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How to Always Be Listened to and Understood

How to Always Be Listened to and Understood

Sometimes it can be challenging to put my phone away when I’m spending time with friends. We all know how addicting social media can be, but it doesn’t make it any less rude to the person sitting across from me telling me about a problem they’re facing. Even saying, “I’m just replying to this email, but I swear I’m listening,” is a barrier to effective communication.

There have been times when, even without my phone, I realize I’m only half-listening to someone. It’s a distracting world, and sometimes it can be hard to compartmentalize all the things on your mental to-do list and just be present. But, that doesn’t justify listening with one ear. Is sending a perfectly timed gif as a response to a text really worth losing a friendship over? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Everyone talks, but very few of us listen to understand.

An inability to fully grasp what someone is telling us hinders productive and successful communication even when we’re paying attention. Aside from all the distractions and confusion the world, in general, presents us with, we still have differences that make it challenging to hear someone and understand them.

In today’s world, it’s more important than ever to work with someone to understand their point of view. It doesn’t mean we have to agree, but we should give the same respect we want when seeking a meaningful discussion. With more arguments than ever over gender and culture, how do we improve ourselves?

Voicing an opinion can sometimes feel like walking on eggshells. You don’t want to risk losing a friendship or relationship because you couldn’t see eye-to-eye, but knowing what barriers you may inadvertently be creating is important.

These are the six most common barriers we face in communication:

Even if you are the ideal friend, when it comes to leaving your phone behind and being fully present when someone needs you, you’re not immune to communication barriers. I don’t just mean the common language barrier though it’s certainly a valid one. In fact, there is a whole list of barriers that prevent us from communicating concisely. The following is a list of 6 barriers we should all make a point to focus on for effective communication:

Perceptual barriers: different viewpoints, bias and stereotypes

Perceptual barriers are internal. If you go into a situation thinking the person you are talking to isn’t going to understand or take interest in what you have to say, you may end up subconsciously sabotaging your effort to make your point. You will employ language that is sarcastic, dismissive, or even obtuse, thereby alienating your conversational partner.[1]

Attitudinal barriers: lack of interest or relevance

Attitudinal barriers to communication may result from personality conflicts, poor management, resistance to change, or a lack of motivation. Effective receivers of messages should attempt to overcome their own attitudinal barriers to facilitate effective communication.[2]

Attitudes are usually formed by an individual’s opinion and can be difficult to change. When this barrier overrides the focus on professionalism in the workplace, it can be next to impossible to work together.

This barrier is not an easy one to break down. It’s important to be aware of your attitude, and try to understand the root of it. It will be a slow-going process, but allowing yourself to change your attitude will be worth it in the end.

Language barriers: jargon and word choice

Even when communicating in the same language, the terminology used may act as a barrier if not fully understood by the receiver. For example, a message that includes a lot of specialist jargon and abbreviations will not be understood by a receiver who is not familiar with the terminology used.

Aim to translate all relevent documents, use an interpreter when necessary, talk to your company about providing language classes and try to se visual methods of communication as often as possible.

Emotional barriers: bottling emotions out of refusal to express emotion

We are often taught to fear the words coming out of our mouths, as in the phrase “anything you say can and will be used against you.” Overcoming this fear is difficult, but necessary. The trick is having full confidence in what you are saying and your qualifications in saying it. People often pick up on insecurity.

By believing in yourself and what you have to say, you will be able to communicate clearly without becoming overly involved in your emotions.

Cultural barriers: values and beliefs.

Different cultures, whether they be a geographical culture or simply the work culture of a company, can hinder developed communication. Specifically, if the two cultures clash. There are even subtypes of cultural barriers such as generational and status.

Generational barriers involve different age groups having different approaches to work, which leads to conflicts when older workers think younger workers are slackers. It is especially prevalent today with the negative view of “millennials.”

Status barriers are about people acclimating to workplaces where seniority and status are emphasized. Often they have difficulty adapting to fluid work environments where job titles are not emphasized, and production methods do not always follow a predetermined set of guidelines.

In these cases, it’s important to find common ground.

Gender barriers: different experiences of men and women

Even where men and women share equal stature, knowledge, and experience, differing communication styles may prevent them from working together effectively. Gender barriers are inherent and related to gender stereotypes, or the ways that men and women are taught to behave as children.

To overcome gender barriers within the workplace, educate your team about gender bias. Bias is often embedded in stereotypes and can be hard to detect. Once found, there are possibilities for change.

It is also important to create safe “Identity Workspaces.” Companies should encourage women to build communities in which similarly positioned women can discuss their feedback, compare notes and emotionally support one another’s learning. Support will prevent feeling vulnerable and help women want to share willingly without fear of judgment.

