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How to Strengthen Your Communication Skills

How to Strengthen Your Communication Skills

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.

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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.

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

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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