What can I do to improve communication skills everyday at minimum?


From the moment we let out a shriek following a slap by a maternity nurse, at that very moment, we communicated.

So communication then is entirely instinctive, and moreover, vital. It becomes even more vital in the workplace where those of us who are fortunate enough, spend so much of our time. Miscommunication in this environment is an irritant at best, and at worse – and at an operational level, potentially catastrophic.

At whatever level of seniority you are, or whatever it is you do, it is a good idea to not only accept that communication and your efforts to improve communication skills are important, but that communication should also be viewed like mastering a new language — that is, taken seriously!

In many cases, technology originally designed to aid us and simplify processes and activities we once found challenging or irksome, have become the cause of much miscommunication. Why? Because the most popular mediums used — e-mails and texting — have now seemingly at times, caught up with what comes naturally to the vast majority of us; SPEAKING!

These two mediums require reader interpretation, and where a tone of voice can illustrate a mood or sentiment, no such option is available using e-mails, texts, and other digital messengers. Get it wrong (and this is not uncommon) and unwanted issues could arise.

So here’s your first challenge in 2012: where once you would make a grab for your digital device, instead choose to pick up the telephone, or if possible walk the ten metres from your desk and engage using what God has blessed you with – a voice!

Now that we have established that you are capable of looking another person cheerfully in the eye, ready to begin a conversation, let us consider how you should do so.

REFLECTION:

It is sound practice to be alert to the ‘energy’ of and around your audience. By that, I mean try to consciously gauge the mood and emotion of your target audience. Consider whether the timing is right and if the environment is appropriate. Ask yourself, are you the ‘ideal’ messenger?

Though what you have to say is probably important to you and what you do in the workplace, will it also resonate similarly in the mind of your audience? So before you open dialogue, think a little about what it is you have to say — the consequences, the impression it may make, operational impact. A little pro-activity is always beneficial.

THE MECHANICS:

Some of us have a natural tendency to speak quickly; not a good idea if you’re attempting to convey a critical message accurately and with clarity. Slow down, be a little more deliberate, and another vital tip — PAUSE.  This will give the listener the opportunity to fully comprehend, absorb, and hopefully retain what was said prior to your strategic moment of silence.

In a group setting, this technique is even more effective.

Another common mistake you must keep in mind to improve communication skills face-to-face, is the use of link phrases, and or colloquial terms like, ‘you know’, ‘it’s like’, ‘er’, etc. These expressions will often be heard after every sentence uttered. In a social setting away from work, perhaps it is tolerable; however, in the workplace, and specifically in meetings or presentations, it is a NO NO. Don’t do it!

LISTEN:

Good communication is founded on a simple principle. When one person talks, the other person listens. But how often do you find yourself getting so wrapped up with what you’re trying to say, that you ears are muted to what the other person is attempting to say in return. This is bad communication, and if you can identify with it, you’re a bad communicator.

Very often this type of exchange will play out through a phase of high passion or emotion. It will sound to those not involved, like two or more people squabbling, with raised voices, or similar.

The truth is, if you’re not ready to listen, then there’s little point in attempting to communicate or trying to improve communication skills, because you will not be doing so.

There’s a saying: ‘while the foolish talks, the wise man listens’. This is worth remembering during any communication exchange – even more so in group settings.

You may or may not be familiar with this term “active listening.” Wikipedia’s definition is as follows: Active listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to understand, interpret, and evaluate what they hear. The ability to listen actively can improve personal relationships through reducing conflicts, strengthening cooperation, and fostering understanding.

If this concept is new to you, it is likely that your Human Resources department will be acutely aware of it; as such, it would be wise to seek out a member of the HR team and find out more. It will be well worth it!

BODY LANGUAGE:

Subliminal communication happens naturally. This will be in the form of body language. It is important to be aware of this vital information channel when intending to communicate directly.

Here are some examples:

  • If you speak with your arms folded, you will send out a message of unease, defence, even aggression.
  • If your audience is sitting down, lower yourself to their level. This removes any sense of threat or superiority.
  • If you and your target are sitting down, unless your audience is behind a desk, sit at a 90 degree angle to them, this encourages good eye to eye contact, while ensuring an ‘open space’ as opposed to a closed one – if, for example, you were to sit directly opposite. The latter is a little more confrontational.
  • If in a presentation or group setting, and your audience is sitting while you are standing, constant movement from right to left will become a visible distraction. You want your audience to focus on what you’re saying, and not how your dress flows in the gentle breeze, or that odd gate of a walk that you didn’t know you possessed.
  • You will know about the hands in pockets from your school days, so I don’t need to elaborate too much here.

Where possible, mimic body language, always be presentable and prepared, and offer plenty of ‘cheerful’ eye to eye contact, whether one-to-one, or one-to-many. Your audience will need to feel that what you have to say matters to them, and they matter to you.

Most importantly, SMILE. A happy disposition improves communication 10 fold.

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