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5 Ways to Improve Your Communication Skills

5 Ways to Improve Your Communication Skills

Communication is one of the most important skills we can ever learn. It leads everything that we do—whether we’re communicating at work to meet deadlines and achieve results, or communicating with friends, family and partners to build strong relationships. So many problems stem from poor communication and there’s no wonder why, really. We are not taught how to communicate properly at school; it’s something we have to ‘pick up’ from the people around us. Unfortunately, unless we are lucky enough to have stellar communicators in our close circle, we can often pick up bad habits. I’ve made it my business to learn a thing or two about communication, and I’ll share a few key things with you today. One of the most important, yet overlooked skills of communicating is this:

Be a Good Listener

That’s right—most people have no idea that listening is a necessary part of the communication process, but the reality is that  listening is an essential part of communication: not only does it help you to build rapport with other people, it ‘s also a way of demonstrating respect for others. When people feel respected, it’s very easy to build long, happy relationships. Think about how great it feels when someone is intently listening to you, and those times when they are completely enthralled with what you are saying. This makes you feel valued and does wonders to aid communication. People just want to be heard,so by listening intently you can build trust at the subconscious level. Look at it the other way around: we all know people who are really bad listeners. They love the sound of their own voices so much that you can’t get a word in edgewise, and when it’s finally your turn to talk, they aren’t really listening. In contrast, how does this make you feel? Frustrated, and of low value. By not listening to you, the other person is essentially telling you that you don’t have anything worth saying. One thing I do want to get straight here is that listening and shyness are not the same things. People often get good listening confused with shyness, as someone who listens more than they speak might be assumed to be shy or hesitant. What’s important is active listening: paying attention, and then demonstrating your understanding of a conversation by repeating key points in your responses. At the end of the day, people just want to feel like they are understood.

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So why are people such bad listeners?

One reason is that we think at a speed that’s much faster than we speak. Research has shown that we talk at between 120 and 150 words per minute, yet we think at the rate of 600 – 800 words per minute! What this means is that it’s easy to get distracted by our inner thoughts when people speak to us, because our minds work so much faster than our mouths! This does mean that instead of listening, we might be pondering other things like what to have for dinner that night or which route to take home. We need to be aware of when this is happening so we can re-focus on the present conversation—there’s nothing worse than noticing that someone is lost in their own thoughts when they should be listening to you. In case you were wondering, listening (unlike talking) is a skill that you can’t over-use. Imagine an example like this: “I have had it up to here with Bob! All he does is listen and listen and listen! He just never stops listening! I can’t take anymore of his listening, it’s driving me crazy!” Or perhaps this is the more likely scenario: “Bill never listens! He just loves the sound of his own voice. All he does is talk at me over and over again! I feel like he never listens to anything I say!” If you look at the super achievers of this world they are all composed listeners. You don’t see them talking over others or drifting off mid-conversation. This is because they understand the power of listening.

5 Ways to Improve Your Communication Skills

1. Never talk over people.

This demonstrates a real lack of respect. By talking over someone what you’re basically saying is “I don’t care what you’re saying—what I have to say is more important”.

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2. Don’t finish other people’s sentences. 

I used to do this a lot thinking I was helpfully finishing people’s sentences for them. Wrong. Research has shown by doing this you are dis-empowering the other person because you are taking control of the conversation, so bite your tongue!

3. Paraphrase.

If you want to show that you have really understood someone, then paraphrasing a great tool. All you do is repeat back to someone what they have just said, before you comment yourself. Here’s an example: “So Barney, what I’m hearing is that results are the number one objective for you right now and we need to find some fast solutions for you?”

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4. Listen actively.

Focus on active listening instead of passive listening. The difference is that active listening means you engage and respond to the other person based on what they have said, passive listening is simply the act of listening with no response.

5. Maintain eye contact.

By looking the other person in the eye, you are proving that you’re interested in what they’re saying. This also keeps you focused and less distracted.

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Featured photo credit:  Young brothers talking with tin can telephone on grunge background via Shutterstock

More by this author

Zoe B

A strategist, coach and blogger who shows people how to stop what isn't working for them in life and to start to plan the life they really want.

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Last Updated on February 11, 2021

Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

How often have you said something simple, only to have the person who you said this to misunderstand it or twist the meaning completely around? Nodding your head in affirmative? Then this means that you are being unclear in your communication.

