When you think back through your career and your life, how many misunderstandings, disagreements, and all-out wars have occurred because of poor communication?
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Sure, we've each been communicating since we were babies, but how many people ever actually learned how to do it properly? Instead, many of us go through our lives with subpar skills that land us in hot water with friends, family, colleagues, customers, and potentially any human being we come into contact with. When you aren't able to clearly communicate your ideas, projects may be ruined, customers may be lost, the business may suffer, and most importantly... relationships may be damaged. When your poor communication extends to your friends and family, serious, potentially irreparable rifts may occur. Chances are, you can think of at least one relationship in your life that was ruined because of a miscommunication.
It doesn't have to be that way. If you want to keep your business running smoothly and growing, and you want to maintain harmony in your personal life, learning how to communicate properly must be your number one priority.
How to Improve Your Communication Skills in the Workplace and at Home
The first thing you need to consider regarding communication skills is that they aren't just necessary for one-on-one, in-person conversations. You'll likely be sending emails and texts, speaking to groups of people, and communicating in other ways. While the style and the formality may differ between mediums, good communication skills work in any arena.
The better you get, the more you'll see deficiencies in how others communicate. Remember that everyone is traveling on their own journey. If you have a good relationship and can give them gentle feedback and encouragement, do so. Make sure, however, that you are exhibiting good communication before commenting on anyone else's.
Strategies to Improve Communication Skills Like Never Before
There are a variety of skills that you can learn to help you become a better communicator. Keep in mind that this is a lifelong process of learning, adapting, and maintaining your new skill set. Each day, focus on incorporating one of these into your interactions with others both at work and in your personal life. They'll get easier as you practice them, and they'll soon become second nature.
It may seem counterintuitive that the most important aspect of communication is actually giving someone else the floor to speak. Unfortunately, most people take other people's speaking time as an opportunity to formulate a response. Be honest: Have you ever found yourself only half listening to someone because in your head you're thinking, "When they stop, I'm going to tell them about the time something similar happened to me"?
Instead of planning out what you'll say next or how you'll respond, take the opportunity to really hear what they are saying and absorb the information. If something is difficult to understand, ask for clarification so you can better grasp what they're looking to get across.
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2. Don't Interrupt
Nothing says "I don't care what you're saying" better than interrupting someone in the middle of a thought. If you have something incredibly important to add to the conversation, jot it down so you don't forget it.
Short of "Your hair is on fire," anything else you need to say can wait.
3. Pay Attention to Your Body Language
While your words may be positive and uplifting, the way you hold yourself while speaking may say something else entirely.
Whether speaking or listening, be conscious of your posture, your hand positioning, your eye contact, and any fidgeting that may betray any anxiety or suggest your attention is elsewhere.
4. Consider Your Audience
Who you're communicating with matters. Our dialect has relaxed to the point where slang has entered into many of our conversations. While this may be okay when speaking to a friend or close colleague, when you converse with upper management, customers, or vendors, you'll want to put your best foot forward (and not in your mouth).
5. Rethink Your Method of Communication
We're living and working in an age where many individuals prefer to text or email than to speak in person or on the phone. While an argument can always be made for convenience, written communication leaves tone, attitude, and certain concepts up to the reader's imagination.
Rather than take the chance of your words or intentions being misconstrued, pick up the phone and have a conversation. If you need a record of what was discussed, send a follow-up email outlining what was said.
6. Allow Emails to Simmer
While emails are not the best way to communicate, they do offer one benefit: time to calm down, reflect, and review. Before sending an emotional, jarring email or text, give yourself some time to cool down. Put it aside and go do something else until you're able to relax. Once your mind is clear, reread the email and consider if you truly want to put that out into the world.
Rereading also gives you the chance to check for grammatical errors, spelling errors, and anything that could potentially be taken the wrong way.
7. Think First, Speak Second
Sadly, many of us were born without a filter. Do you find that what you think comes barreling out of your mouth faster than you can edit it?
Make a conscious effort to think your thoughts through before vocalizing them. You may feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but you'll save stress, frustrations, and hurt feelings in the long run.
8. Speak Kindly
Do people ever provide the feedback that you sound condescending or that they feel as if you're talking down to them? Take care to treat everyone with respect whether they are the CEO of a company, the janitor, or your 5-year-old son.
9. Talk To People Instead of At Them
Unless you are delivering a monologue on stage, communication is a two-way street. Allow others to be involved in the conversation and provide ample opportunity for them to provide feedback, give their opinions, and otherwise contribute to the discussion.
10. Say What You Need to Say... And Then Stop Talking
Do you feel as if you have to beat a point into the ground before letting up? Repeating or rephrasing too much can actually hamper someone's ability (or willingness) to listen to you.
Before you start speaking, decide what the main idea is and clearly state that with support. Once you've done so, let it go. Otherwise, you'll likely be met with eye rolls and your audience drifting off.
11. Say Enough
Yes, we just talked about not saying too much, but there's a happy medium. You must illustrate and communicate your point enough that it is understood and leaves no room for interpretation or confusion.
Being clear about what you want to communicate before you start will also help with getting your point across.
12. Avoid Making Assumptions
While you may know exactly what you're talking about, it's never safe to assume that others do as well. Ask for verbal confirmation on important points to ensure that your message has been clearly communicated and can be acted upon appropriately.
Misunderstandings, disagreements, and relationship rifts don't have to be the norm in your world. When you commit to learning and practicing good communication skills, you will see healthier relationships in your business and your life.