Communication is the glue that holds any relationship together, and good communication leads to good relationships. Yet, it’s really hard to achieve.
Especially considering how glued we are to our phones – texting our friends, sending an email on the go, or on phone calls – effective communication skills have never been more important than in the digital age.
Happily, communication skills can be improved and you can train it like any other muscle. Key is to understand the nuances of communication.
“Often we forget there are two parts to communication: what we convey and what the other person understands. If the person you’re communicating understands you, you have effectively communicated,” says Rachel Service, CEO of Happiness Concierge.
Why is communication important?
By fine-tuning our communication skills, we can better understand different perspectives and situations, foster respect and trust, and overcome adversities. Quality communication helps build stronger relationships, both personally and professionally.
“Communication is the heartbeat of high performing workplaces,” Rachel says. “Yet, studies consistently find that many in the workplace feel confused, unclear and don’t get feedback.
“Many feel their colleagues are poor communicators. For example, in one study, it was found that nearly half of employees have no idea what is expected of them, with 37 per cent saying they receive unclear directions from their leader between 1-3 times a day.
“Conversely, when someone knows what is expected of them, has the tools to do it, and the opportunity to get feedback and grow, performance skyrockets.”
How to improve communication skills
But how? Communication is a very broad term, and considering everyone has unique lived experiences, cultures, languages, upbringings, and worldviews, it can be tricky to navigate discussions. Luckily, there are some communication strategies that we can develop to help strengthen relationships, even globally.
One of the best communication techniques is simply – listening. If the person you’re conversing with doesn’t think they’re being heard, the discussion won’t end well for either party. Don’t just nod while mentally preparing your grocery list, actively listen without distractions.
A habit many of us fall into during conversation is preparing our response while the other person is talking, rather than attempting to understand and empathise with what they’re saying. If you give someone your undivided attention and attempt to gain their perspective, they will be more likely to treat you with the same respect.
“Without effective listening, communication is ineffectual,” says Scott Dutton of Fighting Fair. “We need to learn to listen first, demonstrate we have heard via reflective listening (without necessarily agreeing) and then we can speak with clarity about how we see the issue or situation. ”
Be aware of body language
Just as important as the words coming out of your mouth is how you are holding your body while you are communicating. It’s important to be aware of your posture, hand gestures, facial expressions and eye contact. Don’t hunch over as this will make you appear unsure of your message. At the same time, don’t invade personal space as this can be seen as aggressive.
It’s fine to gesticulate with your hands to get your point across, as long as you’re not waving them around belligerently. Maintaining eye contact is also important to show the other person that you are listening and respect what they have to say.
Remember, not everyone has the same abilities as you. Many people in the deaf community, for example, rely on other communicative indicators like sign language and lip reading, so it’s important you are inclusive and respectful in how you approach the conversation.
Know your audience
It’s one thing to text a strongly-worded message to your sister when she steals a shirt from your wardrobe, it’s a different kettle of fish when dealing with your boss, for instance. In order to get your point across appropriately, consider who is on the receiving end of your correspondence and how you can tailor your message in a suitable, yet effective, manner. The medium of your communication is important as well. A colloquial text is fine when conversing with a friend, whereas an email is most apt for a professional setting.
It is also important to be aware and respectful of other cultures and backgrounds. Your perspective might be completely different than someone who grew up on the other side of the world, with different parental, societal, and religious influences.If you don’t share the same first language, it’s easy for words to be misinterpreted or things to get lost in translation. Always remember to clarify so you’re both on the same page.
The longer you talk, the more likely the other person will zone out – and vice versa. It’s best to keep your point clear and concise without unnecessary waffle that may undermine what you’re trying to convey. As humans, we tend to yarn for a while if we’re nervous or uncomfortable. If you know you will be entering into a potentially tricky conversation, make sure you compose your thoughts beforehand and think about the key message you want to pass on. Remember, practice makes perfect, and the more you engage in these kinds of conversations, the easier it will become.
A great way to get all your thoughts in a row ahead of a conversation is by taking notes. Not only will you be less likely to ramble, you will also feel more prepared and comfortable throughout the interaction. You can even write down some points you think the other party might raise so you have an idea of how to respond ahead of time. If the conversation calls for it, it’s a good idea take notes during the communication to reflect on afterwards, and go back for clarification if necessary. This is particularly useful in workplace settings, like meetings.
Count to ten
Communication can be fun and rewarding, but it can also be anxiety-inducing and exhausting, particularly if the topic at hand is overly contentious. To reduce overwhelming feelings before pressing dial, hitting send, or speaking out loud, count to ten in your head and take a breath to compose yourself. This will help you gather your thoughts and allow you to speak in a clear and assertive, yet non-confrontational, manner.