Communication is one of the most important "soft" skills someone can have. As your communication improves, it will trickle into every area of your life. Communication skills will help you achieve your goals and make life a whole lot easier.
While you understand the concept of good communication in the workplace and in your personal life, it can be easier to recognize the symptoms of poor communication. Recognizing problems is the first step to turning them around and achieving your communication goals.
Symptoms of Poor Communication
In a work setting, you may notice that deadlines are not being met or that projects are not being completed to your expectations. If you’re in a management position, you may notice that your team members are not coming to you with issues. Instead, they are whispering to one another in the hallways or, even worse, complaining to customers. You may see divisions between your employees who either refuse to work with each other outright, or if they do work together, they’re obviously not happy about it.
If poor communication is running amok in your personal life, you may find it difficult to emotionally connect with your spouse, or you may find that everything he or she does irritates you and fails to live up to your expectations. If you have children, they may be unwilling to come to you with problems, or they may refuse to speak to you at all. And don’t forget the infamous eye roll that every teenager has perfected.
Communication is important, and if you, your team, or your family members’ communication isn’t up to par, interactions can be painful.
How Can I Improve My Communication Skills in Everyday Life?
While it’s often considered a “soft skill” in a business setting, it’s hands-down the most important skill you can master in any setting. Being a good communicator allows you to:
- Share your ideas
- Persuade others
- Get things done
- Allow others to feel heard (most important!)
While people often conceive of communication as the speaking or writing portion of life, listening is equally, if not more, important.
At work, good communication helps teams work together towards a common goal. It helps employees feel understood and appreciated, and it helps everyone do their jobs better and move up the ladder.
What Does Good Communication Look Like?
Good communication allows you to emotionally connect with the people in your personal life, fostering relationships and expressing love. It makes day-to-day activities easier and less filled with anger or resentment. For some, it may be the difference between having a relationship and not.
Thankfully, there are a variety of activities that you can do that will help you and those around you improve their communication skills.
Activities to Improve Communication Skills
While the basics of good communication are similar in any situation (speak clearly, succinctly, and with respect, and listen to understand, rather than to respond), there are different activities that may be more appropriate depending on the setting and age group of the participants. There are also several activities that can be used in multiple situations to reinforce different aspects of good communication. Below, we’ll discuss how to improve communication in the workplace, in adult relationships, and for kids and students, and we’ll go beyond verbal communication to take a look at what our body language is saying.
In the Workplace
It’s almost impossible to find any employee that works completely independent of others. At any time during a workday, a person may interact with a boss or a direct report, a fellow employee on their team or on another team within the company, a customer, vendor, media person, etc. No matter what your role, good communication is essential to a healthy workplace dynamic.
In order to improve communication in the workplace, apply these activities:
Listen and Recap
Often times, people are uncomfortable sharing their opinions or feelings because they fear they’ll be judged, mocked, or even penalized. In this exercise, you’ll divide your employees into pairs and they’ll take turns communicating how they feel about a specific subject. When one partner is finished, the other partner will recap what they’ve said, rather than respond to it. Then, the other partner will have his or her turn to speak. This exercise encourages good listening and allows people to share what’s on their minds.
Once again, you’ll pair up your employees in groups of two. One will be the artist, and one will be the instructor. Have them sit back to back. Give the artist a piece of paper and a pencil; give the instructor a shape or image to communicate to them. The instructor will then give instructions that will guide the artist to create a similar image without naming the image itself. Recap or debrief the results, examining the communication used and how they can improve communication.
This exercise reinforces the importance of giving clear, easy-to-follow instructions and the importance of listening.
The Name Game
With your employees in teams of two, have one of them think of a famous person and write it (secretly) on a sticky note, which they will then attach to their partner’s forehead. The partner will then ask questions until they guess the name of the person. This can be a timed process. At the end of 5 minutes or so, recap and debrief how the communication worked or did not work and how they can improve communication.
This exercise helps people understand how to ask the right questions and how to do it properly.
You likely remember playing this game as a child. However, it works in a business setting as well. Have your team sit in a circle and whisper a sentence into the ear of the person next to you. Have them do the same to the person next to them until the sentence has traveled around the circle. Say the sentence out loud and enjoy the laugh over how the words were misheard and misinterpreted.
This exercise shows employees the importance of understanding instructions or a concept before taking action or communicating it to someone else.
These activities will open the flow of communication in a business setting.
