Improving communication is a beneficial process on many levels. When we learn to effectively articulate our ideas and points of view, and to better understand those around us, it can lead to happier relationships, improvements at work, and more fun in social situations. Even more, the ability to communicate our needs and wants is often the most effective way to achieve them - an important part of reaching personal goals, maintaining mental health, and developing strong self-esteem. Communication savvy or a little on the shy side of chatty, there is always room to learn how to best express ourselves. To help you on your way, here are 8 great tips to improve communication and have you speaking and listening better than ever.
1 Learn to Listen
Learning how to develop stronger communication skills is in large part, a lesson in learning how to listen more effectively, and this goes beyond simply, “can anybody hear me?” Active listening - an engaging process of participation, interest and effort - truly is a lost art, as our fast-paced societies have us quickly scanning emails, texting rather than talking and possibly even taking for granted the words and meaning of the conversations we do make time for. To improve communication, try spending less time expressing your own points and more time focused in on the message you are receiving. By really listening you may discover that there was a great deal of information, insight and opportunity you were missing before, and can now utilize and enjoy.
2 Consider Your Tone
Tone is an extremely powerful communication tool. The same words can have an instantly changed meaning when spoken in a different tone - in fact, most often it is less about what we say, and more about how we say it that determines the impact of the message. Fortunately, tone can be both chosen and adjusted - despite what many of us would have led our mothers to believe as teenagers - and is a very effective “quick fix” to improve communication. Selecting a tone that communicates our message with positivity, neutrality, empathy or kindness will ensure that those around us are more receptive to our points of view, and that in turn will allow us to best express ourselves and our ideas. Furthermore, we are less likely to get amped up and say something we regret if we are actively considering how our tone of voice may effect the situation, and having to apologetically backtrack over our own verbal land-mine is always a good thing to avoid if we can.
3 Choose Your Body Language
A common misconception about improving communication is the notion that this process is all about what we say and hear, when in actuality, we have to also consider what our body language is telling those around us. To develop stronger communication skills, ask yourself how your posture, gestures and even eye movements - all non-verbal cues - may be impacting your interactions. For example, standing with your arms crossed over your chest, or looking around the room as you listen or speak to someone can indicate that you are distracted or closed off to the information they are giving you, or that you are not confident in what you are saying - despite your word choice. On the flip side, standing with a relaxed posture, arms at your side, with good eye contact, can communicate that you are engaged in the interaction and confident in yourself, even before you speak. Being aware of our bodies is a significant way not only to improve communication and ensure that our actions are speaking the same message as our words, but also to prevent our non-verbal language from telling a story we should maybe keep to ourselves until we have thought it through.
4 Fight Fair
Like so many passionate women out there, I love and fight with a hot streak, and as a result, this next tool to improve communication has been a challenge for me. Nonetheless, learning to fight fair is crucial to maintaining strong relationships and to productively overcoming obstacles at work - huge benefits for a little self-control. While it can be tempting to raise our voices, wave our arms and say things that are perhaps a little out of bounds when we are upset, these types of behaviors can actually lead to other people ignoring our message and writing us off as irrational or hysterical. To best express ourselves in moments of discontent, it pays to fight fair: maintain composure, explain the feelings of hurt or anger as calmly as possible, and provide an opportunity for the other person to address the concerns. In doing so, you will ensure that your message is received loud and clear and you will be much more likely to get some action, resolve or understanding from those around you... leaving you the chance to use that passion for something good!
5 Take an Interest
Most people have a great story to tell - perhaps they have travelled or built a beautiful family or taken on fascinating career experiences - and one of the best ways to connect with someone and truly open the lines of communication is through taking a real interest in them. With many of the same principles of active listening, this method to improve communication is less about our own voices and more about participating in a conversation through curiosity, focus and true interest in those around us. Often by simply asking a few questions and engaging the responses you can learn a lot about a situation or person, and then make better choices about how to proceed. Furthermore, your loved ones, co-workers, and likely even acquaintances will be more apt to communicate openly with you in the future if you seem genuinely interested in them - building your bonds, increasing your social connections and creating a certain degree of mutual understanding and trust between you and those in your circle. Finally, as we so often get what we give, you may find that by inquiring about someone else’s story, you are more often giving the opportunity to share, celebrate and chat about your own.
6 Mind Your Manners
To develop stronger communication skills we all may need a little refresher class at finishing school as so many people nowadays underestimate the power of good manners. From maintaining eye contact during a conversation, to using please and thank you in our interactions, to letting someone finish their thought before speaking ourselves - a little etiquette can go a long way to improve communication, and never has this concept been more important than in our currently technologically advanced society. With so many people cutting out grammar, words, and even face-to-face contact as they interact with people via the Internet, email and cell phones more and more, proper manners have seemed to vanish with the times. Stand out from the crowd by choosing to communicate with a well-mannered approach and keep in mind, though you may be sending a message through an informal platform such as email, a respectful, polished delivery will increase the chances your message is well-received and treated with the same level of attention.
7 Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say
To express ourselves most clearly it is important to speak with integrity, and as such, we need to mean what we say, and say what we mean. The key to this process is to speak from the heart, with respect and to then give those around us the opportunity to speak their minds as well. This is not to say that we cannot change our views, re-define our point, or even go against our original idea altogether, nor is it license to run our mouths without perspective or common courtesy. Instead, it means that we have given careful consideration to articulating ourselves in a clear, meaningful way and those who communicate with us can rely on the fact that we are saying what is most true for us at that time.
8 Know Your Audience
To improve communication, we need to be aware of the dynamic of our audience. For example, you probably would not say the same things or speak in the same way to your boyfriend or husband that you would to your boss, and the same goes for the differences between your interactions with friends or family, and acquaintances. Stay true to who you are lady, by all means, but for maximum communication results, consider making slight adjustments in your word choices, tone, level of formality, body language and physical contact to reflect the relationship you share with the person involved in your communication. A conscious effort to know and address the specific audience for your interaction will ensure you are on-point with your message and getting the most out of each conversation.
To develop stronger communication skills and best express ourselves there are many tools we can use to approach each interaction and really maximize our potential for success. Even more, each culture, community and family has a unique way of engaging one another, ensuring there are endless ways to interact and understand each other better. We would love to add to this list of tips with your own experiences, stalkers - what are some other great ways to improve communication and have us telling it like it is most effectively?
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