Communication is the process in which information is shared between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, and behavior. Communication is key to sharing ideas, building relations, problem-solving, motivating others, and more. It enables people to build trust, gain and provide direction, and ultimately get what we want in life; thus, it is a necessary skill. Clear communication enables us to grow, move up the ladder, and rise to success in the business world. At home, it enables us to be better understood so that our personal needs, and the needs of others, can be met. Most humans possess the potential to develop great verbal and nonverbal skills, yet should we fail to maximize that potential, not only can it lead to misunderstandings, but it can also stifle our success at work and home. Here are six easy ways to improve communication skills.
1) Be direct – If you have an important message to share, reflect upon the content and how you will deliver the message. Example: A manager of a store sought to address an employee’s chronic lateness. He beat around the bush and offered this quote to remind the employee not to be late, “Punctuality is the soul of business.” Then, he recounted a story about the early bird who gets the worm. The next day, the employee was late again. To avoid miscommunication and for the message to be understood and accepted, the manager must be clear, direct, and professional. Rather than offer a quote or story where the point can be lost, the manager should address the lateness, state the company policy, and explain the consequences directly.
2) Choose your words wisely – Words have power, and what they say can significantly impact others. American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou understood this. She describes a future where someday we will be able to measure the power of our words. She expounded, “Words are things. I’m convinced. You must be careful about the words you allow to be used in your house.” Words can be used to encourage or discourage people, empower or disempower them, and build or destroy them. Therefore, we must speak in ways that are positive, encouraging, and enlightening. This may sometimes prove a challenge for the human temperament, as people may be quick to temper, complain, and gossip. In the workplace, it is beneficial to remain professional. For example, an employee may be delegated a challenging workload. Rather than storm into the boss’ office to whine about it, a mature approach would reflect better on that employee. Instead, it’s better to schedule a meeting with the boss and explain the dilemma. Be prepared to offer real solutions to troubleshoot the problem.
3) Pay attention to non-verbal signals – There is a whole science behind the study of human body language, the process of communicating nonverbally through conscious or unconscious gestures or movements. Kinesics is the interpretation of body motion communication, such as facial expressions, gestures, and physical movements as it relates to nonverbal behavior. In business, body language is important. For example, two different candidates were interviewed for the same position. Each was equally qualified. The first candidate made direct eye contact while the second consistently looked away. The first was offered the job because they appeared interested, whereas the second appeared to be disinterested or bored based on nonverbal cues. The first candidate also smiled and seemed pleasant, whereas candidate number two had pursed lips that indicated displeasure. Positions of the arms are also another example of nonverbal communication. Crossed arms can indicate a defensive blocking gesture, though sometimes they can signal confidence if they accompany a smile. Thus, it’s important to think about how we present ourselves to others in nonverbal ways and work to send the appropriate messages we wish to convey.
4) Be confident – If you want your message to be heard or want to convince someone of something, it’s important to be confident. This means you must first believe in yourself, in your own abilities, and in what you are saying, doing, selling, or more. However, exuding confidence is quite like walking a tightrope because it may be misinterpreted as arrogance if you’re overly confident. Per Kaplan Professionals, “Essentially confidence is knowing what you’re good at, the value you provide and acting in ways that convey that to those around you.” For example, a marketing executive made a sales pitch. Because of her confidence, she made others believe in her abilities, and she was able to close the sale. In the reality program Shark Tank, where a panel of potential investors listen as entrepreneurs pitch ideas for a business or product they wish to develop, confidence is key. The “Sharks,” or investors, consist of a group of confident, self-made multimillionaire or billionaire tycoons. They seek to invest in businesses where sellers believe in their products and exude the confidence to succeed.
5) Keep your message simple – Hyperverbal speech, or talking too much, can have numerous causes, including medical reasons. However, research has found a general link between talking and anxiety. Many people tend to talk too much when they are nervous. They may later regret having said too much. Understand that some silence in conversation is normal and that a good communicator is equally a good listener. In addition, talking for too long can induce boredom for the listener. For example, a science professor got sidetracked and went off on a tangent while discussing the lifecycle of a gnat. Unfortunately, his monotone voice, longwinded speech, and unstimulating subject matter nearly put the class to sleep. And having gone off subject, he never delivered the information he had initially intended to. In another example, a poet had his poetry submission rejected. Despite using words that rhymed, his language was so flowery that he lost the reader by failing to paint a picture with his words. Good communication doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but it must effectively convey what you want to say.
6) Ask for feedback – Any good communicator knows that there is a dynamic relationship between a speaker and listener. As a tool of everyday conversation, it’s important to listen to people’s opinions and ask for feedback. Effective communicators do not talk over each other. Nor do they ignore or interrupt one another. Instead, they seek to engage each other in conversation. Good Therapy outlines three active communication strategies that increase dialogues between people. First, they suggest using connecting comments to engage in conversation. Our example follows. “So, you say you like baseball. That reminds me of a game I went to last week….” Second, they recommend using statements of curiosity to demonstrate interest. One might say, “I’m really curious about the history of your antique vase. Can you tell me more about it?” Asking open-ended questions is the third example, such as “What kind of exercise do you enjoy most?” These questions require more than a simple “yes” or “no” answer and keep conversations alive.
Applying these six simple tips can enhance day-to-day communications and may even improve relationships, both personal and professional. Knowing what you want to say, speaking straightforward yet thoughtfully, using appropriate body language, conveying confidence, and asking for feedback are not only excellent ways to engage with others but can also increase trust and likability factors that can create lifelong benefits at home and in the workplace.