Our world depends and functions on the exchange and relay of information, therefore, communication is a vital life skill. Having properly developed communication skills means that your world view or opinion about a situation can be heard, read, or seen, and consequently, recognised. Contrary to this, poor communication leads to misunderstandings, potential problems at work and in relationships, and in larger global arenas.
Breaking down communication
By definition, to communicate means “to transmit information, thought, or feeling so that it is satisfactorily received or understood” (Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary). There are several methods of communication, but the three we will be focusing on in this article are:
- Non-Verbal (Body Language)
Preparing your nerves
If a mild social anxiety or a general clumsiness and/or lack of confidence with words has prevented you from seeking out help in developing communication skills, you are not alone. Because humans are nuanced, so are the skills necessary to communicate properly. It can be a daunting undertaking, communication. So don’t get discouraged! To help you better cope with nerves or bolster your confidence, remember the following:
- When speaking, speak slowly.
- Take a deep breath and do not rush.
- If you think you are speaking too quickly, you most likely are.
- Do not rush writing or setting up for a presentation. Rushing can increase your anxiety and anxiety could stop you in your tracks, either through indecision or second-guessing.
- Start written assignments well before they are due. If you know that you must prepare a speech or send out a memo, do not wait until the last minute. Procrastination will lead to rushing which can lead to mistakes.
- Understand your audience and what you must do before you begin.
- Be forgiving. Do not beat yourself up over an innocent mistake but try not to do it again. Always strive to communicate better the next time around.
How to develop the three main communication skills
Active listening means being attentive to what is said by another person. By actively listening to another person you can better formulate thoughtful and related responses. This also communicates respect for the other person with you.
Be mindful of your tone of voice. The best way to practice mindfulness with your tone is to think about what you are about to say before you say it. A suitable tone will help convey the message you want to give and prevent misunderstandings.
Although awkward silence may result in some slight uncomfortableness, not every gap between conversations must be filled with spoken words. Trying to fill those spaces with unsure small talk can result in raised eyebrows, communication faux pas, and non sequiturs.
Use your voice
Professionals who use their voice daily always warm-up. These routines relax the muscles in their face, stretch their vocal cords, and calm anxiety. The routines are easy to do at home by yourself and may include tongue twisters to assist with enunciation. You can also seek the help of a vocal coach to help with projection and clarity.
Be careful of using fillers such as “like,” “um,” “you know,” and “so yeah.” Vocal fry, when your tone of voice drops into a raspy quality at the end of a sentence, is also distracting and should be avoided.
One of the best ways to show professional and general respect is through eye contact. It shows to whomever you are speaking that you are interested in what they have to say. Eye contact also creates a more engaging atmosphere during presentations. If you cannot maintain eye contact with audience members due to stage lights or anxiety, find a point in the back of the room and use that as your reference.
Even if you do not mean it, slouching can show disinterest in another person. If you feel your shoulders slumping forward or you sliding down your seat, readjust; shoulders back, chin up, and keep your back straight.
Fidgeting is another action that, even if not meant, can show lack of interest. Practice body mindfulness. If you feel yourself nervously thinking about that to do list instead of the conversation you’re involved in, let go of the thought. Meditation at home can assist in this mindfulness. You may also want to invest in a stress ball or something that provides an outlet for nervous energy that isn’t too distracting to others.
What is acceptable in terms of space and friendly physical touch varies from culture to culture and person to person. If you know you are going to be meeting someone new, perhaps from a different culture, be sure to do your research. Make an effort to respect their cultural norms and take cues as to when it is acceptable to incorporate your own. It is also best to first read body language before approaching someone. If someone looks like they are uncomfortable in the crowd, getting too close with that friendly look in your eye could communicate an aggressive or lewd message. Then again, if you are standing four feet away from a coworker who needs to discuss work with you with a frown on your face, they could take it as you not wanting to work with them at all. Keep a respectful distance regardless, and only enter another individual’s “personal bubble” when you are sure you have permission to do so.
These days, a lot of written communication is dealt with via technology – such as emails, software or apps and is best practiced in everyday situations. Follow these tips:
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- Understand your target audience. If you are writing to a friend you can take a more casual tone, using familiar language and slang. If you are writing to a boss, “Hey, dude,” may not be the best way to open up your email. Keep it formal. Understand the assignment or what is being asked of you.
- Answer the question. For instance, if someone asks you what time it is, tell them the time; do not tell them how to build a clock. Use short, concise sentences and language with complete sentences. Break different topics into multiple paragraphs.
- Watch your tone. Emotions and intent are harder to convey in written communication because you cannot see how what you are saying is being received. There is no body language reference. Due to this, be extra careful not to use sarcasm or humour that relies on other people interpreting humour the way you do. Read what you’ve written aloud. This way, you will always edit and proofread your work.
- Use specialised software to help with certain communication. Some communication, such as scheduling meetings or interviews, may be better organised through software, rather than back and forth emails. HR software, such as one from Advanced, enables you to better support your co-workers.
Communication may come naturally to you, however, for those that struggle, be patient. Consider how much practice it takes to learn skills for a job, a new language, and the etiquette required to speak with upper management or across cultures. It takes time and practice to develop these skills. Follow the tips in this article and your skills will soon improve.