“Communication works for those who work at it.”-John Powell
These are simple but very powerful words from John Powell. Simplicity is key here— because learning to improve your communication skills is also a fairly straightforward process that allows you to express yourself effectively, which would allow you to improve both your personal and professional relationships. This may not seem like a big deal, but trust us, it is:
Imagine that you have toiled hard for three months to prepare for the interview for your dream company and you can see yourself on that shiny new desk with an employee of the month proudly displayed… But, wait! You have to get past the interview stage first. There is nothing you don’t know but when the time comes, you are not able to articulate your thoughts as well as you could in front of the mirror. Now imagine that you have been practising daily on your communication skills and because of that, you are able to make an excellent first impression the moment you walked into that room There are countless such examples where the communication skills could separate you from the rest of the pack.
But, all of you must be wondering: “But, what is effective communication?”, We are glad you asked. Please continue reading.
The Essence of Effective Communication
Effective communication is about listening and communicating effectively to those around you. If a communication guru is telling you on the internet that you can master communication skills in one week, then run away as fast as you can because there is no one skill or technique that will make you a better communicator overnight! This requires a diverse skill set covering both verbal and non-verbal communication cues (which we will touch upon in this article) as well as listening.
The Importance of Effective Communication
Don’t you feel frustrated when what you want to say is at the tip of you tongue and in the crunch moments, you can summon neither the right words nor the right emotion. This is where effective communication comes in. But, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you need effective communication only at your workplace; in fact, we would argue that it is even more critical in your personal lives because it determines how you interact with the world around you at large.
It allows you to translate your intentions and feeling into easy to understand messages. It also makes you more efficient and therefore productive at what you do by cutting down on time spent as a result of miscommunication. And because listening is such a key part of effective communication, developing this skill helps you understand what others are saying, making you a better collaborator and a team player.
We have already touched on a couple of these, but let’s talk about them in detail now:
- Listening: It’s at the top because it is the MOST important of all skills because you cannot communicate effectively without first listening actively. People who are just focused on what you have to say, then the chances are that you are not listening at all, much less actively.
- Empathy: This is related to listening but it goes much deeper than that. When you truly understand the feelings of those you are trying to communicate with, you are able to build an instant rapport with them and that increases your ability to communicate.
- Non-verbal communication skills: Yes, verbal skills are the most important, but do not neglect non-verbal cues such as having a positive body language and tone. They can make a world of difference on overall communication.
- Teamwork/Networking: The reason you want to be an effective communicator is to communicate, right? An integral part of building your business communication skills is to engage in team-building with your coworkers. The better your rapport is with people in your workplace, the more effective your communication is going to be.
You must be asking yourself: “all this is well and good, but what are the specific tools or strategies I can follow to become an effective communicator?” And in this article, we will share with you five things that you can practice daily that will transform your communication skills.
Five Things To Practice Daily To Improve Communication Skills
- Practice Active Listening:
Active learning forms the foundation of any deep, meaningful conversation because when you are listening actively, you make the other person heard, in the truest sense of the word. When you are actively listening, you are fully concentrating on what is being said and you are listening with all your senses. But what distinguishes active listening from non-active listening. Active listening is:
- Neutral and non-judgmental
- Patient (you don’t fee the need to fill the periods of silence)
- Verbal and non-verbal feedback to show signs of listening
- Asking questions (shows you are engaged)
- Reflecting what is being said
- Asking clarifying questions
Active listening has nothing to do with you jumping in with your own ideas and opinions (that would be the realm of critical listening). Your only job is to act as a sounding board.
Benefits of Active Listening:
- Relationships: Active listening allows you to understand the point of view of another person and respond with empathy. By asking questions you also make sure you are understanding everything that is being said. There are a countless times in our lives when a spouse, a friend, or you son/daughter are not looking for you to ‘fix’ their problem, they just need to feel heard
- Work: This is every bit as important at work, since your employee could be telling you something about an obstacle they haven’t been able to overcome. Listening actively allows you to understand problems and collaborate to jointly develop a solution. This is also a critical skill if you work in any kind of a team environment.
- Social Situations: We are social beings and as you forge new connection, the skill that is going to help you the most is going to be active listening. When you are listening actively, the person speaking to you is likely to share more and that would give you the best chance to turn casual acquaintances into friends.
