Communication is what helps us make good relationships. It helps us get what we want out of life. It helps us take care of the people we love. And it helps us to be successful at work.
So, what's left if we don't have good communication skills?
Let's take a friend of mine, Sam, as an example. Sam is not a good communicator. Recently he was given a line manager job at a supermarket by his father-in-law - nepotism, eh - but things are not going so well for him.
At work, Sam is in disarray. He doesn't clearly tell his team what he wants them to do, so they've started slacking off. When a customer comes to him with a question or problem, Sam doesn't show any care or empathy - so complaints have gone through the roof. And when his own boss is around, Sam gets so anxious that he blethers on endlessly about insignificant details.
How long can Sam realistically keep this job?
At home, things are possibly even worse for poor old Sam. He comes home from each hard day's work with a lot on his mind and a heavy burden on his shoulders. But instead of talking it through with his partner, he clams up and takes out his frustration on her. Now his partner is confused and wondering what has gone so wrong between them.
What a mess! And all because of a lack of communication skills.
You probably aren't as terrible a communicator as Sam. But even if you are, don't worry. We've got 6 simple, super-effective methods you can use to become a better communicator. And you can start using them today.
1. Say something useful and valuable.Let's start with a principle that seems obvious when you read it - but which many people don't follow.
If you want to be a good communicator, you must have something valuable to say. If you aren't used to focusing on your communication, this can mean preparing in advance - at least until you improve your skills and become more confident.
In Sam's case, he needs to think harder about how to direct his team. Other examples of when it's very important to have a clear and well-thought-out message include:
- Raising a difficult issue with your partner, a colleague or a friend
- Giving a presentation or speech
- Leading a project
Think carefully about what the person you're talking to needs to know. If needed, rehearse the wording in your head so you are as clear in what you're saying as possible. The more you practice, the easier it will come.
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2. Be a good listener.
Communication is a two-way street. However well you speak, you must also listen and respond well to what others say if you're to have a productive conversation.
Take Sam. He didn't listen enough to his customers, so they started complaining. He'll probably be fired by next week.
When communicating at work or at home, make sure you...
- Really listen to others and try to understand where they're coming from
- Show that you're listening by giving feedback and cues, such as nodding or saying "yes" or "ok" to acknowledge what they have said
- Consider what others say. If they ask something of you or criticise you, don't just dismiss it or get angry. Think about how you can help or improve the situation.
Listening more is an easy way to become a better communicator. Try it!
3. Work on being a calm communicator.As we heard earlier, my friend Sam has a habit of anxiously jabbering on when trying to explain things to his boss. This isn't a good way to act in a professional environment - it doesn't inspire confidence, it's not productive, and it can be annoying!
However, we can all become agitated communicators when we feel we're in a high-pressure situation. Whether it's a disagreement with a loved one, or doing some public speaking, or having to talk with a superior we're a little bit scared of... it's easy to get worked up.
Some unfortunate side-effects of this include:
- Getting angry or tense
- Talking too much about nothing
- Clamming up, so we can't say what we want to say
Be mindful of the situation you are in, and remember how important it is to stay calm. When you are calm, you can speak and take ideas on board more freely. You're also much less likely to say something you'll regret later!
- Keeping in mind the importance of staying calm
- Taking a deep breath, or a 5-minute break, if you find yourself getting too worked up
- Preparing what you need to say in advance, to remove the pressure of thinking on your feet
4. Be more openIt's one thing to have strong speaking and listening skills. But what if you don't use them? What if you aren't willing to tell people how you feel, what you want from them, what you like about them, and so on?
Then pretty soon you might find yourself rather lonely!
Take Sam. He's having a pretty rough time at work. A great way for him to get his worries off his chest would be to talk to his partner about it. It would make him feel better. And he could also get another perspective on things, which might help him to perform better at work.
But what does he do instead? He clams up, creating a terrible atmosphere between himself and his partner.
Don't be like Sam. Talking to others about how your feelings, and about what you need from them, is not just a way to become a better communicator. Its essential to being a healthy human being.
Start now. If you have something worrying you, talk about it to someone you trust. If you have a co-worker who would benefit from your input, talk to them. It's not as hard as it might seem.
5. Smile.Let's end on a really easy but really effective one.
When you smile, you project happiness and confidence. That makes the person you're talking to happy too, and it gives them more confidence in you.
People who smile often are more successful and happy - and they get their way more often.
6. Take decisive actionThe five tips we've given so far are all useful things you can do yourself. But if you want to continue to develop advanced communication skills, you can also think about training your voice and your body language.
There are many training courses available to help you, both online and classroom-based. Either way, you'll get support and advice from communication experts and other people with the same goals as you.
It's time to make a change. You can do it.
The last time I spoke to Sam, he'd finally realised he needed to sit down with his partner and talk through all his work problems with her.
Of course, she had been completely understanding - and was really relieved to finally understand the root of all their relationship problems. Now Sam is ready to start working on his communication skills so he can get back on track at work. Maybe he'll take a course himself. I hope he does.
It's funny how one positive action can snowball into a whole new and better way of doing things. I hope this article has given you some options for taking your own path to better communication skills.