Here are some key factors that can improve communication skills. Companies can fail or succeed based on how effectively their people can convey vision or interpret direction, with something as simple as a poorly written email having the potential to cause major damage to that company’s culture; conversely, a powerful, well-delivered speech can inspire and motivate an entire organization.
Not everybody is a strong communicator, though. While some people seemingly have a natural way with words, many have to develop this ability from scratch. Regardless of where you fit in on this spectrum, it’s crucial to recognize the importance of communication and possessing good speaking and listening skills.
So, whether you’re a job seeker, a new hire unsure of how to talk to the boss, or the head of the whole organization, there is always something to be learned. This is how to improve your communication skills, one small step at a time…
1. Understand Body Language
Body language, or nonverbal communication, is a subtle art that has the potential to say an awful lot and can be applied in any number of situations.
As a leader, for instance, standing up straight and adopting a proper posture when addressing a room full of people suggests that you are confident and comfortable in your responsibility; all good orators understand that how you say something is just as important as what you say.
It’s just as important in a one-on-one situation, too. When you’re at a job interview or an appraisal, always maintain eye contact when you are speaking to someone. Looking out of the window or at the floor suggests that you either don’t really believe what you’re saying or that you’re not interested.
Don’t just pay attention to how your own body language is coming across, either – try to read the other person’s. Somebody might be telling you that they agree with you out loud, but if they are fidgeting or avoiding eye contact, it suggests that they actually might not. Human beings subconsciously rely on nonverbal communication in their interactions, so never forget to read – and speak – between the lines.
2. Encourage Interaction
From experience, sitting through a two-hour PowerPoint presentation on benefits realization management without falling asleep is a challenge. Seriously. Good communication is a two-way street, so make sure people get involved – nobody likes to be talked at for two hours straight on the world’s most boring topic, after all.
In the context of a group, ask questions (even if they are hypothetical). Bring up interesting points that make people think, and physically utilize your audience members to keep everyone on their toes.
Blaming the subject matter for being too bland is not an excuse – it’s your responsibility to communicate things in an effective and engaging way.
The same principles apply in a one-on-one situation as well. Drive the conversation by digging deeper into what the other person is telling you, while always seeking to clarify any instructions. If you’ve been given a task, don’t hesitate to send a follow-up email, either, clearing up any potential confusion and miscommunication over what exactly it is you’re meant to be doing.
3. Speak ‘Extemporaneously’
It might look unpronounceable, but extemporaneous communication is highly effective. Practiced primarily by lawyers when speaking in court, it is essentially the art of using minimal bullet point notes to keep your speech on track, without remembering or rehearsing word for word what you are going to say.
Although this might sound like a strange approach – the conventional wisdom is that preparation is everything, after all – speaking in this manner allows you the flexibility and freedom to judge your audience’s reaction and engage in any points of debate as they happen. This results in a far more interesting and engaging discussion and makes the audience an active participant without them even realizing it.
Be careful, though. If you’re not 100% comfortable with what you’re talking about, the potential for things to go wrong is very real; the last thing you want is for your mind to go blank without any notes to rely on!
4. Know Your Audience
In any situation, in any role, knowing who you are communicating with is key to understanding how to get your point across or ascertain the information you need. Within a company, this may require time, so that you can get to know individual team members and how they operate; some employees might respond well to criticism, for instance, but others might work better when encouraged.
On a broader scale, it’s usually enough to apply some degree of common sense. For example, if you are writing an email to your boss, you should keep things courteous, professional, and focused on work; when you then go to pick up the post from the mail room, though, it’s perfectly fine to talk about West Ham with Trevor the mail guy. These might be two completely different styles of communication, but they are relevant to the respective audience; they both also result in the cultivation and development of two different types of workplace relationships. Always tailor your approach accordingly and understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to communication.
There is a wise, old saying – often propagated in military environments – that you have two eyes, two ears but only one mouth, and that you should apply their usage in that ratio.
Put more plainly: to be an effective communicator, you should listen far more than you speak.
This is because it is easier to create solutions when you are more aware of the issues. This doesn’t mean listening passively, either; people can spot when you’re giving off the illusion of taking things on board. Actually, truly listen to what you are being told and react to it accordingly; don’t disrespect their confidence by reeling off a formulaic response or batting their concerns away.
Finally, don’t be a terrible conversationalist. There’s nothing more annoying than talking to someone who constantly interrupts you or talks over you; this is a fundamental connection flaw on their part and demonstrates why it’s so important that you don’t make the same mistake. Always remember: without someone to listen, there is no communication.
6. Get to the Point
We’ve all been there, waiting patiently for a simple answer to a simple question that soon morphs into the full-blown life story of the other party. While the more polite and tolerable among us may kindly nod and smile through gritted teeth, this approach isn’t conducive to a professional environment: instead, everyone needs to be straight to the point.
This doesn’t mean that conversation should be discouraged; it just means that communication is more effective when things are short, clear, and concise. Waffling on for 10 minutes can make people switch off or the most significant points to take away can get lost in the mire.
By focusing only on what is important, nothing can get lost in translation.
Don’t be too vague, though; the idea is to be brief yet specific – not just short for the sake of it. Read over your emails before you send them to ensure you have the balance right, while in your verbal encounters focus on being coherent and succinct.