How To Be a Better Communicator - The Most Essential Life Skill

How To Be a Better Communicator

Learning how to be a better communicator is possibly the most essential life skill you can always improve on (  Why? The way you communicate (or not) will affect every aspect of your life.  Think about all the relationships you have.  You are a son or daughter, possibly a parent or spouse, a friend, a neighbor, a community member.  If you work, you have professional relationships; some may be subordinate while you possibly lead others.     

Excellent communication skills allow you to transmit and receive information accurately and quickly so that you can both understand and be understood.  Conversely, poor communication skills can lead to frustration and conflict due to misunderstanding and leave you feeling isolated and alone.   

If you are trying to innovate, create, manage, and lead, having brilliant ideas is only the start because you must be able to express them clearly to make them materialize. 

Communication skills to master 

Be a proactive listener: 

“Remind yourself every morning: Nothing you say this day will teach you anything.  

If you’re going to learn, you’re going to do it by listening” 

 ~Larry King 

What’s the difference between passively listening and proactively listening?  Passive listeners take in information without any input or reaction. Actively listening means you are present,  without distraction, and engaged in what someone is saying. You are mentally and emotionally present and convey a sincere interest in someone is saying.  It is critical in intimate relationships and building trust in professional ones.   

How to be better at listening proactively:   

  • Don’t just “hear” the words but listen with the conscious intention to understand.  
  • Try not to think about what you are going to say next or give half of your attention to the speaker and the other half thinking about what you’re having for lunch.  
  •  Ask questions that are relevant to the topic, use facial expressions to your level of understanding (more on body language later).  

Learn the art of reflection:  

“Better to be silent and thought a fool, then speak out (too soon) and remove all doubt.”   

Abraham Lincoln 

Think before you speak.   Ask yourself:   

  • is it is the right time to offer advice, or does this person need to vent? 
  • Should you share a similar experience of your own or just let it be about the speaker?  
  •  Is it appropriate to ask questions for more information, or is it better to accept what they openly tell you? 

 A moment of pause before speaking can be the difference between a warm and productive exchange or an awkward injection that leads to alienation.    

Be clear and concise 

This may be more relevant in professional communication, but it is best to get straight to the point without a lot of unnecessary details.  What you may think is essential background information, or an introduction, may be considered a waste of time in getting to the point unless there is a clear and direct connection to it.  

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give background information, but keep it clear and concise. The rule is if it’s not adding value, it’s subtracting value.  Remember: 

  • If asked a question, answer it. Be honest and don’t try and be too clever or funny unless you are confident it will not backfire. 
  • Being too wordy will water down your message.  
  • Don’t be repetitive. It’s one thing to emphasize a point, but stating it, again and again, is overkill.   
  • If your point is difficult to make clear, try to illustrate or explain in different ways.  An analogy is an excellent tool for this, but make sure to use a truly relevant one. 
  • Check for understanding before offering lengthy explanations and maintain focus on your topic   

Use empathy to build trust. 

Empathy is having an awareness of and acknowledging another person’s feelings.  When you understand how someone feels, you have compassion.   When people believe you grasp what they are saying, they feel validated and trust that you are taking them seriously.  When they don’t feel valued or appreciated, the relationship suffers.   

How to be more empathetic 

Let’s begin with what you should not do.  When someone trusts you enough to make themselves vulnerable, please do not respond by saying “you shouldn’t feel that way” or even worse, try to make them feel better by saying something like “if you think that’s bad, what until I tell you what happened to me!”   

Try putting yourself in their position for a minute.  Think about how you might feel, but don’t project your feelings on to them; keep listening to what they are trying to say.   There is no right or wrong way to feel even if you see it differently.  You can support them as someone with integrity and worth even if you completely disagree with them.  If you must express your disagreement, emphasize your respect for their feelings first.     Empathy is the gateway to deep and productive communication. 

Ask “good” questions. 

If you want to get good answers, you have to ask good questions 

You ask questions to get information; to understand what the speaker is trying to say; to affirm your interest.   

  • Focus on the topic and base your question on the information you have. Word it understandably, so the answer will tell you what you need to know.    
  • Decide if it is best to ask for an explanation or a simple yes/no answer?  
  • Are you looking for clarification on something?
  • Maybe you’d like to hear another opinion?  
  • If you’re going to ask personal questions, consider asking them in a way that one can comfortably decline to answer if they choose.  

Consider your intent:  Being aware of these things will help keep the flow of conversation so that no one gets put in an awkward or embarrassing position.  

Improve non-verbal communication  

Did you know that 55% of all communication is non-verbal?  Body language speaks as much about attitude and emotion as words.  Your physical cues send signals to the listener that are interpolated both deliberately and instinctively.  Therefore, verbal and non-verbal communication must work together.  Your body language must be consistent with what you are saying and appropriate in each situation. 

  • Mirror the person you are speaking with.  If they are sitting with their legs crossed, cross yours.  If they are excited and using hand gestures profusely, start talking with your hands too.  If their demeanor is soft-spoken, lower your voice to match theirs.  You will make a great impression and establish rapport with anyone you are talking to.   
  • Keep appropriate eye contact.  If you can’t look someone in the eye, you will be perceived as dishonest and untrustworthy.   Hold a constant stare that is deep and penetrating, and you’ll be seen as creepy and stalker-like.  Maintain eye contact 95% of the time, with the occasional glance elsewhere.  You will show you are engaged and honest without coming off as too intense.  
  • Don’t fidget, but don’t be too uptight either.  Are you always tapping your foot or twirling your hair? You may be thought of as nervous or childish if you do.  However, if you sit perfectly still and hands planted on your lap, you’ll look as if you’re hiding something or holding something back.   Be natural, breathe, move around a bit, but watch for twitchy behaviors.  
  • Work on your handshake.    It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman a robust handshake is always appreciated.   No one likes a weak “dead-fish” shake, but don’t crush the other person’s hand either.  A good rule of thumb is to let the person with the “higher” position set the tone for strength and time.   Mirror their grip and release when they do.   
  • Learn to use your voice.  Technically these aren’t body gestures, but the pitch, tone, volume, and the speed at which you speak all send messages to your listeners beyond the words you choose. When you want to express emotion, these elements should be consistent with what you’re feeling.  

Learn to resolve conflict 

  • Don’t react:  When you react, you are acting out of emotion and not logic and reason.  Most of the time, people say things they later regret when they speak in the heat of the moment.    Take a moment to pause and, if needed, walk away until you are both more levelheaded.   Even if they are acting out, you don’t have too.  
  • If you choose to stay and talk:  Take a moment to pause and think about what you’re saying.  Stick to the facts and how it affects you without criticizing or name-calling.  Be clear and concise about what you need while having some empathy for where the other person is coming from.     
  • Agree to disagree: It isn’t always necessary to be right or prove someone else wrong.  Part of social maturity is being able to see things from someone else’s point of view or at least accepting they may have different values and opinions. 
  • Pick your battles You can’t always have things your way.  Sometimes it’s better to be happy than it is to be right.   Fight for the things that are really important to you.  Find a middle-ground on the things that are only moderately important and let the small stuff go.  You’ll be happier in the end.   

People with developed communication skills are more successful in both their personal and professional lives.  No one ever masters communication because there is always room for growth.  The better you get at resolving problems, giving and receiving information clearly and accurately, and having productive interactions that treat others with dignity and respect, the smoother your roadmap to success and happiness will be. 

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