For Adult Relationships
When things are not good in your personal life, they have a way of making every other aspect of your life difficult. Whether you need to improve the quality of your romantic relationships or the relationships you have with friends, there are a variety of group activities that will help you do so. These include:
Two People Talking
Divide groups into teams of three. One person will stand in the center and listen while the other two talk simultaneously about a pre-decided topic (like their favorite vacation). The listener will do their best to absorb information from both of the talkers and then report back when the exercise is finished.
This exercise shows the importance of not talking over people (because your message won’t be heard) and helps people practice their listening skills.
Listen and Recap
Not just for a business setting, this exercise is excellent for couples. One person takes 30 seconds to a minute to speak their opinion or their feelings (uninterrupted) on a specific topic. At the end of their time, their partner will recap what was said without providing their input on the topic. Once complete, the other partner will have their turn.
This exercise gives couples the opportunity to truly be heard on important issues rather than dissolving into arguments.
This exercise can be done as a planned game or can be incorporated into heated conversations. When discussing a topic, begin sentences with “I feel…” rather than “You…” This takes the fear of being attacked off the listener and allows the speaker to communicate their feelings freely.
Guess the Emotion
Misinterpreting emotions can be a dangerous mistake in an intimate relationship. Practice by having one partner act out an emotion on a piece of paper and having the other partner guess what they are feeling. This will allow them to better read one another’s emotions during future conversations.
Good communication in a relationship with other adults can make life much simpler and more pleasant.
For Kids and Students
In a perfect world, we’d all learn excellent communication skills from our parents and our teachers and head into our adult lives communicating like champions. While it’s too late for that to be a reality for us adults, we do have the opportunity to teach children conversation skills—such as speaking with respect, turn-taking, listening, and empathy—at an early age.
While the best way to teach children appropriate communication is to model it yourself, there are a variety of games that you can use with your own children or if you work with kids as a teacher, counselor, etc.:
Show and Tell
Possibly one of your favorite activities as a child! Ask children to bring a beloved item into the classroom or to the dinner table and describe what it is and why they love it.
This activity gives children an opportunity to speak about something they care for. Their audience has the opportunity to practice listening and asking pertinent questions, and the speaker gets to work on fielding those questions.
Learning to give other people the opportunity to speak is essential to good communication skills. In this exercise, children sit in a circle with one child in the center. They will have 15 seconds to talk about a subject of their liking (animals, for example). When their time is up, they can choose the next animal and pick another child to take their turn.
This game helps kids understand the importance of speaking and then turning the floor over to someone else. Audience members get to practice listening as it will be important for them to know what the next topic is.
As children get older, you may want to incorporate activities such as:
Not only will students learn communication skills during this relationship, but they will also practice and develop their leadership abilities.
If you work with students, assign them a team project that will be presented to the class. Students work together to complete the project and then present their findings to the other teams. This allows them to practice communication skills, teamwork, and public speaking (which is challenging for many).
In Body Language
Sometimes, we don’t realize that our bodies are conveying something entirely different than our words are communicating. For example, imagine walking into a sales pitch where you’ll tell the potential client how confident you are that your product will solve their problems. Unfortunately, your shoulders are hunched, and you’re having a difficult time making eye contact with your audience. As much as your words may say, “I know I can help you,” your body is saying, “I don’t believe in myself or my product, and you shouldn’t either.”
Practicing body language or nonverbal communication can help you ensure that your visual cues match your verbal cues. These exercises can help:
You Don’t Say
Create groups of 5-7 people and give them a list of nonverbal behaviors for someone to act out. Then, have the rest of the group give their interpretations of these behaviors. These can include:
- Crossing your arms across your chest
- Covering your mouth
- Rubbing your temples
- Glancing at your watch
- Texting on a cellphone
- Tapping your fingers on the table
- And more
Participants will learn what their body is saying.
What Am I Feeling?
Divide people into groups of two and have one person act out emotions with no words. Have the other person guess what they are feeling. Once they have completed a few rounds, have the pair switch. This will make it easier for people to read facial expressions.
Follow the Leader
Assign one person as the leader and have them lead the other people through multiple exercises, dance moves, etc. The leader cannot verbalize any of their instructions but must only use their eyes and body to influence the behavior of the “followers.” After a few minutes, have them choose a new leader. Repeat this until everyone has had the opportunity to lead. Participants must pay close attention to the leader’s movements so they don’t get left behind.
Line Up the Animals
Ask every person on your team to select an animal (silently) and then instruct them to line up in size order of their animal. They may not speak, only acting out the animal they are portraying.
Learning better communication skills can be fun with the right activities and the right attitude. No matter which activities you use, improving your communication will pay dividends in your professional and personal relationships for years to come.