Communication is an integral part of any work or life situation. Learning to be an effective communicator is a valuable productivity tool, one that is unfortunately commonly overlooked. The consequences of poor communication can be disastrous; wasted time, hurt feelings, misunderstandings, unproductive meetings, ineffective teamwork, and lack of progress towards goals. In order to be successful communicators we need to keep in mind some basic guidelines that are applicable in most instances of work, social or home environments.
Thank you first
Before you delve into the substance of your intended communication, express your appreciation for the other person’s (or people’s) time. Time is a very valuable commodity, and it is important to be respectful of that. In addition, offer thanks for the contribution the person is making or the work they are already doing. A little praise goes a long way toward building a good rapport.
Build a connection
Develop a personal connection. Find some common ground where interests intersect if possible, weather, sports, news, hobbies, etc. One word of caution, avoid controversial topics, such as politics or religion. Show interest in family, projects or organizations and causes that are an important part of the other person’s life. A sense of connection leads to a more receptive listener.
Maintain a positive attitude
Be constructive in your comments and questions whenever possible. Offer encouraging praise. Look for something positive that you can emphasize. You want to prevent your listener from taking a defensive posture if possible. This can circumvent the conversation from spiraling downward and the inevitable breakdown of productive communication that follows.
Watch the tone
While you need to be assertive in making your thoughts heard and getting your point across, be careful not to be aggressive. You want to be confident and direct without intimation. Try to remain calm and strive for a cooperative attitude.
Determine the desired outcome
What result are you looking for? This is important. Know what the objective is that you are seeking. Are you intending to impart knowledge or advice, looking for a compromise of some sort, attempting to obtain agreement or searching for a solution? The desired outcome helps to influence the flow of the conversation.
Be sure to make eye contact. Be respectful and don’t interrupt. None of us likes to be interrupted and we need to extend that courtesy to others. Seek to understand the person’s viewpoint. Keep an open mind. Learning to appreciate differing perspectives is an invaluable communication tool.
Observe non-verbal cues
Carefully pay attention to body language, both your and theirs. Crossed arms or a closed stance can signal defensiveness or disagreement. Wandering eyes, fidgeting or shuffling can indicate restlessness or impatience. Yawns or sighs suggest either mental or physical weariness. These are all important signs that the communication is not going to be a successful one.
Ask for feedback
First, make sure the other party clearly understands what you are trying to say. Often, we think we have agreement only to discover that we have misunderstanding instead. Invite input, thoughts, and opinions.Not only will this information help you, but it also serves to give the other people a sense that their opinions are valued.
Clarify any actions that will be taken. Confirm deadlines, responsibility, and accountability. If applicable, record any agreements in written form. Verbal agreements tend to be vague, written contracts are clear and concrete.
Finally, always try to end on a positive note and offer another sincere thank you.
(Photo credit: Young man talking via Shutterstock)