Communicating involves more than simply exchanging information. To be an effective communicator, you must understand your audience, measure your tone and volume, watch your body language, and apply some other communication skills. This article explains not only what constitutes effective communication, but also presents the skills required to be an effective communicator.
Table of Contents
- 1 Basic Effective Communication Skills
- 2 Listening Skills for Effective Communication
- 3 Becoming a Great Effective Communicator
- 4 Effective Written Communication
- 5 Barriers to Effective Communication
Some interpersonal communication skills apply in all situations. Others only apply to your career or in your personal life. If you are experiencing one of the following problems at work, you probably need to improve your communication skills.
- Hurting the feelings of others
- Frequently being misunderstood
- Problems when teamwork is required
- Lack of career advancement
Poor communication skills often cause marital problems. You may want to have better conversations in your social life or improve your ability to communicate at work. Whatever your effective communication needs, the following information will help you determine if you have effective communication skills and improve those you determine are ineffective.
Basic Effective Communication Skills
Whether you are communicating one-on-one or presenting a message to a group, there are certain basic effective communication skills that are applicable in every speaking situation. See which of the following effective communication skills you already possess and add those you are lacking.
Plan and Prepare What You Are Going to Say
Plan group presentations and personal conversations ahead of time. Although a presentation that seems spontaneous is desirable, until you develop this skill there is nothing wrong in relying on a script. If on-the-spot communication is necessary, pause and take a moment to think before you speak. When you engage in communication, always speak plainly and honestly, as you will earn the respect of whoever is listening to you.
Think about what you can share in personal conversations. Funny stories always work well, especially if they are about something that has happened to you recently. Stay away from controversial topics – politics, religion, etc. – and make sure you give the other person a chance to speak. Questions work well, just keep them light and relatively non-personal.
Make sure you use only words you are familiar with. If you are writing out a presentation, grammar and spell check it before you present it. Your goal is to be easily understood by your audience.
Know Your Audience
What you say and how you say it is more effective if it is designed for the audience to whom you are speaking. You should use a different tone and style of communication with your family, your boss, and your coworkers. Conversations are different with friends and those we do not know. Effective communicators know how to keep the listeners attention and respect their perspective when speaking.
Use Body Language Effectively
Even when you are not speaking, you constantly communicate with your body language. If you learn to use body language effectively and read the body language of others, you will be able to communicate. For example:
- Lack of eye contact shows distraction or disinterest.
- Sighing and yawning are usually signs of mental or physical fatigue or boredom.
- Crossed arms or tapping feet or fingers indicate you or your listener is uninvolved in the conversation or angry.
These non-verbal signals indicate you or your listener are not open to productive communication.
Use your body language such as facial expressions, posture, and body movement to add to the content of your message and reinforce what you are saying. Simply nodding or shaking your head can add meaning to content. Additionally, consider the age, emotional state, and cultural background of your listener(s).
Set a Good Tone and Speaking Pace
Use appropriate volume and tone for effective communication. Speak loud enough when you are addressing a group to be heard, but tone the volume down in a private conversation. Your tone of voice should also reflect emotion; never speak in a monotone. Your tone should be different for different ages, group sizes, and communication topics.
Effective communicators know how to pace their speech. Speak clearly, enunciating each word. If you need to do so, pause to collect your thoughts. Remember that silence is not necessarily a bad thing; you want to be in control of what you say.
The best way to improve your communication skills is to practice. Choose low risk situations to practice the skills you are learning until you feel comfortable with a larger group. Social situations where you do not know many participants are a good place to start. Watch the reactions of your listeners to determine how well you are using effective communication. The next sections will discuss the importance of good listening skills for effective communication and share how to develop those skills.
Listening Skills for Effective Communication
Effective communicators realize conversation involves both effective speaking and listening. Learn to be engaged in what the speaker is saying by developing the following skills
- Completely focus on the speaker.
- Understand the emotions being communicated.
- Look for non-verbal cues – tone and volume of voice, body language, etc.
- Take advantage of your physical abilities:
- Listen with your right ear to activate the left side of your brain, which processes emotional and speech comprehension.
- Stand straight with your chin down to pick up on higher frequencies of speech.
- Lean or tilt your head towards the speaker.
- Do not interrupt, but wait until the person speaking is finished with their thought.
- Respond to what is being said with nods, smiles, and short comments, such as, “Really?” “I see,” etc.
You do not have to agree with everything a person is saying. You do, however, need to show respect for others’ opinions. Active listening not only involves paying attention to what is being said, but setting aside judgements and objectively responding to the communication of others. We will now look at how an effective communicator responds and bonds with others.
Becoming a Great Effective Communicator
Greatly successful communicators know how to effectively respond to the communication of others. Doing so helps one form a bond, if not with the communicator, with the content of their message. The truly effective communicator goes the extra mile, not only getting the most from every conversation in which they engage, but also providing their listeners with a memorable experience. The following tips will help one become not just an effective communicator, but a great one!
