Learn to listen, and listen to learn. I started my career in public relations. I assumed being an English major would be enough flex to prove I was a good communicator, decent writer and engaging speaker. Twenty years later I can tell you that I still practice communications every day and that it’s not nearly as intuitive as I thought it was. I just re read this sentence 7 times to make sure you understand I don’t claim to be flawless.
Communication has proven to be the most critical skill in any setting, whether at work, school, friendships, and in relationships. It’s more than just talking to someone. It involves both verbal and nonverbal communication, such as body language (cross armed looking behind the person does not have much charm) and tone of voice (sarcastic undertone of ‘WTF’ is also less helpful I’ve learned).
Good communication skills help us to convey our ideas clearly, understand others’ perspectives, and build trust and rapport. This skill is especially important in the workplace, where misunderstandings and communication breakdowns happen most of the time, and can lead to costly mistakes and unnecessary conflicts. Ugh.
So how do we get better?
First, it’s safe to assume we all need to get better. If you are nailing it at work, try getting married for a little extra challenge and practice.
Here are some tips to help you enhance your communication skills:
- Be a Good Listener – Listening is active. Give your full attention and if you can’t at that moment tell them. “I’d like to listen closely so give me 15 min to finish something and I’ll be back to give you my full attention.” Do NOT interrupt. Let the speaker finish and don’t race to respond. Pause for a few seconds. Make sure the person feels safe to continue if they want. Resist the urge to defend, be right and be fast. Be thoughtful. That’s more important. Your ego’s answer is usually the immediate one. So give your ego a min in your head to puff their chest out, and then think about what you actually want to say back. Even better, ask some clarifying questions. And, repeat back what they say, “Are you saying you would rather me work on the first part and you work on the second part?”
- Speak with empathy—think about to whom you are speaking. Resist the urge to speak in jargon, acronyms and complex language. The goal is for the listen to understand you. Not for the speaker to be confused by you. You may think you are impressing someone by rattling off acronyms but usually they just lose you and feel to embarrassed to ask you what ROI, KPI or EPA mean. Also, help the listener understand your point by enumerating when possible. Like my 6 year old son says to me, “Mom, here are the three reasons I should be allowed to watch another movie.” It’s usually followed by a no. But, he does get my attention.
- Use Nonverbal Cues – Nonverbal cues such as facial expressions (eye contact good, but please blink), tone of voice (don’t yell and don’t whisper and don’t be condescending), and body language (shoulders back, chin up) can convey a lot of information.
What can I do right now?
- Next time you’re talk to someone, don’t think about what you are going to say next, just listen.
- Enumerate your point to your boss. “3 reasons I want to join this project”
- Before responding in an argument, look at the other person in the eye and take a pause to think about their perspective