Three of the most important things that you can do to strengthen your communication skills is to (1) increase your vocabulary, (2) learn to listen, and (3) practice your speech.

If you’ve spent a fair amount of time in online discussion forums or chat rooms, you may have noticed that the cause of many electronically based disagreements appear to be the misinterpretation of certain words, phrases or expressions. In some cases, a simple lack of word knowledge may become the crux of a long flame-war or worse, the end of a potentially good friendship. You can prevent this by increasing your vocabulary and if necessary, asking for clarification of the meaning of specific word. Never be embarrassed to ask what a word means even if you’re in the middle of a conversation. If you’re trying to complete a task – it’s critical that you clearly understand what is being asked of you.

You must also learn how to listen in order to effectively communicate as well. All conversation is useless if you don’t take the time to fully absorb what’s being said. After all, a conversation is based on input and its feedback – you just can’t give useful feedback if you don’t fully appreciate and accept the input. Nothing is more aggravating than giving a set of lengthy instructions to someone who isn’t listening. If you discover that you’re having trouble listening on the other hand, you can always politely interrupt your speaker and ask him or her to clarify things that you didn’t understand.

Of course when it’s your time to speak, you certainly want to do your best to communicate your points in a way that your listener(s) can understand. Some of us are natural communicators (like talk radio hosts for instance), while others of us aren’t. But if you practice your speech, you’ll find that you’ll start to learn a few tricks to relax and speak at a rate that you’re comfortable with, or get those ‘hard to pronounce’ words out of your mouth. One trick that can help your speech flow is to visualize the words on a sheet of paper before you talk. That way when you speak, you can virtually read aloud what you’re visualizing. This is a handy trick for those impromptu moments where you’re required to answer a series of questions (as in an interview), or when you’re attempting to explain a new procedure at work in front of a group of co-workers.

Nicole Miller is a developer and member of the Association of Shareware Professionals.

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