Every interaction, relationship and involvement you have with someone can only be successful with good communication skills. There needs to be a clear understanding between parties involved. There have been many miscommunications throughout history causing disruption from issues and disagreements on the global scale, all the way down two a micro level between two people.
We should all be actively working to develop better communication, so how can we do this?
Let’s first look at the importance of having good communication and being able to communicate well. Whether it’s in your working environment, with friends and family, or in your love life, good communication helps understanding, strengthens bonds, and builds trust.
On a basic level, communication seems to be fairly easy, right? We all grow up learning to talk, read and write. But that is really only scratching the surface when it comes to communicating effectively. It’s all too easy to be misunderstood, misquoted, and misinterpreted. And the effect of this can be devastating, causing offence, conflict, and fracturing once strong friendships or relationships.
Take a moment to think about some of the occasions you have said something to your partner or friend, only to be completely misconstrued. Likewise, think about some of the times someone said something to you that hurt your feelings, only to find out later they were not even aware how they had offended you.
I know it’s happened to me both ways before, and I know I felt at the time. It can easily happen, but understanding why, and how to make changes going forward is the lesson. Learning effective communication at an early age is absolutely imperative, and developing those skills is an ongoing process throughout ours lives.
Use Body Language
You may not be consciously thinking about it but your body language is speaking on your behalf before you even use words. No matter what you are saying, if you’re not backing it up with the appropriate body language it won’t carry well.
Your eyes, face, arms, posture, and actions all help tell a story. Eye contact is important, if you have difficulty looking people in the eye when you’re talking to them it’s something you need to work on. Making positive eye contact, standing straight and using welcoming hand gestures make others feel comfortable.
Be aware of negative body language, like; folding arms, yawning when being talked to, aggressive hand gestures, looking off in a different direction etc.
Be a Good Listener
There are two sides to communicating. You talking, and communicating to another person, and also receiving communication from the other person. Being a good listener is a very important life skill. By being a good listener you’ll improve your social skills, have better communication with others, and be able to more effectively negotiate, persuade and influence others.
Being a good listener goes much further than just being quiet while others speak. You need to mindfully pay attention to what is being said, and contribute to the conversation accordingly. Try not to get distracted when someone is speaking, don’t daydream or look away. Maintain eye contact and focus on the person speaking, acknowledging anything you agree with.
Be Able to Resolve Conflict
Conflict is always going to come up, and learning how to deal with it effectively is a valuable skill. A lot of people avoid conflict altogether as they don’t want the stress of confronting issues. Others react negatively or aggressively, often escalating a situation to something worse than it should ever be.
Either of these options will only cause further resentment and misunderstandings between the parties involved. Conflict can often unearth some deep emotions that had been buried for years. Being able to talk openly and respect the feelings of everyone involved can be the make or break to healing wounds.
In order to resolve conflict to where all parties involved are happy, you need to be able to mediate and communicate in a calm, respectful, non-condescending manner. Keeping your emotions under control, and communicating without being threatening, aggressive, or pushy. Resolving conflict also means being willing to forgive and forget, and not hold a grudge.
You’re always better off being yourself, which means being authentic. It can be tough discovering who you are while growing up, but as adults we need to be true to who we are. People are great at weeding out those who are putting on a false persona, it rarely works. It’s also obvious to most if you’re putting up barriers of protection, and usually leads to more questions.
Being authentic means you feel free to be yourself around others, flaws and all. It can be uncomfortable for some, yet liberating for others. Don’t be offensive, but if you feel a certain way try showing it. Talk from your heart and you’ll see how others recognize how genuine you’re being, in turn having a profound effect.
Being Emotionally Intelligent
Being emotionally intelligent means understanding, interpreting, and responding accordingly to the emotions of others. This is a key skill for effectively managing the emotions of others, helping them when they are down, or calming them when they are angry.
You can become more emotionally intelligent by taking the time to look at other people’s body language. You can spot signs that someone is angry, upset, excited, etc if you’re looking for them. Then make the necessary adjustments to handle and understand these emotions in the particular individual.
The key here is in how you respond to the emotions of others. Therapeutic communication techniques are used to handle situations appropriately, a skill commonly learnt by nurses and other care professionals. For example if you are trying to negotiate something with your boss at work, read their body language. Negotiation is a skill that requires a high degree of emotional intelligence, if you cannot read their emotions you may not be making the most of the discussion.
Articulate and Control Your Tone of Voice
The tone of voice you choose to use can change how your words are interrupted. If you’re shouting then you can be interrupted as being aggressive or excited. Likewise, whispering or talking very softly will give the impression you are shy and not being very persuasive. Also, if you use a lot of filler words like “um,” ”ah,” and “er” you will struggle to keep people interested in what you are saying.
Practice enunciation and proper articulation of your words. If you feel like you need a lot of improvement try recording your own voice and listening to yourself back. We often sound very different to others how we think we sound, so this can be an eye opener. Make sure you’re not talking too fast, take your time and breathe easily while you communicate.
Pick up on Social Cues
This is an area that lets a lot of people down. It’s easy to get caught up with our own activities, if we’re keen to just get our point across we can miss some important social cues.
If you’re talking and the person listening doesn’t look interested then wind up the conversation. Maybe the person you’re talking too looks uncomfortable, ask them if there is something bothering them. Show an interest, don’t just carry on with your because you want to finish what you’re saying.
‘Mirroring’ someone else’s body language is a good way to engage with them too. It’s not as weird as it sounds, and perfectly acceptable. It’s a proven fact that people who share similar emotions to other person have stronger connections.
Ask Great Questions
Asking questions of others shows that you have a genuine interest in them. Obviously there is a line between being nosey, and being interested. But this is a fairly obvious boundary. If you’re interested in the conservation then take part, ask any questions you have and don’t be shy.
Be sure not to interrupt someone if you have a good question, there is always time to ask later. Sometimes a brief spell of silence can provoke some good interaction and questions, another key lesson in the art of conversation.
Make Small Talk
There is an art to making small talk, and sometimes it can come in very handy. Small talk can help out when meeting new people if you don’t know a lot about them. It helps out at social gatherings and other events where you are surrounded by a range of different people. It also helps you find common ground with people.
Although you’re not going to solve any world problems with small talk, it is a very useful skill. You can develop this skill by practicing basically. When you meet new people or find yourself in social situations try talking to others, don’t overwhelm them or talk about deep topics. But carry the conversation with some small talk.
Show Your Knowledge
When communicating your point across to a single person, or a group – you need to come across very knowledgeable. If you want people to buy in and believe what you’re saying you need to establish yourself an expert in the field. This means coming in prepared, and having a clear and informative communication trail.
Don’t complicate what you are trying to communicate either. People don’t want to feel like they do not understand what you are saying, so don’t use complicated industry jargon. Keep it simple, concise, and make it understandable. People will be a lot more engaged in what you are saying then.
Becoming better at communicating takes time and practice. Reading through these 10 key skills above and putting them in to practice will help immensely. It takes a high level of awareness to judge each situation you are in, some people find this comes naturally, while others take time to develop this skill.
You will certainly notice a positive effect from putting these points in to action with your family, friends, and partner. Whether you are trying to correct a certain bad habit, or develop good communication skills – start today and enjoy the positive benefits with everyone around you.
Phil lives in England, UK, and has around 20 years experience as a professional life, career and executive coach. He started this blog to help others find and define their own self development journey. Blogging about a wide range of topics to help facilitate a better future.