Communication is found at the core of every healthy relationship – be it between family, friends and colleagues. While it is common for people to possess varying communication styles, considering these nuances and finding ways to mitigate this gap is crucial to avoiding unnecessary misunderstandings which may cause serious (and sometimes, permanent) strain and stress for all parties involved. Not only does effective communication help us to relate to people better, it also allows us to build lasting and life-giving connections in different spheres of influence.
In school and work settings especially, effective communication leads to strong collaboration between teammates. It remains an invaluable skill to possess and continues to be a prized asset in every environment. Contrary to popular belief, effective communication is more than simply stringing together nice words and only saying things people want to hear. It involves paying close attention to the world around you and developing intrapersonal skills, promising success to those who employ it in various areas of their life.
Here are some ways you can practise (and eventually master) effective communication in your everyday life.
Listen To Learn
In the words of the Dalai Lama, “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”
Communication is a two-way street. The ability to listen requires intentional focus on what a person is saying. Be an engaged listener. If you are thinking about your next meeting or what to eat for lunch during the conversation, you are not paying attention. One of the ways to listen better, is to pretend there is going to be a quiz at the end of the discussion. Keep a mental note of all of the important points the person makes. Being a good listener is not equivalent to staying silent when someone speaks. Occasionally add comments like “yes” or “I understand” and ask questions to verify accuracy of what you are hearing. This demonstrates how present you are with the person in thought and emotion. When you practise good listening skills, you will be able to understand a person’s words more clearly to react in a positive manner. It will also send a signal to the other person that you genuinely care about what he/she says.
The purpose of listening is to understand a different point of view and learn new things that may have been a blind spot before. This will reduce the likelihood of conflict and will help you become a more effective communicator.
Aim To Connect, Not Convince
Armed with convincing arguments and rebuttals, some people can approach a conversation the way they do a debate. This creates a hostile environment and stifles healthy dialogue amongst people. It is also common for people to participate in a conversation for the sole purpose of sharing their opinion and explaining their perspective in the hopes of winning the other person over to their side. Not only is this a selfish ambition and fruitless endeavour, it also prevents one from expanding their knowledge and understanding of a given situation. When we speak to convince, frustration is an inevitable result. Instead, try to connect with the person you are communicating with. Ask yourself questions which include:
- Why do they think this way?
- Is there something they know that I do not?
- What can I learn or take away from this conversation? How can we reach a common ground?
- What can I do differently?
Choose Facetime Over Texts/E-mails
We often hear of how texts can frequently lead to miscommunication as it sometimes misrepresents one’s tone and other important accents. Hence when possible, opt for face-to-face contact with your co-workers as this builds trust and leaves less room for error with how your message will be received. Instead of sending a long e-mail, try discussing things over a Skype call. While this may prove to be largely effective, it is also important to recognise and weigh the merits of your chosen communication channels. Having said that, in some instances, e-mails are a great alternative when communicating with large numbers of people over simple topics, in comparison to meeting every co-worker individually to repeat verbatim the contents of your message. Recognising the range of communication tools and maximising them for greater productivity also contribute to the effectiveness of your communication (and time).
‘No’ Is Not Negative
Being turned down is more common than we realise. It is important to not take it personally or feel rejected or sidelined. We have a choice in how we receive rejection. Possible reasons for being turned down could be due to the current capacity of the person you are speaking to. They might not be able to handle your request in that given moment. It could also be that something else has a bigger priority to the other person, or that they have a different need in that moment. Maybe the “No” is a temporary denial of request because more information needs to be provided before they can make an informed decision. The list of reasons are truly endless. The point is, “No” is not as threatening as we might imagine and we should learn to accept it as part and parcel of everyday life.
Don’t Deviate From a Discussion
While it is natural, try to avoid jumping on another train of thought during a conversation. Discipline your mind to focus on the task or topic at hand. Deviating from the main agenda dilutes the attention and focus of everyone involved and leads to unnecessary fatigue when team members see no end or conclusion in sight. Always ask yourself “Is this directly relevant to the discussion?” before voicing it out. There is no need to bring something totally unrelated to the discussion and waste the time of the people involved. If you do deviate away from the topic, always remind your team and bring them back to the main topic at hand. Continuing to deviate from the stipulated agenda makes the conversation less meaningful and counterproductive.
Speak Simply and Clearly
When working together, it is common for messages to be passed from one person to another. The popular childhood game of “broken telephone” best illustrates how messages can quickly become distorted when many people are involved. If you do not communicate clearly and accurately, the information that is passed on can provide confusion instead of clarity which inevitably jeopardises the quality of your work in the process. This is especially common when management communicates to a small group of people and entrusts the seemingly simple task of informing subordinates on critical information. A divided team, or one that works with different pieces of information, will inevitably be ineffective and inefficient.
Non-Verbal Cues Matter
A truly effective communicator considers non-verbal communication as much as their verbal communication. Non-verbal communication is the transmission of messages and signals without the use of words. This also accounts for paralinguistics, which is the loudness and tone accompanying the spoken word. Non-verbal cues also include head nods, smiles, open hand gestures, eye-contact, good posture and personal grooming. These seemingly small things can go a long way in bolstering your communication and bringing a message across more effectively. When you are communicating with someone, remember to sit up straight, make good eye contact and smile to exude a pleasant disposition. Learn how body language can influence your interview outcome.
Communicate in Conflict
If you feel someone misunderstood something you communicated, talk to him or her about it quickly. Doing so can prevent unnecessary resentment and loss of productivity. This prevents a small misunderstanding from turning into a major crisis. When handling a conflict, respond with an open mind and refrain from personal attacks. Doing so will help you reach a resolution that is acceptable to everyone. Learn the various types of conflict management styles for different situations.
It is also wise to refrain from gossip. How you communicate in informal settings is just as important as formal settings. If you are quick to spread defamation, the credibility of your communication is reduced tremendously. If your co-workers have a habit of gossiping about others, simply listen and smile, and get back to work. Always maintain a professional conduct at work. Gossiping gives people a negative impression of you and can cause problems down the line. Gossip also gets in the way of effective workplace communication because it has a negative impact on relationships with co-workers. More than being viewed as a strong communicator, you will also earn the respect of your co-workers as the content of your character shines through.
We hope you found these tips practical and applicable for healthy relationship building. It may take some time for it to become second nature as it involves unlearning wrong and detrimental communication patterns. When it comes to forming new habits, pick three to five things to focus on and repeatedly practise it for at least 30 days straight. Doing this will help you to gradually reshape your behaviour leading to a more natural activation in your professional and personal relationships. Before you know it, you will have honed these skills and perhaps even inspire others around you to follow suit.