Let’s take a look at a real life example…

In the U.S., 2016 was an election year. This meant, as a nation, we were faced with trying to overcome all six of these barriers on a daily basis, especially since the two main candidates where opposing genders.

The unfunny joke here is that each barrier has a snowball affect.

Think about it: the frustration resulting from struggling with one barrier is enough to create a solid attitudinal barrier once you’ve decided you don’t care what anyone else has to say.

Once you’ve created an attitudinal barrier and stopped caring what someone has to say, you, in turn, cause a perceptual barrier and potentially a cultural barrier. You’ve just stereotyped yourself into a state of mind that is too self-centered and prejudice to listen to what anyone has to say if it doesn’t directly line up with what you think.

If the person you’re refusing to listen to happens to be a different gender than you, you’ve just built a divisive gender barrier wall. It trickles down and gets worse depending on the situation.

As a result, you’re left with people who have given up on trying to speak to you. This will lead to a language barrier with the frustrated party using sarcasm and other linguistic techniques to get out of the conversation.

All of this can lead to emotional barriers as you or the other party may feel that what you said should have been kept to yourself.

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The first step to overcoming communication barriers is to recognize the barriers you have.

We are all guilty of creating barriers. Even if you never text at dinner or engage in political conversations. If you’re being honest with yourself, you can come up with an example of one of the six barriers and how it affected a relationship negatively.

Communication is not easy, and this article is not out to lie about that. Communication is also not a one-way street. It takes work, real effort, to effectively communicate with someone, no matter what the topic.

Try to recognize when the six barriers creep into your day-to-day conversations. It’s important to reflect and understand what triggered the barriers. Did your loved one say something you didn’t agree with? Did you scoff because you found it sexist or hurtful to your personal beliefs?

Rather than putting up a barrier, communicate how it made you feel. And don’t be afraid to use “I” statements. For example, if someone makes a joke that is hurtful to you culturally, tell that person, “I know you’re making a joke, but I feel hurt when you say those things because I am a part of that culture and I feel like you’re laughing at me.”

It doesn’t ensure the person will suddenly turn around and apologize for their ways, but it is a step in the right direction. Guaranteed the next time they go to make a joke like that, they’ll at least hesitate and remember how their words made you feel.

Communication and overcoming the barriers that can get in its way is all about confidence in knowing that your opinion matters, but everyone else thinks their opinion matters, too. Don’t attack someone for an opposing view, but don’t walk away from the conversation either. Break down a new barrier every day, and always be a part of the conversation.

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

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Reference

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Heather Poole

Technical writer

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Last Updated on April 11, 2019

How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

Possessing strong communication skills will help you in every phase of your life. This is especially true in the workplace.

I have personally worked with several leaders who were masters of communication. A few were wonderful speakers who could tell a great story and get everyone in the room engaged. Those of us in attendance would walk away feeling inspired and eager to help with what came next. Others were very skilled at sharing a clear direction and job expectations.

I knew exactly what was expected of me and how to achieve my goals. This was the foundation of an energized and vibrant role I was in. What I have found is strong communication skills are incredibly helpful and sometimes critical in how well we perform at work.

Here we will take a look at how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

How Communication Skills Help Your Success

Strong communication skills pave the way for success in many ways. Let’s look at a few of the big ones.

Create a Positive Experience

Here are two examples of how well developed communication skills helps create a positive experience:

When I first moved to the city I now live in, I began a job search. Prior to my first live interview, I was told an address to go to. Upon arriving at the address provided, I drove around and around attempting to find the location. After 15 minutes of circling and looking for the address, I finally grabbed a parking spot and set out on foot.

What I discovered was the address was actually down an alley and only had the number over the door. No sign for the actual company. The person that gave me those very unclear directions provided a bad experience for me.

Had they communicated the directions to get there in a clear manner, my experience would have been much better. Instead the entire experience started off poorly and colored the entire meeting.

As a recruiter, I frequently provide potential candidates with information about a job I’m speaking to them about. In order to do this, I also provide a picture of the overall company, the group they might be joining, and how their role fits in and impacts the entire company.

Time and time again I have been told by candidates that I have provided the clearest picture of a company and role they have ever heard. They have a positive experience when I clearly communicate to them. Even when the position does not work out for them, often times they will want to stay in touch with me due to the open communication and beneficial experience they had during the interviewing process.

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Strong communication skills will provide a positive experience in virtually any interaction you have with someone.

Help Leadership Skills

It’s certainly a skill all its own to be able to lead others.

Being a mentor and guiding others towards success is a major hallmark of great leaders. Another characteristic of effective leaders is the ability to communicate clearly.

As I referenced above, having a leader who can plainly articulate the company’s mission and direction goes a really long way towards being the Captain of the boat that others want to follow. It’s like saying “here’s our destination and this is how we are going to get there” in a way that everyone can get on board with.

