Communication is more than just the words coming out of your mouth. We send messages to people in ways we may not even think about. I believe that communication is both the root of all problems, and the solution. Poor communication can lead to more issues than just about anything. What’s curious is how few of us actually recognize how poorly we communicate, and how often what we say and do affects the communication.
Here is a list of ways to improve your communication skills. Clearly not an exhaustive list but one to get you thinking.
1. Non-verbal communication: How you show up often times communicates things that may not align with what you say. For example. Do you stand with your arms crossed yet say that you have an open door policy? Are you checking emails while someone is in your office for a meeting, yet you say that people matter?
2. Words matter: Words can create positive results, or leave a conversation dangling or the other person defensive. Take the word but. Anything you say after using the word but is negative. Consider the sentence “I’m really pleased with your performance but I wish you would be more conscious of your non-verbal communication.” The word and is inclusive and doesn’t make the other party defensive. Insert and instead of but in the above sentence and you’ll feel the difference.
3. How you say it matters: Have you heard the expression it’s not what you say but how you say it that affects how others perceive it? For example if you are angry what people respond to is the emotional energy you are putting out, and often miss the words altogether.
4. Information overload: Often we provide way more information than is necessary and we lose people in the conversation. Offer enough information that others understand what you want, but don’t overload them with information they do not need.
5. Teach others to ask questions, and ask questions yourself: We simply do not ask enough questions. We make assumptions, act on those assumptions and often we are wrong. If we asked more questions and taught others to ask more questions there would be fewer mistakes, improved productivity and less angst and frustration.
6. Over communicate: Because most of us don’t listen well it’s important to over communicate. This doesn’t mean keep adding information, but continue to communicate ideas, what you want, what you expect and what’s important. Studies show that over 75% of what we hear we don’t remember, probably because we weren’t actually listening.
7. Messaging is critical: If you aren’t clear about what you want to communicate no one else will be clear about your message. Before starting a conversation think about what you want to say. What are the key points you want to make? What is your goal? Make sure to end the conversation with the key points again, and ask questions to ensure others’ understanding of your message.
8. Avoid visual aids: How often have you been at a presentation and there was a PowerPoint or some other visual aid? And when there was did you focus on the visual aid or the speaker? I’m betting the former. If you want people to engage with you avoid the use of visual aids whenever possible.
9. Timing is always a consideration: Waiting two weeks to discuss a problem with someone won’t deliver the message you want. Details will be forgotten, others will have moved on and the impact will diminish. When speaking in front of a group, when you tell jokes or share stories matters.
10. Know your audience: This is true whether you are having a one-on-one conversation or giving a presentation in front of a group. All kinds of things matter…age, culture, gender just to name a few. Know who you are speaking with if you want to communicate effectively.
11. Consider the method of communication: Too many conversations take place over text and email and meaning is lost or misconstrued. If you are upset pick up the phone and speak to the person, or better yet talk to them face-to-face. When you are about to send the third or fourth or fifth text or email about a subject it’s time to speak to the other person.
12. Communication is not a monologue: Whether you are speaking in front of a group or having more personal conversations, engage your audience in the discussion. Ask questions, encourage others to share their ideas or thoughts and make sure you aren’t the only one doing the talking.
11. Pay attention: Pay attention to how others are responding to you. Pay attention to how your message is being received. Pay attention to whether you are taking the time to communicate effectively.
Communication isn’t simply opening your mouth and having words pop out. Frankly communicating effectively is hard work and requires practice and patience. Take one item from the above list you think you could improve upon and work on it. Ask others for their input on your improvement and effort. They will be happy to share as long as you are open to hearing what they have to say.