR ALL EMPLOYEES:

  • Chooses the appropriate medium for the message and adapts spoken language effectively to that medium.
  • Knows how and when to support oral presentations with other media.
  • Speaks in a way that makes complex technical concepts understandable and uses appropriate supporting materials (charts, illustrations, etc.).

ADDITIONAL FOR FIRST APPOINTMENT LEADERS AND ABOVE:

  • Understands and uses various channels of communication effectively, including meetings, briefings, and the media. 
  • Maximizes effectiveness in meetings, formal conversations and presentations by being prepared.
  • Plans meeting agendas and distributes these in advance to maximize contributions to the topic and sharpen the focus of the meetings.

ADDITIONAL FOR MID-LEVEL LEADERS AND ABOVE:

  • Plans effective strategies for communicating complex messages, including information regarding behavior, performance, policies, and new directives.
  • Prepares strategically for interviews, performance reviews, and other meetings to establish focus, goals and strategic approach.
  • Helps others prepare well for interviews, performance reviews and other meetings to ensure the meetings yield common understandings and achieve strategic goals.
  • Skillfully probes and asks questions that help others reflect and create insight.
  • Influences the unit’s performance through effective feedback, coaching, counseling and mentoring.
  • Ensures mutual understanding of goals and performance expectations.
  • Confronts performance problems in a way that maintains a positive relationship.
  • Provides feedback that is candid, timely, focused on the future, and fair.
  • Objectively describes performance problems concretely and with specificity.
  • Gains commitment from others for improvement and performance.
  • Provides fair, equitable, and consistent discipline, never resorting to inappropriate behavior or humiliating employees.

ADDITIONAL FOR SENIOR LEADERS & EXECUTIVES:

  • Ensures that others understand the power of open communication to enhance workplace relationships and that they have the communication skills to be effective members of a learning organization.
  • Creates a culture in which feedback is valued, sought out from a full range of stakeholders, discussed broadly, and acted upon.
  • Understands the effectiveness of “management by walking around” as a communication strategy.
  • Encourages debate and open discussion.
  • Conducts debriefing of stressful situations as needed.
  • Cultivates a learning culture of reflective openness.
  • Values face-to-face discussion.
  • Plans and implements a crisis communications strategy that can support quick and flexible organizational responses to unforeseen, new, and complex situations.

Actively considers, plans for, and reacts appropriately to the audience and the contextual environment in order to minimize barriers to understanding.

FOR ALL EMPLOYEES:

  • Habitually considers and responds flexibly to the audience and other contextual environmental factors in order to maximize understanding.
  • Considers the audience, their familiarity with the topic and degree of interest prior to speaking.
  • Demonstrates empathy with others and helps others try to understand differing perspectives.
  • Leaves customers feeling they have been heard, understood, respected and well served.
  • Actively checks to make sure that the message has been understood.  Looks for visual feedback from others and uses questions to check understanding.
  • Ensures written text of oral presentations is carefully edited for perspective, accuracy, and correctness.
  • Listens to other views and remains flexible and willing to modify their own perspectives, when presented with adequate evidence.
  • Understands how the issues at hand affect other people and is aware of the consequences.
  • Seeks points of agreement between own views and those of others.
  • Avoids language which is too technical for the audience or which others might misunderstand or find offensive.
  • Arranges for interpreters, sign-language interpreters, or other facilitative media to ensure full access and understanding.
  • Handles difficult people with diplomacy.
  • Understands and responds appropriately to the differing needs of diverse internal and external customer groups.

ADDITIONAL FOR FIRST APPOINTMENT LEADERS AND ABOVE:

  • Modifies communications techniques as necessary in order to reach understanding with and among different groups.
  • Fine-tunes presentations strategically to the listener.
  • Anticipates and responds to the needs of all affected groups, including employees.
  • Takes into account the impact of emotions and feelings on a situation.
  • Models reciprocal, dynamic communicative process and checks for understanding.
  • Is sensitive to patterns of interaction occurring within the team.

ADDITIONAL FOR MID-LEVEL LEADERS AND ABOVE:

  • Communicates effectively within a wide range of contexts and understands the impact of culture and individual styles.
  • Anticipates and plans responses to potential questions and challenges.
  • Is sensitive to personal space, touch and other cultural and individual differences that affect communication.

ADDITIONAL FOR SENIOR LEADERS & EXECUTIVES:

  • Uses strategic analysis tools to recognize and overcome barriers to communication.
  • Is politically adroit in addressing, informing and negotiating buy-in from all key stakeholders.
  • Engages broadly in consultation that is participatory and empowering.
  • Selects an appropriate communication style to the audience and the situation.
  • Strategically plans to overcome barriers to communication such as selective exposure, selective attention, selective perception, selective retention, and selective recall.
  • Understands the complexities of organizational and group cultures and uses that knowledge to circumvent barriers to understanding among them.
  • Anticipates likely contextual barriers to effective understanding and cooperation. Employs processes that maintain regular and clear lines of communication in order to overcome such barriers
Explains complex information clearly and accurately, and seeks feedback to determine that understanding has occurred.

FOR FIRST APPOINTMENT LEADERS AND ABOVE:

  • Effectively and appropriately reduces complex goals or issues, tasks and/or problems to a workable set of fundamentals so that others can understand and take necessary action.
  • Can break down problems and situations into discrete parts that are easier to understand and to manage.
  • Makes decisions and the thinking behind them transparent to those affected by them.
  • Gives clear explanations about why action has, or has not been proposed or taken.
  • Gets beyond bureaucracy, jargon and red tape in service to the customer.
  • Offers honest, useful, empathic feedback and identifies people’s needs for development.
Is an effective facilitator.

FOR FIRST APPOINTMENT LEADERS AND ABOVE:

  • Helps team members learn to communicate in productive ways with each other and with other units or groups.
  • Is a good facilitator and uses strategies that draw more reticent team members into the discussion.
  • Uses effective communication strategies to manage disagreement or difficult exchanges.
  • Knows when to step in and when not to.
  • Deals quickly with disagreement or conflict among team members.
  • Is approachable and easy to talk to.
Listens actively; seeks clarification when needed and demonstrates sensitivity to a diverse workforce.

FOR ALL EMPLOYEES:

  • Seeks clarification of comments, particularly if the message is internally inconsistent, or if word usage differs from the norm. 
  • Listens attentively to others to hear and understand what is being said and to assess what is meant. 
  • Evaluates non-verbal cues for confirmation of the verbal message.
  • Restates individual’s comments for clarity and confirmation of understanding.
  • Demonstrates sensitivity to cultural meanings that may appear in both word usage and non-verbal behaviors. 

 

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