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20 Things I Wish I Had Learned in School

20 Things I Wish I Had Learned in School

Everyone’s journey through life is unique. Public education is supposedly designed to even the playing field, but some would say it is the root of great social imbalances. Too many graduate from high school without ever learning the basics. If I could send a letter back in time to my ten year old self, this is what it would say:

1. Nobody knows what is going on.

Scientists who spend their careers analyzing the nature and origins of life on this planet have gleaned only a few more solid facts about the universe than your own parents have. Nobody knows why we are here or what we are supposed to be doing, and anyone who says they do is selling something. What each of us perceives is only a fraction of what there is to know, and we can only find truth by combining our perspectives without judgment. But how can we do this if so few people can admit that they don’t know the answers?

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2. Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible. (Frank Zappa)

For a lot of people, life is as simple as looking around at what other people are doing, trying to figure out what seems to be working, and falling in line without letting on that you have no idea what is going on. Every once in a while someone decides to do something nobody else is doing and suddenly, progress is made.  But this aspect of reality is not evident in the insulated hierarchical society of public schools. Imagine what would happen if we taught this to kids much earlier in life.

3. Being cool and popular in school is a trap.

All but a handful of my most popular and talented grade-school peers went on to become miserable adults. Kids who grew up never questioning themselves or the authorities because everything they did was rewarded with acceptance missed out on essential steps in mental development. As a result of the imbalances this creates, many adults have confidence beyond their capabilities, and others grow up without the necessary confidence to reach their full potential.

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4. Some of the highest quality human adults were late bloomers.

Some kids take their time, quietly trying to understand what is happening around them instead of taking everything for granted and at face value. They can come across as really weird to other children. Others are cast as ugly and weird as kids only to grow into the most beautiful humans on earth. Late bloomers tend to be paragons of perspective since they have the rare experience of viewing life from both sides of the coin. Their observations allow them to approach popularity and success with more wisdom as an adult.

5. Do not hate.

If you must hate, do not hate for what one has done to another. This is the root of 90% of drama and involving yourself in such conflicts is not worth it. This goes both ways, as it is also unwise to involve outside parties when you have a problem with a particular person. Confront them directly, as only your antagonist can provide closure. Involving other people who have nothing to do with the problem is only going to make it worse.

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6. You must know yourself before you can expect to truly know another.

Kids are raised to live up to all kinds of expectations. Many go straight from wanting to please their parents into long-term romantic relationships without ever taking time to address their own goals and desires. Selflessness can be seen as an honorable trait. If left unchecked, it can lead to misery and resentment. There is much more to life than graduating, getting married, and having kids. Many adults get so caught up in these things that the possibilities of their potential pass them by. People who take the time to become independent and happy in their own right while they are young grow up to be better partners and parents.

7. Do not start college until you have a sense of what your career should be.

Doing anything just because you feel it is expected of you and not for any particular reason of your own is a waste of time and resources. College is expensive, and taking random classes is not likely to result in a sudden revelation about exactly what you were put on earth to do. You can learn that kind of thing much more effectively from experiencing life and getting to know yourself better outside the classroom.

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8. There will never be a time when it is okay to stop learning and growing.

Diplomas are intended as trophies of expertise and certification in particular or general areas. Adults reach these milestones and the career goals associated with them thinking “I did it right, I know it all, I can stop learning now,” or “I have this child who is looking at me for answers, I had better at least pretend like know everything.” I once imagined myself reaching some unknown, intangible state of knowing everything. However this sense of serenity never came until I admitted that, despite years of higher education, there is very little I know for certain and probably a lot more left to learn than I have time in which to learn it.

9. Fear is the mind killer.

Fear is a very natural response that we all share, yet it is widely exploited by manipulative forces. It can set you back more than anything else, and those who are controlled by fear are the first ones to become stagnant and pliable. Irrational fears can easily be examined through facing them head on. Other fears are more deep seated, and can take a lifetime to eliminate. It is best to begin vigilantly examining fear as early in life as possible to avoid missing out on important formative experiences.

10. It is impossible for anyone to control what other people think, feel, or do.

Many learn at an early age that they can get what they want by manipulating others. There is certainly something to be said for the power of inspiration and influence. Yet even with the best intentions, the consequences cannot be entirely controlled. Talk until you are blue in the face, but people cannot change without learning new things. They are more likely to learn from their own experiences than anything else. If you want to make the world a better place your own example is the most influential tool you have. Life is simpler when you expect less from others and more from yourself.

Oh, and by the way:

  • Innocence is the one thing you can’t ever get back once you lose it.
  • Be very careful with other people’s hearts.
  • If someone does not listen to you when you say no, they are not worth your time.
  • Bullies and teasers are only projecting their own insecurities onto their victims.
  • If you spend your youth wisely, you will be a more stable adult.
  • Your twenties will be the best years of your life.
  • Learn to take criticism and overcome failure.
  • Get really good at doing what you love.
  • Don’t believe the hype.
  • The world is not what you think it is, people are not who you think they are, and nothing is what it seems.

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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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