The holidays are over. Gifts have been opened, the eggnog is gone, relatives have packed up and headed out, and there’s just a faint dusting of pine needles left on your carpet. For the most part holidays are about the memories – and hopefully good ones – but more likely than not along with the good there are some awkward family moments as well.
What’s the culprit? Too much sugar? Rum in the eggnog? Although there could be any number of reasons, one common denominator during any gathering, whether personal or professional is communication – or miscommunication, really.
Early January is crisp and clean, a time set aside to shake off the excess and re-evaluate our goals and priorities for the new year ahead. And even though the holidays sometimes seem like a detour, we can use lessons learned during this time to fuel our quest for self-improvement in the coming months. Even if your new year’s resolution is minimal, communication is an area where we can all afford some improvement – and who knows it might help us get through the next holiday season a little easier.
A mantra to keep in mind: Basic communication is easy. Good communication is challenging. Excellent communication is a lifelong pursuit.
In the most basic sense, communication includes speaking, writing, reading, and listening. We develop our communication skills over our lifetime by interacting with the people surrounding us. But during these interactions we can unfortunately learn and adopt bad habits that are often very hard to break so it’s important to set aside some time reevaluate one of our most basic tools.
A Healthy Recipe, or ‘the plan’:
3 Cups of Awareness
Improving communication skills sounds like an easy win but some people don’t realize that they could benefit from improvement.
To assess your communication style you need to gain some awareness of how you are perceived. Record a conversation, or better yet take a quick video to analyze your speaking style including tone, volume, and diction. You may be surprised at your own body language, or how your speech gets slurred together instead of coming out like the elegant prose that it sounds in your head.
2 Cups of Active Listening
Listening is an integral part of communication. If you are truly engaged in a conversation, you are not thinking about what you want to say next. Instead you are looking, listening, and giving all of your attention to the speaker (put your cell phone down!). Active listening creates trust and empathy, so even if there are any misunderstandings down the road, a basic connection has been created that will help you in the future.
A Healthy Dash of Patience
Self-improvement is hard! That’s why we have resolutions in the first place. Have patience for yourself and others. It’s okay to backtrack and admit something didn’t come out right and restate your message. Remember, excellent communication is a lifelong pursuit and we are all continually practicing on each other.
4 Cubes of Clarity
When in doubt, aim for clarity in communication. More is not necessarily better. When you have made your point, stop talking or – change course and ask for feedback. Doing this helps you understand if others have heard what you think they’ve heard. Remember, what you say isn’t necessarily what they hear. We are all subject to filters, and interpretations based on our experiences that color the way we receive a message. This is especially true in visual communication! Review media or presentation slides with a peer to check for unconscious bias, or cultural assumptions that might add confusion instead of clarity to a speech or presentation.
Wrap with Transparency
In our professional lives, especially in government, communication styles and skills are a large part of what form our public image. Honesty and transparency are so important when communicating with each other and are a window into what makes us human in the first place. Imagine going to a talk where the speaker had no focus, looked sheepish, and didn’t give her talk any direction. Now imagine going to a talk where the speaker steps up to the mic, admits she left her notes at home, and proceeds to have an honest talk about the subject at hand. Which is more engaging? Improving communication skills by using honesty and transparency will undoubtedly enhance how we are perceived and will strengthen our connections to each other. Although personality can somewhat dictate communication style, it’s also true that communication growth and development can influence our personality. In this way if you invest in yourself and everyone around you will benefit.
Smile and try to take things ‘the right way’ when engaged in a conversation. We all have some days that are better than others, but if we stay positive and are warm – communication is naturally better and creates cohesive bonding relationships that enable us to build positive experiences together.
Terra Milles is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.