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Last Updated on November 28, 2017

12 Essential Communication Skills That Aren’t Taught in Schools at All

12 Essential Communication Skills That Aren’t Taught in Schools at All

“I’ve never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain

We’re taught the basics of communication early in the classroom. To be able to read, write, and speak effectively, we had to learn vocabulary, grammar, spelling, handwriting, and pronunciation. They were, however, focused on the rudimentary goal of imparting or exchanging information.

Communication goes much further than the academics of the written or spoken word. The purpose of communication is to build and grow connections with others at an emotional level. This is where classroom learning stops short and life learning kicks in. For many people, this transition can be rather jarring.

The earlier you master communication skills, the better for you — and those around you. Here is the cheat-sheet to the 12 essential communication skills your school missed:

Showing empathy

Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Empathy makes us human. We stop being a twitter handle, a job title, or a faceless stranger when we can relate to the emotions of someone else. You connect with others much better when you show empathy in your communication.

How-to:

Be present with the person and feel what he feels. When someone opens up with his problems, see it from his point of view. Suspend your own judgment of what’s right or wrong. Listen to his emotions. Reflect back his vulnerability by sharing yours. Ask questions to go deeper into his world. Give encouragement. Offer to help if possible. Show the kindness and compassion you would hope to receive from someone else when in a similar situation.

Resolving conflict

This is the bomb disposal equivalent of communication skills. Left unchecked, conflict can leave relationships constantly tumultuous. Avoiding conflict altogether isn’t a solution either, as you’ll often be simmering with restrained frustration and resentment. Conflict often happens as a result of poor communication. To resolve such conflict, you’d need better communication skills.

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How-to:

Respond, but never react. When you react to a conflict situation, you allow emotions to lead your words and actions. Responding to the situation means you keep emotions in check and focus on the problem, not the person. Let the other party know your intention to work out a mutually acceptable solution. Very often, the gesture of extending an olive branch is more important than actually coming to a solution, as it shows the person how much you value the relationship. Clearly and calmly communicate what you want from the situation and listen to the other party’s views. Understand what counts as a ‘win’ — winning the argument or winning the other person over. The two are very different.

Asking great questions

To be a better communicator, don’t try to be the person with all the right answers. Instead, be the one who asks all the right questions. When you ask great questions, you show that you’re eager to engage and open to exploring more into the topic. They encourage the other party to share more of his opinions, stimulate discussion, and even create new ideas. He won’t forget you in a hurry.

How-to:

Ask questions that could lead to interesting answers. To do that, keep your questions open-ended, that is, they cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. Let your questions come from a place of genuine curiosity. Consider how others can benefit from the answers. When you practice good listening skills, thoughtful questions will suggest themselves to you.

Negotiating effectively

Many people find negotiation one of the hardest communication skills to learn. They must be nice people. This one of the few communication skills that is mostly used to maximize self-interest. While there’s no avoiding it in life and work, to enter into a negotiation without negotiation skills is to go into a gunfight without a gun.

How-to:

Be assertive. Have options. Seek a win-win outcome. Recognize that if the other party wishes to negotiate, you have something they need. Be assertive in asking for what you want, aiming as high as you think is realistic for them. Listen to what they are saying (and not saying). Gather clues to how much they need what you have. Always have ready options should the negotiation fails — the other party can always sense your confidence or desperation. Show them how you’re looking for a win-win outcome by satisfying their basic interests too. If the deal goes through, it’s wiser to leave a bit of money on the table to enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship in the long run.

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Proactive listening

This is the most underrated skill that can instantly make you a better communicator. Ever notice that when someone is a good talker, there’s something disingenuous or untrustworthy about him? But when a person is a good listener, we see her as someone who is patient, trusted, and generous.

When a person speaks, he believes he has something of value to share and wants to be heard. If he is not listened to, his self-esteem takes a hit. By listening to him intently, you immediately build a bond by validating his importance as a person or professional.

How-to: 

Listen to the other party like she’s the most important person in the world at that moment. Be fully engaged and present with her. Block off all judgment of what she says or what that says about her. Keep your mind from thinking of what you’re going to say. Listen to not just her words, but also her emotions. The tone of voice, pace of speech, and shift in energy can tell you much more about her. This makes it easier for you to respond in the most appropriate way.

Using body language

You should know that almost 97% of all communication is non-verbal. It’s not about what you say, but the overall experience people take away from their encounter with you. The message you send out without even saying a word is the impression others have of you. As humans, we are conditioned to observe people and make snap decisions if a person is a friend, foe, or lover.

