Tips for Effective Communication
If you live among people, you communicate. There is no escaping it. We are constantly sending out messages to the world through our words, tone of voice, body posture, gestures, and actions. We can even convey meaning through our silence (as all couples can attest to). Since communication is such an integral part of our personal and professional lives, it would benefit us greatly to compare what we intend to say to the world and what is actually being heard. We must then make any changes necessary to ensure that we are being understood correctly by others.
We all have special ways of expressing ourselves that make us who we are. There is no master list of how best to communicate. We can, however, review some best practices that have helped others be more effective in their communication. The following summarizes some key points:
Pay attention to your body language. Don’t let your body language tell a different story than what your words are saying. The majority of communication is non-verbal and your body language is the biggest factor. Display an open and inviting body posture. Avoid crossing your arms as this could signal displeasure and disinterest. Practice good posture by holding your head high and keeping your shoulders out. A smile is always welcome. Be confident and let your body language convey this positive belief in yourself.
Conversations should be balanced. There should be a fair balance between speaking and listening. A one-sided conversation can quickly derail into something unpleasant and monotonous. Developing a good sense as to when the conversation is becoming imbalanced and bringing it back to equilibrium is crucial to facilitating a good interaction. When you become aware that you are dominating the exchange, stop and engage the other person by asking for their thoughts on the topic. Small steps like this will go a long way in keeping the conversation lively and engaging for everybody involved.
Listening means actively being involved. Listening to what the other person is saying involves more than casual attention. You must actively engage in the interaction. This involves providing visual acknowledgements such as by tracking the other person with your eyes, nodding, and slightly leaning forward. Most importantly, you must ask questions. These types of actions engender goodwill and create a pleasant experience, enhancing your communication effectiveness.
Ask open-ended questions that promote conversation. Ask questions that will elicit responses beyond a few words. Give people an opportunity to fully express and share their ideas. People will reveal a lot about themselves if you give them a chance. Learn about the other person by listening attentively. You can then use this knowledge to connect more closely with the other person by speaking in similar terms or themes, creating an unspoken affinity. This can only be possible if people share, which they will not do if asked questions that require only a one- or two-word reply.
Paint word pictures instead of providing simple responses. A reply of a few words is not conducive to great communication. Unless the occasion specifically calls for a short answer, take advantage of these opportunities to provide some context and details around your responses. Talk about what you saw or heard, for example, or what you were feeling during the event you are describing. Providing these fine points enriches the mental images for the other person and allows for greater understanding and a closer connection.
Learn to differentiate between facts and conclusions. One of the easiest ways to destroy good communication is to mistake conclusions for facts. You may think you have understood what someone else has said, but you may be completely wrong. Your interpretation may be colored by any biases you may have based on your personal circumstances and experience. This could lead to needless confusion and aggravation. If in doubt, ask the other person to clarify their statements or repeat back to them what you think you have heard and ask if you have understood them correctly. Having a clear understanding of the real facts will help you avoid unnecessary pitfalls.
Make the other person feel comfortable. Great communication can only happen if people are relaxed. You should try to create a secure environment where people can share their thoughts and feelings without fear. Do not state your position on an issue, for example, before allowing the other person to express their viewpoint. Another ploy to use, especially if difficult questions need to be asked, is to start with easy questions and escalate from there. Always remember that people are drawn to others like them, so accentuate any similarities you may have. Avoid uncomfortable silence by having prepared questions to ask or pleasant anecdotes to tell.
Practice, practice, practice. Improve your communication skills and reduce any anxiety you might have by practicing as much as possible. Be aware of your communication strengths and weaknesses during your regular, daily interactions. Mentally review your actions and evaluate what techniques bring the most success. Then, make the necessary adjustment and continue this process repeatedly. During each cycle of this perpetual process, notice the nuances in reactions from people, especially in similar situations, and practice quickly making adjustments. Remember to always keep in mind your audience and the prevailing circumstances.