Express Appreciation and Praise
Whenever you are speaking to a group or becoming involved in a lengthy conversation, express your appreciation for the time your listener(s) is giving you. In addition, recognize, comment on, or compliment any input your listener(s) contributes. Doing so helps build rapport, an important characteristic of effective communication.
Connect to Your Listener(s)
This concept takes getting to know your audience to a new and greater level. The venue of the conversation or speech, the topic, and even your listeners’ appearance can provide clues making it possible for you to connect on a personal level. Just make sure you avoid controversial topics such as politics and religion.
Effective communicators know the importance of remaining positive. To do so:
- Avoid negativism or complaining.
- Watch language to make sure critical and attacking words or phrases are not used.
- If you must express displeasure or concern, do so with kind and encouraging words – a challenge, but possible.
Focus on the Desired Outcome
An effective communicator knows what result they want to achieve before they begin communicating. Doing so helps you remain on the subject and change the direction of the conversation, if necessary. Define what you wish to accomplish before you begin speaking. For example, are you:
- Conveying facts
- Needing to resolve a conflict
- Seeking advice
- Socially bonding
The outcome you wish to achieve determines the flow and content of the conversation.
Give and Request Feedback
Asking for input and feedback helps confirm successful communication, by letting you know that you have been heard and understood. Use questions and phrases such as:
- So, you have agreed to . . .
- It sounds like you are saying . . .
- What do you mean . . .?
- Am I understanding you correctly?
Clarifying the listener is connecting to what you are saying is imperative for effective communication. You can also repeat the other person’s last few words to stay engaged and confirm that you are listening.
Assume Best Intentions
Sometimes it is difficult to determine the intended tone of someone’s communication. Assuming the speakers and listeners have good intentions avoids anger and animosity. This is especially important with written communication, since you cannot assess non-verbal cues. If you do think the communication is designed to anger or upset you, it is best to respond with understanding and kindness. If you wish, you can ask for clarification of the speaker’s motive and intent of the communication.
Follow-up after Your Communication
A great communicator knows the importance of follow-up after a presentation or conversation. At the end of any communication, clarify future actions and accountability. This includes:
- Assessing responses
- Confirming deadlines
- Clarifying responsibilities
- Setting expectations
End your conversation expressing appreciation, with a smile and a word of kindness, if relevant and appropriate. Doing so opens the door for effective communication with you listener(s) in the future.
Effective Written Communication
Keep Accurate Notes
Effective communicators know the dangers of not writing things down. No matter how great you think your memory is, there is the potential to forget salient points after speaking or listening to others. If the thought of using pen and paper makes you cringe, text yourself or keep electronic notes. Remember to add the date of the conversation and who it was with.
Schedule Your Responses
Respond as soon as possible to text, e-mails, and phone and written messages. Many people find it convenient to set aside a specific time of day for responding to all communications at one time. Others may do so every two to three hours. Choose a schedule that works for you and stick to it. Doing so makes it easier for those you communicate with regularly to know when to expect your response.
Read and Respond to the Entire Communication
Avoid reading or listening to only part of the communication, as misinterpretations and misunderstood responses result. Additionally, extra time is required to clear up problems created by insufficient reading of written communication. Your responses should be clear, concise, and consist of numbered lists and bullet points as appropriate. A clear understanding derived from a complete read, along with a quick, clear, concise response avoids misunderstanding and appearing unprofessional.
Check Responses for Correct Spelling and Grammar
When you create a written message or response, read carefully what you have written, checking for spelling and grammar mistakes. In addition, make sure your message clearly communicates what you want to say accurately. A poorly written document will not achieve your goal of being an effective communicator.
Barriers to Effective Communication
There are some barriers to effective interpersonal communication one must be aware of and avoid. Consider the following:
- Distractions. Put away your cell phone. If necessary, move to somewhere quieter.
- Unnecessary conversation fillers. Saying “um,” “you know,” or “oh,” repeatedly throughout the conversation destroys the interest of your listener.
- Lack of empathy. Listeners can determine if you lack empathy and your words lose their importance for them.
- Loss of self-control. If part of a conversation makes you angry, and you cannot maintain your self-control, take a break if necessary to calm down.
- Stress. Feelings of stress inhibit effective communication. Stress may be the result of nervousness when presenting in front of a large group or talking to a person you do not know. Breathe deeply, collect your thoughts, and continue when you are relaxed.
Good communication skills help one in both their personal and professional lives. Effective communication skills improve your abilities to interact more professionally with others. Both verbal and written communication skills can be learned and improved. Following the information and tips in this article will improve your written and speaking personal communication skills in both business and social situations. It is possible to learn how to communicate effectively.