How-to:

Work on the three basics of good body language: the smile, eye contact, and the handshake. Smile at someone from the heart when you meet them. Look the person in the eye when you speak to them, or when they speak to you. Combine smiling and eye contact with a good, firm handshake. Always keep your body relaxed and posture confident. Observe the body language of others to gather important information. Is he engaged? Impatient? Defensive? You can tailor your response for a the outcome you want.

Perfecting the elevator pitch

In an attention-deficit world, it is imperative to be concise yet memorable in our communication. The elevator pitch is a very short presentation of yourself or your proposal to someone who has no more than 30 seconds. Whether you’re presenting a business idea or at a speed dating session, this is one communication skill that will set you apart from the pack. Want to know more? Read on. (See how this paragraph is a demonstration of an elevator pitch?)

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How-to:

Distill what your proposition in one sentence. It’s not always easy, but put in the work to come up with something simple and memorable. For example, Apple in a sentence could be “Technology that’s beautiful and intuitive.” Lord Of The Rings is “Loyal friends help hobbit become the unlikely hero to save Middle-Earth.” Give the person a reason to care. Show him how your proposal can benefit him in a way nothing else can. Then end with a clear call-to-action — this is what you want him to do after your pitch. Remember, be confident. You have a good proposal and you know it. When you’re confident, they will know it too.

Inspiring others with an idea

An idea is one of the most powerful and contagious elements of any communication. Having an idea with someone can create a common bond built on the power of shared imagination.

How-to:

Share a unique thought that can energize others, and hold it lightly. Everyone has ideas, but the ones worth sharing are those that are refreshing and inspiring. When you have one of these gems, don’t make the mistake of keeping it too close to your chest. Share it with others, be open suggestions to improve or interpret it. Asking for input to reshape the idea together builds a trust that can go a long way.

Acknowledging others

Acknowledging someone is the act of letting the person know something great about him or her. It is different from complimenting or flattering. The difference lies in the intent. You’re not trying to benefit from the gesture, but to sincerely shine a spotlight on others. They will feel the difference.

How-to:

Look for the good in someone, and tell her how great it is. When we compliment someone, we can be indirectly flattering ourselves. When you say, “I really like your report”, is it about her report, or is it about you and your approval of her report? Try saying, “Nice report, you have some great insights” Now it’s all about her, not you. You can also acknowledge something in a person that few people would even notice, like how an assistant’s handouts are always perfectly stapled because she takes pride in being meticulous. The best communication lies in its subtlety.

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Confident public speaking

Public speaking is one of the biggest all-time fears people have. Yet with its ability to influence and inspire many individuals at once, it’s one of the most powerful forms of communication. Think of the best orators in history —  Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, or Steve Jobs — they communicate simply and persuasively, making us feel better off after listening to them. Be it a work presentation or a charity drive, you will be put in situations where you have to speak to a group.

How-to:

Think of the one person in the audience who needs to hear your message. As with most communication skills and strategies, focus on the recipient of your message. Believe you have something important to share, and someone in the crowd will benefit from it. Don’t aim to be perfect in your delivery, aim to be passionate about your message. When you’re speaking from a place of authenticity and vulnerability, people will listen to you and root for you. Keep practicing.

Projecting leadership

The best leaders are masters of the craft of communication. How do you think they become leaders? We only follow those we trust. It helps that they are competent as well. Guess what, being a strong communicator does wonders on both counts.

How-to:

Aim to be a leader who serves his followers. Leaders have a separate manual for communication. This would include speaking clearly and confidently, acting with authenticity, listening to feedback, and many other skills. Underpinning these is a genuine intent to put his followers first, serving their interests above his own. Communication rooted in servant leadership not only makes a leader more empathetic, it makes followers more loyal. This deepens their relationship beyond one that’s based on rank and seniority.

Building authenticity and trust

While there are many best practices in communication, here is one rule above all: be true to yourself. People will only trust you if they feel you’re a real person who stands for something worthwhile. Without trust, there can be no quality communication and connection.

How-to:

Keep it real. Never try to be someone you’re not. Don’t “fake it” if you haven’t made it, work on getting better until “it” becomes you. You’ll earn people’s respect that way. Be honest with your shortcomings, share inspiring personal experiences, hold yourself accountable to your words, and speak with conviction. Communicating with others will come naturally to you.

More by this author

Victor Ng

Executive coach

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Last Updated on September 17, 2018

7 Signs of an Unhappy Relationship That Makes You Feel Stuck

7 Signs of an Unhappy Relationship That Makes You Feel Stuck

Relationships are complicated and when you’re unhappy, it can be difficult to tell what’s causing it and what needs to change.

