Effective communication is a way of making yourself understood properly by the other person.
It’s not just simply structuring what you have to say in the right order. It’s the ability to communicate nuance, tone of voice, and the correct meaning behind words in a way that doesn’t lead to a breakdown in communication.
There are many components that go into this, and becoming a master at communicating your thoughts in conversations is a life-long skill that demands constant practice.
That said, the benefits are enormous, as it will help you in every area of your life.
Let’s take a look at all you need to know to become a more effective communicator.
1. Improve Active Listening:
While listening to someone does end up being better than ignoring what they’re saying or, even worse, interrupting them in the middle of a conversation, it’s still not enough.
What you should aim for when communicating with others is active listening. It’s when you’re fully engaged with someone and you add something of value to the conversation by hearing them out and responding when appropriate.
Active listening is the first step towards resolving any communication hiccups. Why? Because it’s actually quite rare to find listeners who give the other person enough time to speak their minds.
2. Ask Open-ended Questions:
When trying to get to know someone, for example, avoid asking the classic yes-or-no questions.
Person 1: “Do you like the colour red?”
Person 2: “Yes.”
See how awful this type of question is? It doesn’t lead anywhere except for awkward silence. Instead, try asking the same question in a way that encourages back and forth.
Person 1: “What is it about red that you like?”
Person 2: “I like it because it reminds me of a time when I used to make red hoodies with a thread and needle for my niece.”
This is much better. The second scenario opens the way to ask all types of other questions that will keep the conversation flowing organically. For instance, it’s really easy to continue from here by asking something like:
Person 1: “Oh? You’re into handiwork? Where did you learn?”
Person 2: “Yes! I enjoy it! My mother taught me when I was in 6th grade, and it kind of stuck with me as I grew up because I think it’s a creative outlet.”
Questions are crucial when trying to get more information out of someone or building a deeper bond. Take the time to assess a conversation well, and always look out for ways you can keep it flowing in the direction you want.
Avoid awkward pauses at all costs because they make an interaction boring for everyone.
3. Know What Not To Say:
Some people have the mistaken belief that as long as they’re talking with someone and listening to them, all is well. In reality, you can’t just talk about anything and expect a suitable response.
It’s how it goes with people because everyone is different and has their own boundaries and favourite topics they like to discuss.
Also, timing plays into this big time. Some situations call for you to be more cheerful, others more solemn.
If you’re discussing the latest episode of Better Call Saul, it doesn’t make sense to steer the conversation in a direction that is all about politics.
There’s no saying what the other person might think afterward, and you’re sucking out all the fun by discussing something so serious instead of the TV show.
When you’re really close to someone, the same rules apply. You can’t take liberty and discuss what you think is right.
If your spouse has lost someone in a car accident, avoid saying anything that might bring up memories of the person because it’s not the right time to say these things.
What you should do in such a scenario is simply be there for them and offer them support if they need it.
4. Watch Your Tone & Body Language:
You’ve heard it before, but we’ll say it again. Effective communication is not just about the words coming out of your mouth. It’s also about your posture and the way you speak.
People respond best to body language that is full of confidence and open to others. This means walking upright, shoulders pulled back, and head held high.
Avoid slouching at all costs because it signals so many wrong things about you such, as weakness, low self-esteem, and laziness. You want to maximize the effects of your communication, and body language plays a lot into that.
As for tone of voice, it can be a bit more complex. The tone of voice is hard to nail down properly if no one is giving you pointers.
You might think you sound helpful and cheerful in your head, but when you actually speak, your tone signals someone who is robotic and uncaring.
One way to overcome that and learn how to calibrate your tone well is to ask for support. Ask a friend or a family member to listen to you as you speak and tell them to correct any blunders. If no one is around, use a recorder.
Recorders are a powerful way to hear yourself out and adjust your speech. It allows you to fine-tune every aspect of your communication, from word choice to tone of voice.
5. Stay Objective:
This is especially important when communicating in the workplace. Effective communication demands you take emotions out of the equation in a lot of situations.
Why is that important? Well, if someone is giving you honest feedback and all you’re thinking about is how you’ll make them pay for saying these things, you’re in a tough spot.
Effective communicators realise that maintaining objectivity leads to better outcomes when professional assessments of their performance are made. It’s also really important to stay “out” of a conversation when multiple opinions, perspectives, and ideas are being discussed.
This will help you cooperate better with others, and it will serve you well because when you stay objective, you tend to consolidate all of what’s being said.
In other words, you will begin to understand the differences in opinion and will become more observant of what works and what does not, leading to better outcomes when making your own choices.
Always remember that in the context of business, feedback and assessments are NOT personal judgements of who you are as a person. They’re simply tools you can make use of if you stay objective and communicate your thoughts free from bias and emotion.
6. Improve Non-verbal Communication:
We’ll discuss this in an upcoming article, but here’s the gist of it: Non-verbal communication is any communication made with something other than words.
It can be the cultural gestures that the other person is accustomed to, or it can be their body language and tone of voice.
We talked about how you can improve non-verbal communication above, but now you need to be aware of how others do it.
Watching someone’s body language, for example, can tell you a lot. If they’re standing with their arms crossed, it can be a signal of insecurity, anxiousness, or a sign of someone using their cognitive abilities to solve a difficult problem.
While these might be true or not depending on who you’re talking to, it still gives you a headstart before you communicate with them more.
Another key idea behind non-verbal communication is being mindful of cultural differences. For example, an Asian businessman requires you to communicate with them in a style different from communicating with typical American ones.
Eye contact is really important as well. For instance, if someone refuses to maintain eye contact with you, it could mean a number of things:
- They’re hiding something/lying.
- They’re afraid/shy.
- They’re not interested in what you’re saying.
The opposite is true as well. Maintaining constant eye contact could mean:
- The person likes you.
- They’re interested in what you have to say.
Again, your common sense should tell you which of the above is true in what situation. It also prepares you to deal with any of the scenarios that might arise, depending on how you begin your communication with them.
All in all, nonverbal communication is something you don’t want to miss out on when trying to communicate effectively with others. Take the time to learn it inside out, and you’ll improve your results drastically.
Effective communication begins with you. It’s a lifetime pursuit that requires you to constantly update your toolbox and work on several skills at once to master them.
We’ve gone over some of the most important ideas and skills you’ll need to communicate with others more effectively.
There’s no telling what kind of conversation or social interaction you might find yourself in, so it pays dividends to prepare well and utilise everything to get the best out of a situation.
Practise communicating daily with others, and the results will come with time.