Effective Communication. It might very well be the #1 soft skill you need to succeed. Think about it. When communication is poor, wires cross, tensions rise, and initiatives fail. We communicate daily with peers, direct reports, bosses, customers, friends, and partners. Doing it well means you get along better. It means you make more money, waste less time, and get more of what you truly want out of life and business.
If you feel like you could use a boost in this arena, have no fear. These tips are easy to implement — especially if you focus on one at a time. The fact that you’re aware of the need for better communication is a fantastic first step. No one is perfect, and we could all use these reminders from time to time.
Here are five ways to improve your communication skills:
1. Make sure your body language aligns with your intention.
So much of what we hear from another person depends on what their body is doing. Imagine you are telling a peer about your exciting weekend. Their words are saying, “That is so great! Tell me more please.” But meanwhile, they are rolling their eyes, crossing their arms over their chest, and facing another direction. What do you listen to — their words or their body?
Your body speaks volumes to your listener. Good posture emits confidence. Making eye contact adds trustworthiness and caring. Facing the person with your body shows you are connected and paying attention. Fidgeting or tapping conveys nervousness or impatience. So make sure your body language is saying the same message as your words.
2. Listen as you’d want to be listened to.
Talking is only half of the communication equation. You want to be as good (or better) at listening if you really want to create rapport and effective connection. Would you like it if you were sharing an important thought and someone was swiping away on their phone as you spoke? Remember those nonverbal cues we spoke about in tip number one? Those also apply when you are listening.
Actively listening can mean nodding your head as they talk. Tilting your head to the side as they speak can show you care. And please, please, please stop trying to formulate your response before they finish speaking. Really listen to hear and understand their meaning. Be receptive. Ask questions to clarify meaning if you need to.
“If you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other persons will enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments.” ― Dale Carnegie
3. Pay attention to context and setting.
How we communicate changes depending on the context. You probably won’t be communicating in a meeting the same way you would on a dinner outing with friends. And communicating through email is very different than by phone, or even by text. Keep your communication appropriate to the setting. Some situations call for brevity and getting quickly to the point. Some situations require a little bit of “seasoning” like storytelling, humor, or deeper explanation. Pay attention to what the context demands.
4. Reinforce important points.
I’m sure that in your ideal world, everyone is hanging onto every word you say with focused attention. But no one’s perfect, and even with the best of intentions, life happens. If you are sharing something important with someone, don’t just assume they heard it. Summarize what you said, and repeat the most crucial points. If you really need to ensure they got the message, follow up a conversation with an email or a text.
You can also ask them to repeat it back to you to make sure they got the message. Or say to them: “What’s one question that you have?” as opposed to, “Do you have any questions?” If you are sharing a lot of details, pause throughout to make sure they are with you. Even if you’ve followed all the tips and have been the best communicator ever, they could still be distracted or hungry or just simply not a good listener. So always double-check when it matters.
5. Cater to the listener.
What is the other person’s style? If you really want to be heard, assimilate to it. If they love to laugh, tell them a funny story. If they are really busy, be as concise as possible. If they speak quietly, tone down your voice a bit. Some people call this mirroring. This applies to body language, too. If they are leaning forward in their chair, lean forward in yours. If they use exclamation points in their emails, then you have permission to be fun! On the contrary, if they are super formal, you may want to be the same. To get them to be receptive to what you have to say, sometimes you need to show you can connect with them first. And people like people who are likeminded.
Better communication is going to help you in every aspect of life — whether it’s ordering food at a restaurant, attending a parent-teacher meeting at your child’s school, or making vacation plans with your spouse. And it’s absolutely essential for leadership, teamwork, and better serving clients and customers.
“There is only one excuse for a speaker’s asking the attention of his audience: he must have either truth or entertainment for them.” ― Dale Carnegie