No matter your background, effective communication is an important life skill that everyone needs. Whether it’s a backyard BBQ, family dinner, or departmental meeting, without strong communication skills, it’s difficult to get your point across effectively. And when communication falls short, it’s usually not pretty!
Whether you’re a new mom just back from maternity leave and still trying to recover from the sleepless newborn phase or a corporate veteran 15 years in, your communication skills could likely use some brushing up. Wherever you are in your life or career, it’s important to stop occasionally to evaluate whether your communication methods have been holding you back.
Keep in mind that communication changes as society and technology evolves. The way we communicate now is definitely not the same as it was ten years ago—texting, Instagram, and Slack (to mention a few!) have changed the face of communication. Plus, your communication methods change depending on the environment you’re in. If you’re like me and you left the corporate world behind to be your own boss, you’ll likely need to switch it up a little now that you’re representing your own brand instead of working for someone else.
No matter your situation or goals, here are my 5 go-to tips for improving your communication skills.
1. Prepare in Advance – Even for Small Talk!
If you’re delivering a presentation, make sure to plan out what you’re going to say. That said, you can also prepare for small talk. We can’t avoid it, so we might as well have a blueprint ready for those potentially awkward situations!
You may find yourself with parents you hardly know at a PTA meeting or with coworkers in the boardroom waiting for the meeting to start. Rather than staring awkwardly at the ceiling, have some “small talk” questions or topics ready to go, from asking about their weekend to sharing a funny anecdote.
Communication isn’t always verbal. Reading different kinds of material—from the newspaper, to magazine articles, to novels, to motivational books—will expose you to the different ways people write, speak, and generally present information. In turn, you’ll slowly start to expand and diversify your own communication methods.
So the more your read, the better your communication will be!
3. Listen to Understand
Many of us have become trained to listen to respond instead of listening to understand what the other person is saying or where they’re coming from. During a conversation, focus on actively listening instead of immediately going on the defense and preparing your response. Try these techniques to guide this process:
Don’t speak over the other person. This shows disrespect and gives the impression that what you have to say is more important. Everyone wants to be heard.
Ask questions if anything is unclear. This will help avoid misunderstandings.
Don’t do anything else while the other person is talking. This will show that you’re truly listening. It means not checking your cell phone or watch, walking into the other room to grab something, flipping on the TV, etc. STOP what you’re doing and give your full attention to the speaker.
Schedule another time to talk if needed. If it’s really not a good time for you, agree on another time to speak with them instead of giving them half of your attention.
4. Be Mindful of Body Language
Did you know that body language accounts for 55% of communication? The second most important aspect of communication is our tone of voice, accounting for 38%, while the actual words we speak make up a mere 7% of our communication.
This means that a person’s body language says a lot more than their actual words do. Say you’re in a job interview: your responses aren’t the only thing that matter—your posture and gestures are just as important. Making eye contact and not crossing your arms are some simple ways to exhibit more positive body language.
We also need to be mindful of other people’s body language: They might say one thing but mean something else entirely. Paying attention to others’ body language might help clue you in to how they’re really feeling about the conversation.
Everyone wants to be heard. Take the conversation a step further by validating the speaker’s thoughts and feelings. This doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything they say, but acknowledging what they have expressed goes a long way to ensure effective communication.
Essentially, you’re reassuring them that they’ve been heard and understood.
Brushing Up Your Communication Skills: Practice Makes Perfect
As our lives and situations change, we must constantly evolve and adapt. The more conscious you are of your communication, the more it will improve!