Communicating effectively is a skill. The good news is there are easy ways be better at it and get quick results.
It’s often assumed that because we can communicate from birth, it’s a skill we’re naturally good at. Although it’s true that most of us are able to communicate, it’s not true that we’re innately good at it. If we were all super star speakers, listeners, and body language readers, the world would be a very different place.
The reality is that a very small percentage of people are wired up to be amazing at engaging people, and captivating their attention. The rest of us have to work at it. It’s a skill, and it’s something that you have to learn – just like using a muscle. The more you exercise it in the right way, the stronger it becomes.
This might sound like too much effort, and just another thing to think about in our busy lives. However, communication is absolutely fundamental to every single aspect of our lives. Work, relationships, every day interactions such as going to the doctors or supermarket – even the way we communicate with ourselves – has a dramatic impact on how we perceive the world, and how the world perceives us.
The good news is that you can do a few things that will instantly sharpen your communication skills, and can be used in any situation, with anyone.
- There’s no substitute for face to face communication Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime, social media channels – modern technology has given us so many ways to stay in touch, which is great. When we lived overseas, I was so thankful to be able to video call my family and friends from my phone. But there’s a downside. We can hide behind technology, and become a bit lazy. We are essentially animals who were made to communicate in person and pick up on verbal and non-verbal cues. Make the effort to see people when you can. It builds better relationships faster. There’s no substitute for staring someone straight in the eyes.
- Make eye contact This sounds simple – and it is – but you’d be surprised how often people don’t do it, especially when someone is talking to more than one person. I see the following all the time. Someone is talking to two or three people but only gives eye contact to one person. This can be particularly unpleasant in social situations as it can make people feel excluded and disengaged, even though it’s most likely not being done intentionally. We’re not talking ‘staring contest eyes’ here, just an occasional glance to everyone in the conversation.
- Start to actively listen Listening is a skill in itself. We can often be so pre-occupied planning what we’re going to say next that we’re not actually listening to the other person. Our attention span can be limited too. This is one that needs practice. Set yourself the goal of really listening when someone talks to you. It’s a win/win all round. You’ll get to learn more because you are hearing more, and can then respond better. The person you’re talking to will feel valued and respected – we all want to feel that.
- Ask questions Always remember that communication is a two-way street. If someone asks you questions, and you don’t ask any back, the chances are the conversation will fall flat on its face. This doesn’t mean asking personal, or intrusive questions. It’s all about opening up the channels of communication and showing an interest. You never know what you might learn. This is a great approach when meeting new people at social events, like weddings. It’s also important in established relationships to keep communication healthy and interactive.
- Be yourself at all times “Do not feign affection.” I love this quote from Max Ehrmann’s poem, “Desiderata”. It’s so true. We all feel self-conscious and under-confident at times. It’s easy to try to be someone we’re not in an attempt to fit in. This might involve toning down your accent, becoming overly analytical of every word you say, or freezing up. It helps to remember that almost everyone has insecurities. It takes work to be yourself, but give it a go. I used to try to lose my Norfolk accent in an attempt to ‘blend in’. It’s faded a bit as I’ve not lived there for so long, but I don’t worry about it anymore – it’s part of me and something to be proud of. You are who you are, and there’s nothing more freeing than truly being yourself.
Thank you for reading this post. I would love to hear what you think of these tips, and share your best piece of advice for communicating better. You can use the comments box below.