Tips to Practice Active Listening:
- Establish eye contact: A good rule of thumb is to aim for the eye contact for 60%-70% of the time you spend listening. Leaning forward and nodding your head (but not overdoing it) are signs that you are actively listening and engaged.
- Paraphrase: This has two advantages: (a). It allows you to be non-judgmental and (b). It shows you care. You could do that by saying something like: “So, in other words, what you are saying is…”.
- Do not interrupt: It’s impolite to interject when someone is speaking (remember, we are practicing active listening not active speaking). Do not even prepare your reply while the other person is speaking as it can distract from what is being said.
- Pay attention to non-verbal cues: For e.g facial expressions, tone of voice and other behaviours.
- Ask questions: Ask clarification questions. Also ensure you ask open-ended questions so that the speaker is encouraged to answer them.
- Patience is the key: Listen patiently with the intention of listening not of responding. We are capable of listening much faster than others can speak.
- Recognise active listening: Watch interviews on radio/television etc. and observe whether the interviewer is practicing active listening.
- Focus on non-verbal communcation:
You are going to find that elements of nonverbal communication and active listening overlap significantly, since focusing on non-verbal communication is the key part of active listening. So, when talking about non-verbal communication skills, we are just going to focus on what we haven’t touched upon under the active listening section.
- Focus on the tone of voice: Your tone of voice, in some cases, can convey a lot more than your words can, information ranging from enthusiasm, to indifference to anger. You can use tone effectively to amplify your message. Let us give you an example: Say you want to show genuine interest in something, you could communicate that intent by using an animated tone of voice. Doing so not only convey you passion, but also kindle interest in those who are listening to you.
- Use Signals to add meaning: It takes two to tango! Remember verbal and non-verbal communication go hand-in-hand? You can enhance your verbal communication skills by using positive body language that reinforces and supports your message. This is an especially useful skill when making presentation or addressing a large group of people. If, for example, you want to appear confident and prepared during a presentation, your non-verbal signals should focus on showing you as self-assured and capable. You can do this by:
- Standing firmly in one place
- Keeping your shoulders back
- Keeping your weight evenly balanced on both feet
- Manage your emotions:
But, don’t emotions make our lives exciting? Sure they do and that is why you should aim for regulation, not repression. Don’t you wish that you could control your emotions vs. the other way around? When you suppress your emotions, you are preventing yourself from experiencing and expressing those feeling. The way to deal with your emotions is to identify them, not sweep them under the rug. Whenever you feel in the throes of extreme emotion, asks yourself the following questions:
- What am I feeling right now?
- Did something happen to make me feel this way?
- Is there another plausible explanation?
- What do I want to do about these feelings?
- Is there a better way to cope with these feelings?
When you consider alternatives, you are reframing your thoughts, which can help modify your extreme first reaction. This will take a lot of practice, but it WILL happen for sure. Just remember, the only way to get better at managing your emotions is to accept all your emotions!
- Solicit Feedback:
You can’t fix something that you don’t know is broken! Timely feedback can help you improve your performance and boost your career prospects, but it is, in no way, limited to the workplace. But, equally important is whether you feel mentally ready to receive and act upon that feedback.
This is easier said than done of course. We all know going up to someone to ask for feedback can be a bit intimidating, but you can overcome this fear by reminding yourself that nobody is infallible and there’s always room for improvement. If anything, you should commend yourself for having a growth mindset. Now, let’s take a look at what are some of the ways in which to ask for feedback:
- active listening (yes, again!)
- Practice public speaking
We have all dreamt about giving that perfect speech in front of packed houses, but when the time comes we are not able to do as well as we thought. Reason? In a nutshell, we haven’t practiced enough! This is not just applicable to presentations, think of public speaking as a valuable life skill because there is no area of your life where it wouldn’t stand to benefit you. Public speaking can not only enhance your reputation but also can boost your self-confidence and open up countless opportunities for you.
The topic of communicating effectively is something that always seems daunting at first, but it isn’t really as long as you are focusing on the right things. As you can see close to 50% of this entire article is about active listening, a topic many of us don’t even associate with effective communication at all, so if you can only have one big takeaway from this article, let it be this that active listening is the most important aspect of effective communication. In conclusion, if you follow the strategies in this article and practice every single day, you will surprise yourselves and your bosses and spouses in ways you wouldn’t have imagined. Good luck!