In today’s information age, we send, receive, and process huge numbers of messages every day. But although communication seems to be a simple thing, there is a lot of misunderstanding in both personal and professional relationships. It is worth investing time to acquire effective communication skills, to better connect with everyone in your personal and professional life.
Effective communication is about exchanging information; but crucially it’s also about understanding the emotion and intention behind the information. It helps us to understand and appreciate people and situations around us. This is equally important in business and in our private lives.
Effective communicators can deliver negative or difficult messages without creating conflict or destroying trust. And they can deliver powerful positive messages contributing to their leadership skills.
Effective communication combines a set of skills including nonverbal communication, attentive listening, effective speaking, and effective presentation and giving constructive feedback. It also depends on an empathetic approach, the ability to manage stress in the moment, and the capacity to recognize your own emotions and those of the person with whom you are communicating.
Although effective communication is a learned skill, it is more effective when it’s spontaneous rather than forced. It does take time and effort to develop good communication skills and become an effective communicator. But the more effort and practice you are prepared to do, the more instinctive and natural your communication skills will be.
When we communicate effectively we can better understand people and situations, and the context in which events take place. This fuller appreciation of the situation allows us to resolve or avoid differences, build trust and respect, and create an environment where creative ideas, problem solving, and effective businesses can flourish. It acts as a shorthand and ensures everyone is “on the same page “.
In contrast, poor or Ineffective communication may cause conflict and frustration in personal and professional relationships. It leads to misunderstandings, and potential conflicts. It certainly slows down a business and reduces its effectiveness
Listening is not the same as waiting for your turn to talk. You need to concentrate on what the other person is saying, not thinking about what you’re going to say next. Often, the speaker can tell from your facial expression that you are not concentrating on their words and emotions.
Listening is a key aspect of effective communication. Attentive listening means understanding the words or the information being communicated, and also understanding how the speaker feels about what they are communicating.
If you want to connect with the other person, listening effectively should come naturally. If it doesn’t, try the tips below. As you practice them, interactions with others will become more satisfying and rewarding. The most difficult communication can sometimes result in unlikely and rewarding connections with others.
Effective listening tips
- Concentrate on the speaker, observe their body language, behavior, and intonations, and look for other nonverbal clues.
- Don’t check text messages, or doodle, or watch people in the office next door, or you will miss nonverbal clues.
- To help you concentrate, repeat their words in your head, this will reinforce their message and help you stay focused.
- Respond when necessary but don’t interrupt or redirect the conversation to your affairs, by saying “Yes, a similar thing happened to me. Wait till I tell you about it!”
- Ask relevant questions to clarify meaning.
- Don’t appear judgmental. To communicate effectively with someone, you don’t have to agree with their ideas, values and opinions, but you do need to avoid judgment, blame and criticism to fully understand them.
- Demonstrate understanding and interest in what the other person is saying by nodding or smiling. Encourage them with verbal comments like “yes” or “I see”.
- Check that your posture is open and inviting.
- Makes the speaker feel heard and understood, and so builds a strong, deep connection between you.
- Creates an environment where people can express ideas, air opinions, discuss feelings, or plan and problem solve in creative ways.
- Saves time by helping to clarify information, and avoid conflicts and misunderstandings.
- Calm negative emotions. When feelings run high, it can help to calm things down if people feel their case has been heard. This clears the path for problem solving to begin.
Ask the right questions
Effective listeners need to ask the right questions, listen actively to the answers and provide constructive feedback.
This means using both open and probing questions.
Open questions are general, they allow people to respond in a number of ways, or to take the conversation wherever they want it to go, so encourage them to talk freely.
- How do you feel things have gone this week?
- How did you feel about that?
- Why do you think that came about?
Probing questions look for more specific information on an event and the reason for it. They can indicate support, encourage information about feelings or attitude. They can “reflect back” and check understanding.
- That’s interesting. Tell me more?
- Is that important to you?
- So to confirm, do you mean that ….?
Nonverbal communication is often called body language. It includes facial expressions, gestures, body positioning, eye contact, and posture, tone of voice, and muscle tension and breathing.
The way we look, listen, sound, move, and react to someone communicates more about how we feel than words alone ever can.
The ability to understand and use body language can help you connect with others, express what you really mean, navigate challenging situations, and build better relationships at home and work.
Open body language, for example arms uncrossed, standing with an open stance, sitting on the edge of your seat, or maintaining eye contact with the other person enhance effective communication.
Body language is an effective way to emphasize the verbal message, by patting a friend on the back while complimenting them on a success, for example, or pounding the table to underline your determination.
Learn to read body language
Watching how people use body language can teach you to analyse nonverbal signals when you are in conversation.
Observe people in public places, such as on public transport or in a café or restaurant. Watch a television talk show with the sound muted. Notice how people act towards each other. Try to guess what their relationship is, and imagine what they’re discussing. You will soon be able to judge how people feel about what is being said.
Be aware of differences in nationality, age, culture, religion, gender, and emotional state, and take them into account when reading body language.
Consider nonverbal communication signals as a group, rather than reading too much into a single nonverbal clue. Include eye contact and tone of voice.
How to deliver nonverbal communication
Use nonverbal signals that match your words to reinforce what is being said. Don’t allow them to conflict or it may give the impression you’re being dishonest.
Adjust your nonverbal signals according to the situation, altering the tone of your voice, for example, when you’re addressing a child rather than a group of adults. Take into account the emotional state and cultural background of the other person.
You can use body language to convey positive feelings even if you’re nervous about a situation, for example at a job interview, or important presentation. Positive body language can signal confidence, so stand tall with your shoulders back, smiling and maintaining eye contact, and deliver a firm handshake. This will make a better impression than keeping your head down, eyes averted, and sliding into a chair.
Some stress is good, because it helps us perform at our best, but too much stress hampers effective communication by disrupting your capacity to think clearly and act appropriately. It can cause us to misread other people, send confusing nonverbal signals, and behave in ways that are not well thought out.
So it is useful to know how to reduce stress so you can control your emotions and behave appropriately.
To deal with stress during communication:
- Recognize when you’re becoming stressed by being aware of your body. Are your hands clenched, your breath shallow, your muscles and stomach tight?
- Calm down by taking deep breaths, relaxing muscles, or recalling a soothing, image,
- Look for humour in the situation.
- Be willing to compromise
- Agree to disagree, move away from the situation. Find a quiet place to relax.
If you are out of touch with your own emotions and don’t understand how you feel or why, you can’t communicate your feelings and needs to others. This will cause frustration, misunderstandings, and conflict.
Your ability to communicate depends on being connected to your own emotions and feelings.If you only communicate on a rational level, this impairs your ability to fully understand others, creatively problem solve, resolve conflicts, or build an affectionate
Emotional awareness is a skill that, with patience and practice, can be learnt. You can develop it by learning how to get in touch with difficult emotions and manage uncomfortable feelings, so you remain in control of your emotions and behaviour, and communicate clearly and effectively.