Say the wrong thing or the right thing in an awkward way, and that can cause a fight with a loved one or diminish your chances of closing a deal and achieving a goal at work. Effective communication is not just about being able to speak well; it is also about being able to listen well so that your responses are meaningful to the other person. Effective and clear communication matters, so the stakes are high to get it right.
Tips for How to Communicate Better
The good news is that learning how to communicate better is possible. By paying attention to yourself and the people around you, you can build a toolkit that will help you listen well and express your meaning in a clear and winsome manner. Here are a few tips you can begin implementing right away.
One way to learn effective communication is to pay attention to people who do it well. Ideally, find someone in your circle who is an effective communicator, and watch how they listen and respond to others. To know a few of the things to look out for, keep reading below.
Mind your languageYour body language, that is. You communicate with more than your words, and that’s something of which we aren’t always aware. If you want to communicate sincerity to someone, it’s important that the tone of your voice, where your eyes are focused, and your posture all line up and say the same thing.
If you’re trying to be sincere but your tone or the huge smile on your face says you might be joking, that sends mixed messages to the person you’re speaking to. If you’re making an apology for something you’ve done, but while you do it, you’re rolling your eyes, that says you’re not really apologizing, but just going through the motions.
If you want someone to know that you’re paying attention to what they’re saying, put your phone away, lean in a little, and don’t keep looking at your watch while they’re talking.
Exercise emotional intelligence and empathy
Be aware of how your own emotions affect how you communicate and compensate for it. When you’re feeling angry, your words and body language will communicate that. In some situations, you’ll want to let all that show.
But in other cases, for example, if you’re a team leader or manager, your anger towards the staff might obscure the goal of getting them onside and excited about the work. Showing empathy, or stepping into the other person’s shoes for a moment before responding, goes a long way to making you more aware of the situation and the helpful ways to respond to it.
Take a second
With our ability to respond instantaneously to texts, emails, and phone calls, it may seem more efficient to address things here and now without pause. Our knee-jerk reactions may not always be thought-out or sensitive though, so just taking a beat to think through what you’re about to say goes a long way.
Slow down and think before you speak. Once the words leave your mouth, you can’t take them back. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires,” reads James 1:19-20. Reverse the typical order of things and choose to hurry towards listening.
Ask for feedback
As you engage with someone, ask for feedback. What are they hearing from what you’re saying? Through getting feedback, you begin learning how your words “land” for other people and begin recalibrating where necessary for future conversations with them and other people.
Choose your weapon wiselyWhen you’re planning to have a conversation with someone, consider carefully what type of conversation you’re likely to have and the best medium to have it in. A serious conversation may be easier to have via text, but there are a lot of nuances that text can miss, even with emojis and gifs thrown in for good measure.
A face-to-face conversation is more appropriate in that situation. If you’re looking for clarity and the stakes are high, choose a way to communicate that will give you the best shot at that result.
A compliment and kind words go a long way
Human beings are complex. Our motivations and emotions color at times labyrinthine reasoning. But it’s also true that most people want to be acknowledged, liked, and treated with respect.
If you’re going to critique someone, giving them the positives, and highlighting the areas that are lacking as areas of growth go further than simply jumping down their throat with your assessment. Indicate the good and pay attention to the empathy thing as you deliver the verdict on the bad.
Earlier we pointed out the value of hurrying to listen before speaking. When you listen, it’s important to practice effective listening skills. Many of us think we are good listeners, but we often aren’t.
As you listen, ask clarifying questions, summarize what the person has said, let them finish their own sentences, and don’t interrupt them. Effective listening is about really hearing what the other person is saying and letting them know and feel that you were listening. When people feel listened to, they are more likely to listen to what you have to say.
Additionally, when you listen properly, you’ll know what the person’s concerns are, and you can move to address them. This is a significant change for marriages, work, and other relationships. You don’t have to take a wild guess to know what people need – listen well and they’ll tell you.
Assume best intentWhether you are communicating with someone that is well known to you, or someone you are less familiar with, assuming their best intent in communication is of great value. In a potentially difficult conversation, by assuming the best intent of the person you are talking with, you preemptively posture yourself to maintain and protect your connection.
Rather than coming from a place of defensiveness or offense, you set yourself up for the best possible outcome in the dialogue and actively work towards positive engagement and collaborative solutions.
As with any other area of life, you’re going to make mistakes as you implement these tips and grow as an effective communicator. When those mistakes inevitably happen, be willing to learn from them and go from strength to strength. Keep implementing the best practices you distill from the process to help you become a better communicator, and in that way, you’ll build an extensive toolkit.
As you start this process, it’s vital that you retain a growth mindset, and don’t give up easily. We have all learned certain ways of communicating from parents, siblings, schoolteachers, and other people in our lives, and those habits are well-ingrained.
It’ll take some time to break those old habits and begin walking consistently in new habits that promote clear communication. There will be days you’re frustrated with yourself, but you must keep pushing through because it is worth it.
Communication is a two-way street – it’s not just about saying your piece. You must become aware that there is a person at the receiving end of your words, and they must understand what you are saying in the way you mean it. That’s a complex task, but it isn’t an impossible one.
By becoming aware of yourself as well as paying attention to the person/people you are in conversation with, you can grow as an effective communicator. Putting the tips outlined above and coupling that with a growth mindset and perseverance, you can improve your communication and reap the benefits from it.
“Irate”, Courtesy of Icons8 Team, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Listening”, Courtesy of Mimi Thian, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Coffee and Conversation”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Texting”, Courtesy of DuoNguyen, Unsplash.com, CC0 License