Another critical component of everyone helping to sail the boat in the right direction is knowing what your portion is all about. How are you helping the boat move towards its destination in the manner than is consistent with the leaders’ vision?

If you have a boss or a manager that can show you what it takes for not only you to be successful, but also how your performance helps the company’s success then you’ve got a winner. A boss with superior communication skills.

Build Better Teams

Most of us work in teams of some sort or another. During the course of my career, I have led teams up to 80 and also been an individual contributor.

In my individual contributor roles, I have been part of a larger team. Even if you are in business for yourself, you have to interact with others in one manner or another.

If you have strong communication skills, it helps to build better teams. This is true whether you are in an IT department with 100 other fellow programmers or if you own your own business and have customers or vendors you communicate with.

When you showcase your robust ability to communicate well with others while interacting with them, you are building a better team.

Now let’s jump in to how to improve communication skills to help you pave the way for your workplace success.

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How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

There are many tips, tricks, and techniques to improve communication skills. I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information, so let’s focus on the things that will provide the biggest return on your time investment.

Most of these tips will be fairly easy to become aware of but will take time and effort to implement. So let’s go!

1. Listen

Ever heard the saying you have two ears and one mouth for a reason? If you haven’t, then here’s the reason:

Being a good listener is half the equation to being a good communicator.

People who have the ability to really listen to someone can then actually answer questions in a meaningful way. If you don’t make the effort to actively listen, then you are really doing yourself and the other person a disservice in the communication department.

Know that person who is chomping at the bit to open his or her mouth the second you stop talking? Don’t be that person. They haven’t listened to at least 1/2 of what you’ve said. Therefore the words that spill out of their mouth are going to be about 1/2 relevant to what you just said.

Listen to someone completely and be comfortable with short periods of silence. Work on your listening skills first and foremost.

2. Know Your Audience

Knowing your audience is another critical component to having strong communication skills. The way you interact with your manager should be different than how you interact with your kids. This isn’t to say you need to be a different person with everyone you interact with. Far from it.

Here is a good way to think about it:

Imagine using your the same choice of words and body language you use with your spouse while interacting with your boss. That puts things in a graphic light!

You want to ensure you are using the type of communication most relevant to your audience.

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3. Minimize

I have lunch with a business associate about 3 times a year. We’ve been talking for several years now about putting a business deal together.

He is one of those people that simply overwhelms others with a lot of words. Sometimes when I ask him a question, I get buried beneath such an avalanche of words that I’m more confused than when I asked the question. Needless to say this is most likely a large portion of why we never put the deal together.

Don’t be like my lunch business associate. The goal of talking to or communicating with someone is to share actual information. The goal is not to confuse someone, it’s to provide clarity in many cases.

State what needs to be stated as succinctly as possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t have some pleasant conversation about the weather too.

The point is to not create such an onslaught of words and information that the other person walks away more confused than when they started.

4. Over Communicate

So this probably sounds completely counter intuitive to what I just wrote about minimizing your communication. It seems like it might be but it’s not.

What I mean by over communicating is ensuring that the other person understands the important parts of what you are sharing with them. This can be done simply yet effectively. Here’s a good example:

Most companies have open enrollment for benefits for the employees in the fall. The company I work for has open enrollment from November 1 to 15. The benefits department will send out a communication to all employees around October 1st, letting them know open enrollment is right around the corner and any major changes that year. There’s also a phone number and email for people to contact them with any questions.

Two weeks later, we all get a follow up email with basically the same information. We get a 3rd communication the week before open enrollment and another one 1 day before it starts.

Finally we get 2 emails during enrollment reminding us when open enrollment ends.

There’s minimal information, it’s more of a reminder. This is effective over communication.

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5. Body Language

The final critical component to how to improve communication skills for workplace success is body language. This is something most of us have heard about before but, a reminder is probably a good idea.

When I am in a meeting with someone I am comfortable with, I tend to kind of slouch down in my chair and cross my arms. When I catch myself doing this, I sit up straight and uncross my arms. I remember that crossing arms can many times be interpreted as a sign of disagreement or conflict.

In general, the best rule of thumb is to work towards having open body language whenever possible at work. This means relaxing your posture, not crossing your arms, and looking people in the eye when speaking with them.

When you are speaking in front of others, stand up straight and speak in a clear voice. This will convey confidence in your words.

Conclusion

Possessing strong communication skills will help you in many facets of your life and most certainly in the workplace.

Good communication helps create better teams, positive experiences with those we interact with, and are critical for leadership.

There are numerous tactics and techniques to be used to improve communication skills. Here we’ve reviewed how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

Now go communicate your way to success.

More Resources About Effective Communication

Featured photo credit: HIVAN ARVIZU via unsplash.com

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