Communication should be simple, right? It’s all about two people or more talking and explaining something to the other. The problem lies in the talking itself, somehow we end up being unclear, and our words, attitude or even the way of talking becomes a barrier in communication, most of the times unknowingly. We give you six common barriers to communication, and how to get past them; for you to actually say what you mean, and or the other person to understand it as well…

The 6 Walls You Need to Break Down to Make Communication Effective

Think about it this way, a simple phrase like “what do you mean” can be said in many different ways and each different way would end up “communicating” something else entirely. Scream it at the other person, and the perception would be anger. Whisper this is someone’s ear and others may take it as if you were plotting something. Say it in another language, and no one gets what you mean at all, if they don’t speak it… This is what we mean when we say that talking or saying something that’s clear in your head, many not mean that you have successfully communicated it across to your intended audience – thus what you say and how, where and why you said it – at times become barriers to communication.[1]

Perceptual Barrier

The moment you say something in a confrontational, sarcastic, angry or emotional tone, you have set up perceptual barriers to communication. The other person or people to whom you are trying to communicate your point get the message that you are disinterested in what you are saying and sort of turn a deaf ear. In effect, you are yelling your point across to person who might as well be deaf![2]

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The problem: When you have a tone that’s not particularly positive, a body language that denotes your own disinterest in the situation and let your own stereotypes and misgivings enter the conversation via the way you talk and gesture, the other person perceives what you saying an entirely different manner than say if you said the same while smiling and catching their gaze.

The solution: Start the conversation on a positive note, and don’t let what you think color your tone, gestures of body language. Maintain eye contact with your audience, and smile openly and wholeheartedly…

Attitudinal Barrier

Some people, if you would excuse the language, are simply badass and in general are unable to form relationships or even a common point of communication with others, due to their habit of thinking to highly or too lowly of them. They basically have an attitude problem – since they hold themselves in high esteem, they are unable to form genuine lines of communication with anyone. The same is true if they think too little of themselves as well.[3]

The problem: If anyone at work, or even in your family, tends to roam around with a superior air – anything they say is likely to be taken by you and the others with a pinch, or even a bag of salt. Simply because whenever they talk, the first thing to come out of it is their condescending attitude. And in case there’s someone with an inferiority complex, their incessant self-pity forms barriers to communication.

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The solution: Use simple words and an encouraging smile to communicate effectively – and stick to constructive criticism, and not criticism because you are a perfectionist. If you see someone doing a good job, let them know, and disregard the thought that you could have done it better. It’s their job so measure them by industry standards and not your own.

Language Barrier

This is perhaps the commonest and the most inadvertent of barriers to communication. Using big words, too much of technical jargon or even using just the wrong language at the incorrect or inopportune time can lead to a loss or misinterpretation of communication. It may have sounded right in your head and to your ears as well, but if sounded gobbledygook to the others, the purpose is lost.

The problem: Say you are trying to explain a process to the newbies and end up using every technical word and industry jargon that you knew – your communication has failed if the newbie understood zilch. You have to, without sounding patronizing, explain things to someone in the simplest language they understand instead of the most complex that you do.

The solution: Simplify things for the other person to understand you, and understand it well. Think about it this way: if you are trying to explain something scientific to a child, you tone it down to their thinking capacity, without “dumbing” anything down in the process.[4]

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Emotional Barrier

Sometimes, we hesitate in opening our mouths, for fear of putting our foot in it! Other times, our emotional state is so fragile that we keep it and our lips zipped tightly together lest we explode. This is the time that our emotions become barriers to communication.[5]

The problem: Say you had a fight at home and are on a slow boil, muttering, in your head, about the injustice of it all. At this time, you have to give someone a dressing down over their work performance. You are likely to transfer at least part of your angst to the conversation then, and talk about unfairness in general, leaving the other person stymied about what you actually meant!

The solution: Remove your emotions and feelings to a personal space, and talk to the other person as you normally would. Treat any phobias or fears that you have and nip them in the bud so that they don’t become a problem. And remember, no one is perfect.

Cultural Barrier

Sometimes, being in an ever-shrinking world means that inadvertently, rules can make cultures clash and cultural clashes can turn into barriers to communication. The idea is to make your point across without hurting anyone’s cultural or religious sentiments.

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The problem: There are so many ways culture clashes can happen during communication and with cultural clashes; it’s not always about ethnicity. A non-smoker may have problems with smokers taking breaks; an older boss may have issues with younger staff using the Internet too much.

The solution: Communicate only what is necessary to get the point across – and eave your personal sentiments or feelings out of it. Try to be accommodative of the other’s viewpoint, and in case you still need to work it out, do it one to one, to avoid making a spectacle of the other person’s beliefs.[6]

Gender Barrier

Finally, it’s about Men from Mars and Women from Venus. Sometimes, men don’t understand women and women don’t get men – and this gender gap throws barriers in communication. Women tend to take conflict to their graves, literally, while men can move on instantly. Women rely on intuition, men on logic – so inherently, gender becomes a big block in successful communication.[7]

The problem: A male boss may inadvertently rub his female subordinates the wrong way with anti-feminism innuendoes, or even have problems with women taking too many family leaves. Similarly, women sometimes let their emotions get the better of them, something a male audience can’t relate to.

The solution: Talk to people like people – don’t think or classify them into genders and then talk accordingly. Don’t make comments or innuendos that are gender biased – you don’t have to come across as an MCP or as a bra-burning feminist either. Keep gender out of it.

And remember, the key to successful communication is simply being open, making eye contact and smiling intermittently. The battle is usually half won when you say what you mean in simple, straightforward words and keep your emotions out of it.

Reference

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