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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

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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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