Sometimes it’s as easy as opening up to your partner about your problems, while other times it may be necessary to switch partners or roll solo to get your mind straight.

When you’re in the thick of things, it can be difficult to tell if you’re unhappy in your relationship or just unhappy in general (in which case, a relationship may be just the cure you need).

Here’re signs of an unhappy relationship that is possibly making you feel stuck:

1. You’re depressed about your home life.

No matter what you do in life, you’re going to have good and bad days. Your relationship is no different.

However, no matter what you’re going through at home, you have to feel comfortable in your own home.

If you constantly dread going home because your significant other is there, there’s a problem. Maybe it’s something you already know about, everyone has an argument or just needs some alone time.

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When that yearning to be alone becomes an insatiable obsession over the course of months and years, it’s time to realize you’re not the exception to the rule.

You’re unhappy in your relationship, and you need to take a look in the mirror and do whatever it takes to make yourself smile.

2. You aren’t comfortable being yourself.

Remember all those things you discovered about yourself when you first got together? The way your partner made you feel when you met that made you fall in love with him or her in the first place.

If they don’t make you feel that way anymore, it’s not the end of the world. If your partner makes you uncomfortable about being you, then her or she is only dragging you down. It’s up to you to decide how to handle that.

You need to be comfortable with who you are. This means being comfortable in your skin and with the way you walk, talk, look, breath, move, and all the other things that make you uniquely you.

If the person who supposedly loves you doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, know that you can do better. They’re not even one in a billion.

3. You can’t stop snooping.

Mutual trust is necessary in any relationship. The only way to get that trust is with respect.

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I can find you anywhere online, no matter how private and secure you think you are. The odds of you having a password I can’t crack are slim. If we’ve met in person, I could install a remote key logger on your device without even touching it.

Finding your information online hardly takes a clandestine organization. Any idiot with a Wi-Fi-enabled device can cyberstalk you. I’m just the only idiot in the village admitting it.

So now that we know everyone snoops, it’s time to address your personal habits. Governments snoop because they don’t trust us. If you’re snooping on your partner, it’s because you don’t trust them.

It’s ok to have doubts, and it’s perfectly normal to look into anything that looks weird, but keep in mind that data collection is only half of an investigation.

If you find yourself constantly snooping and questioning everything, clearly there’s a trust issue and the relationship likely needs to end.

4. You’re afraid of commitment.

If you’ve been dating longer than a year and you aren’t engaged, it’s never going to happen.

Commitment is important. People will come up with a million ways to describe why they can’t be committed.

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No matter who you are if you like it, you need to put a ring on it. Find an engagement ring, stick a gemstone in it and marry the person. If you’re not legally able to get married or you don’t believe in it for one reason or another, have a child (or adopt one, however you’re able to) or treat your partner’s family like your own. It’s a huge financial and mental commitment.

If you’re not ready for one or the other after some time, don’t waste anymore of your precious life on the relationship.

Your relationship should be something that propels you forward. If it’s not going anywhere, make it an open relationship and call it what it is—dating multiple people.

5. You imagine a happier life without your partner.

If all you’re doing is imagining a happier life without your partner, it’s a sign that you’re in the wrong relationship. You’re unhappy and you need to get out.

Your partner should be included in your dreams. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a future with someone.

Try to remember what you dreamed of before you got your heart broken by the realities of life, love and the pursuit of human success.

Remember when you would crush on that cute kid in class? You would secretly imagine marrying him or her and going on an adventure—that’s the way life should be.

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If you’re not at least imagining adventures together, then why are you in that relationship?

6. You resent, rather than love your partner.

When a relationship starts to crumble, you begin to resent your partner for all the things you once loved about him or her.

When you’ve reached this point, your partner has reached at least No. 2 on this list. From your partner’s perspective, your unhappiness with them is picked up as bashing them for being who they are.

If you’re both unhappy in the relationship, it’s better if it ends as quickly and painlessly as possible.

7. You chase past feelings.

It’s okay to reminisce about the past, but if all you do is wish things were like they used to be, it’s a sign you’re not on the right path.

You’re unhappy and, at the very least, you need to have an open dialogue about it. This isn’t necessarily a sign that the relationship should end, but it definitely needs a spark.

When you talk to your partner candidly about what it is you’re looking for, you never know how they’ll react. The risk alone is worth it, good or bad.

Final thoughts

If you’re feeling stuck in your current relationship, it’s time to reflect about it with your partner. Don’t ignore these signs of an unhappy relationship as they will slowly go worse and harm both you and your partner in long-term.

Featured photo credit: josh peterson via unsplash.com

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