Most of us are mediocre communicators. We struggle to find the right words, and to express what we really mean or feel. At work that results in conflict and frequent miscommunication. At home it causes misunderstandings and frustration. Yet, we are social beings who thrive on interpersonal connections and companionship. So why don’t we try harder to be better communicators?
We can blame this communication deficit on the hyper speed of our daily lives, and a corresponding lack of focus that permeates our current society. Whatever the reasons, we all could benefit from improved communication skills. Creating a personal communication strategy will help you focus on key areas where you can improve, and then be deliberate in seeking out opportunities for learning.
Here are the most important skills that the best communicators have mastered. And the good news is that they are skills you can learn, too!
Choose the right words
When my kids were young, they said a lot of inappropriate and rude things. Children are notorious for being blunt, and testing their limits this way. When they did that, one of the questions I would ask them was, “are your words helpful or hurtful?” This question was an easy way to remind them that their word choices have an effect on people – both good and bad. Speaking kindly instead of using words that hurt is still a challenge for many adults. Take time to think, and to let your frustration lesson before you speak. This will make it easier to find the right words.
Tone of voice
Sharpness or sarcasm in your voice will almost always result in a defensive response from others. Loudness or softness of your voice can cause misconceptions about your message’s meaning or your confidence in what you’re saying. You are responsible for regulating the sound of your voice to support whatever message you’re conveying to others. A boss early in my career once told me that each of us needs to make sure that those receiving your communication are understanding it correctly. The burden is on you, not on them.
Sincerity of words
Own the message you are delivering and truly mean what you say. When you show a lack of sincerity in your statements, people lose trust in you. Stand behind your words and follow through on them. Care about others feelings and make your words reflect our shared humanity. And don’t forget to give credit to others for their words and work. The best communicators don’t take credit for ideas or words that aren’t their own.
Manage nonverbal expressions
Your body posture, facial gesticulations, arm movements and position, head tilts, and eye contact all indicate to others whether you are paying attention and are interested in what they are saying. Be aware of what your own nonverbal expressions are and look for clues in others to better understand what they’re really feeling. Of course in other countries and cultures, nonverbal expressions will have different meanings. If you communicate cross-culturally, you must learn as much as you can about these differences ahead of time. Do not make assumptions or expect others to respond the way you would to nonverbal cues.
Being a good listener takes practice. We’ve all heard the term “active listening” which is the combination of using engaging nonverbal expressions along with rephrasing what you’ve heard and asking questions about what’s being said. Many of us think we’re good listeners, but really aren’t. Our current sound bite, multitasking world pretty much ensures that you can’t be an optimal listener. You must deliberately tune out all the buzz and distractions when you’re involved in a conversation. Make sure you devote the time needed for quality listening.
These elements of great communication don’t come naturally to most of us. That’s why it’s important to make a commitment to improving your interpersonal communication. As part of a personal communication strategy, search out courses that teach the art of everyday communication. Even better are workshops where you can practice these more subtle skills and receive coaching. Sure, effective presentations and proper use of punctuation are also important communications skills, but you’ll benefit the most by improving your daily interactions with people.
Kimberly Nuckles is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.