Effective vs. Efficient Communication

Business people at conference table, woman making hand gestures

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Communication between animals is pretty simple. Birds sing to attract a mate. Dogs bark to scare off an intruder. Cats purr to show pleasure. The messages are pretty basic and there’s little room for miscommunication. The messages are understood, and they are accepted or not. Human speech has evolved to include 2,700 languages across the world, and the Oxford English Dictionary lists 500,000 English words. Still, humans have trouble communicating.

The question of effective vs. efficient communication has become a common topic in sales and business communication, where both time and impact are money. Analysis has been made how best to integrate the two concepts, which are frequently at odds.

Efficient vs. Effective

For words to be effective, they have to communicate in a way that influences the ones receiving them. Sometimes this is accomplished efficiently, in just a few words: “Help!” or “Stop!” But for the most part, less is not more, and efficiency is a detriment to effective communication.

Efficient Communication

Efficient communication may or may not be effective, but its hallmark is its brevity. It must be time limited, crisp and pointed. It gets the message out in the shortest time. Sometimes the message is well received; other times the brevity may be insufficient for understanding or to compel action. Sometimes the less said the better, but often a short message leaves questions unanswered and without explanation, thus the response could range from positive to negative to none at all.

Efficient communication is most likely to be effective if there is pre-established, mutual understanding between the message maker and the receiver.

Effective Communication

Effective communication may not be brief. For communication to be effective, it has to consider the receiver. Effective communication is two-way. Effective interpersonal communication includes a lot of verification and validation. This has two purposes: One, that what was said is mutually understood, and two, that the speaker feels understood so is more likely to act.

In a sales context, effective communication is essential for attracting a customer. The potential customer must feel the product and service will address his needs in order to buy. The customer must understand the terms of the sale to be a satisfied customer. If there is a problem after the sale, effective communication facilitates the problem being solved to the customer’s satisfaction, creating customer loyalty


Effective and efficient communication has become a business issue. It falls under the purview of Customer Relations Management (CRM), which has become an industry in itself. It focuses on getting new customers, keeping current customers happy and bringing back former customers. Their strategies are in the realms of sales, customer service and support and marketing. As much as possible, these effective strategies are computerized or automated to make them more efficient.

A How-To on Effective Interpersonal Communication

First establish contact. Start by using body language and tone of voice to convey sympathy, understanding, authority...whatever the underlying message is to be. Maintain eye contact and respond thoughtfully to the receiver’s messages. Normal people feel respect for people who respect them. Make sure your message is considered and well founded. If you don’t know something, admit it. This helps to establish credibility. Address the receiver's desires and concerns. Use pauses to give the receiver a chance to give feedback or ask a question. Reflect what you’ve heard from the receiver to be sure there is mutual understanding. Validate the receiver's needs, desires, concerns. If the subject is volatile, it may help to use "I" statements so the receiver does not feel accused.