Communication affects all areas of our lives, business and personal. But do you ever wonder if you could be communicating better?
In this information age, we have to send, receive and process huge numbers of messages every day. But effective communication is about more than just exchanging information. Effective communication requires you to also understand the emotion behind the information.
It can improve relationships at home, work and in social situations by deepening your connections to others and improving teamwork, decision-making, caring and problem solving. It enables you to communicate even negative or difficult messages without creating conflict or destroying trust.
Effective communication combines a set of skills including non-verbal communication, attentive listening, the ability to manage stress in the moment, and the capacity to recognize and understand your own emotions and those of the person you’re communicating with.
While effective communication is a learned skill, it is more effective when it’s spontaneous rather than formulaic. A speech that is read, for example, rarely has the same impact as a speech that’s delivered (or appears to be delivered) spontaneously.
Of course, it takes time and effort to develop these skills and become an effective communicator. The more effort and practice you put in, the more instinctive and spontaneous your communication skills will become.
Let me give you a few tips how to do it.
Being an effective communicator starts with being able to listen. Show a genuine interest in the other person. Don’t be the person that is always talking. Once you have asked a question, allow them to answer it in their own time. Good listeners don’t interrupt the other speaker, don’t judge, think before answering, face the speaker, are close enough to hear and watch non-verbal behaviour.
They are also aware of biases or values that distort what they hear, look for the feelings and basic assumptions that underlie remarks, concentrate on what is being said, avoid rehearsing answers while the other person is talking and don’t insist on having the last word.
The right way to ask questions
Ask the right questions. More effective communication will come with asking opinion type questions or open ended questions. Do not ask questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no as this can quickly stall any conversation. When you are talking, show that you are hearing what the other person is saying by recounting or reflecting it. When you are reflecting, you are taking part of what the other person said. When engaged in a conversation with a person, try and ask for additional details, examples or impressions.
The importance of names
When you first meet a new person, make sure that you hear their name and use it straight away to help you remember it. Use a word association trick if you have difficulty generally remembering names. For example, Jane is a journalist or Peter likes pizza. It doesn’t matter if it sounds silly, as long as it works! After all, no one will know of your little trick but you.
It is interesting to note that 95 percent of communication is actually non-verbal. Non-verbal cues, or body language, involve eye movement, the tone of voice, posture, facial expressions and hand gestures. If you are talking to someone, eye contact without staring shows that you are confident. Be aware of your body language when talking to someone else. Crossed arms or legs can indicate defensiveness or being unreceptive. Mirroring someone else generally shows genuine interest in them and what they’re saying.
Feedback is also an effective communication tool. It is important to note however that the receiver is ready for the feedback. Any comments that you make should be describing in nature, rather than interpreting. Focus on recent events or actions that can be changed but do so in a way that does not try and force people to change.
Paraphrasing is not used to clarify what the other person actually meant but to show what it meant to you. This means that you might have to restate the original example that was given to you in more specific terms or more general terms depending on which is more appropriate.
Perception checking is used to understand the feelings behind what is being said. The easiest way to do this is to describe your impressions of a person’s feelings at any given time, avoiding sounding approving or disapproving.
Effective communicators use ‘I’ messages. These messages reflect their own views and rely on description rather than blame or criticism. By using an ‘I’ message, the other person is less likely to become defensive and the message is more likely to be heard.
One form of the ‘I’ message includes three elements – the problem or situation, how you feel about the issue, and the reason for the concern. For example, “When you don’t call, I worry that something may have happened.” For expressing feelings, refer directly to the feelings, use similes or describe what you’d like to do.
When we communicate things that we care about, we do so mainly using nonverbal signals. Wordless communication or body language includes facial expressions, body movement and gestures, eye contact, posture, the tone of your voice and even your muscle tension and breathing. The way you look, listen, move and react to another person tells them more about how you’re feeling than words alone ever can.
Developing the ability to understand and use non-verbal communication can help you connect with others, express what you really mean, navigate challenging situations and build better relationships at home and work.
You can enhance effective communication by using open body language—arms uncrossed, standing with an open stance or sitting on the edge of your seat and maintaining eye contact with the person you’re talking to.
You can also use body language to emphasize or enhance your verbal message—patting a friend on the back while complimenting him on his success, for example or pounding your fists to underline your message.
Emotions play an important role in the way we communicate at home and work. It’s the way you feel, more than the way you think, that motivates you to communicate or to make decisions. The way you react to emotionally-driven, non-verbal cues affect both how you understand other people and how they understand you.
If you are out of touch with your feelings and don’t understand how you feel or why you feel that way, you’ll have a hard time communicating your feelings and needs to others. This can result in frustration, misunderstandings and conflict.
When you don’t address what’s really bothering you, you often become embroiled in petty squabbles instead—arguing with your spouse about how the towels should be hung, for example, or with a co-worker about whose turn it is to restock the copier.
Emotional awareness provides you the tools for understanding both yourself and other people and the real messages they are communicating to you. Although knowing your own feelings may seem simple, many people ignore or try to sedate strong emotions like anger, sadness and fear. But your ability to communicate depends on being connected to these feelings.
If you’re afraid of strong emotions or if you insist on communicating only on a rational level, it will impair your ability to fully understand others, creatively problem solve, resolve conflicts or build an affectionate connection with someone.
Since the world is so incredibly diverse and communications come in such a wide variety of forms, it is important to know many appropriate and helpful interpersonal skills. By practicing the few suggestions found here, you will find yourself understanding more of what people say and repeating yourself less to other people.
Your co-workers and friends will have the confidence to come to you when they find themselves in need. Remember, great communication skills take practice. Do not give up on ‘day one’. Your ability to express yourself will grow almost daily as long as you apply yourself in improving communication skills.