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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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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 December 4, 2020

How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

We all crave constructive feedback. We want to know not just what we’re doing well but also what we could be doing better.

However, giving and getting constructive feedback isn’t just some feel-good exercise. In the workplace, it’s part and parcel of how companies grow.

Let’s take a closer look.

Why Constructive Feedback Is Critical

A culture of feedback benefits individuals on a team and the team itself. Constructive feedback has the following effects:

Builds Workers’ Skills

Think about the last time you made a mistake. Did you come away from it feeling attacked—a key marker of destructive feedback—or did you feel like you learned something new?

Every time a team member learns something, they become more valuable to the business. The range of tasks they can tackle increases. Over time, they make fewer mistakes, require less supervision, and become more willing to ask for help.

Boosts Employee Loyalty

Constructive feedback is a two-way street. Employees want to receive it, but they also want the feedback they give to be taken seriously.

If employees see their constructive feedback ignored, they may take it to mean they aren’t a valued part of the team. Nine in ten employees say they’d be more likely to stick with a company that takes and acts on their feedback.[1]

Strengthens Team Bonds

Without trust, teams cannot function. Constructive feedback builds trust because it shows that the giver of the feedback cares about the success of the recipient.

However, for constructive feedback to work its magic, both sides have to assume good intentions. Those giving the feedback must genuinely want to help, and those getting it has to assume that the goal is to build them up rather than to tear them down.

Promotes Mentorship

There’s nothing wrong with a single round of constructive feedback. But when it really makes a difference is when it’s repeated—continuous, constructive feedback is the bread and butter of mentorship.

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Be the change you want to see on your team. Give constructive feedback often and authentically, and others will naturally start to see you as a mentor.

Clearly, constructive feedback is something most teams could use more of. But how do you actually give it?

How to Give Constructive Feedback

Giving constructive feedback is tricky. Get it wrong, and your message might fall on deaf ears. Get it really wrong, and you could sow distrust or create tension across the entire team.

Here are ways to give constructive feedback properly:

1. Listen First

Often, what you perceive as a mistake is a decision someone made for a good reason. Listening is the key to effective communication.

Seek to understand: how did the other person arrive at her choice or action?

You could say:

  • “Help me understand your thought process.”
  • “What led you to take that step?”
  • “What’s your perspective?”

2. Lead With a Compliment

In school, you might have heard it called the “sandwich method”: Before (and ideally, after) giving difficult feedback, share a compliment. That signals to the recipient that you value their work.

You could say:

  • “Great design. Can we see it with a different font?”
  • “Good thinking. What if we tried this?”

3. Address the Wider Team

Sometimes, constructive feedback is best given indirectly. If your comment could benefit others on the team, or if the person whom you’re really speaking to might take it the wrong way, try communicating your feedback in a group setting.

You could say:

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  • “Let’s think through this together.”
  • “I want everyone to see . . .”

4. Ask How You Can Help

When you’re on a team, you’re all in it together. When a mistake happens, you have to realize that everyone—not just the person who made it—has a role in fixing it. Give constructive feedback in a way that recognizes this dynamic.

You could say:

  • “What can I do to support you?”
  • “How can I make your life easier?
  • “Is there something I could do better?”

5. Give Examples

To be useful, constructive feedback needs to be concrete. Illustrate your advice by pointing to an ideal.

What should the end result look like? Who has the process down pat?

You could say:

  • “I wanted to show you . . .”
  • “This is what I’d like yours to look like.”
  • “This is a perfect example.”
  • “My ideal is . . .”

6. Be Empathetic

Even when there’s trust in a team, mistakes can be embarrassing. Lessons can be hard to swallow. Constructive feedback is more likely to be taken to heart when it’s accompanied by empathy.

You could say:

  • “I know it’s hard to hear.”
  • “I understand.”
  • “I’m sorry.”

7. Smile

Management consultancies like Credera teach that communication is a combination of the content, delivery, and presentation.[2] When giving constructive feedback, make sure your body language is as positive as your message. Your smile is one of your best tools for getting constructive feedback to connect.

8. Be Grateful

When you’re frustrated about a mistake, it can be tough to see the silver lining. But you don’t have to look that hard. Every constructive feedback session is a chance for the team to get better and grow closer.

You could say:

  • “I’m glad you brought this up.”
  • “We all learned an important lesson.”
  • “I love improving as a team.”

9. Avoid Accusations

Giving tough feedback without losing your cool is one of the toughest parts of working with others. Great leaders and project managers get upset at the mistake, not the person who made it.[3]

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You could say:

  • “We all make mistakes.”
  • “I know you did your best.”
  • “I don’t hold it against you.”

10. Take Responsibility

More often than not, mistakes are made because of miscommunications Recognize your own role in them.

Could you have been clearer in your directions? Did you set the other person up for success?

You could say:

  • “I should have . . .”
  • “Next time, I’ll . . .”

11. Time it Right

Constructive feedback shouldn’t catch people off guard. Don’t give it while everyone is packing up to leave work. Don’t interrupt a good lunch conversation.

If in doubt, ask the person to whom you’re giving feedback to schedule the session themselves. Encourage them to choose a time when they’ll be able to focus on the conversation rather than their next task.

12. Use Their Name

When you hear your name, your ears naturally perk up. Use that when giving constructive feedback. Just remember that constructive feedback should be personalized, not personal.

You could say:

  • “Bob, I wanted to chat through . . .”
  • “Does that make sense, Jesse?”

13. Suggest, Don’t Order

When you give constructive feedback, it’s important not to be adversarial. The very act of giving feedback recognizes that the person who made the mistake had a choice—and when the situation comes up again, they’ll be able to choose differently.

You could say:

  • “Next time, I suggest . . .”
  • “Try it this way.”
  • “Are you on board with that?”

14. Be Brief

Even when given empathetically, constructive feedback can be uncomfortable to receive. Get your message across, make sure there are no hard feelings, and move on.

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One exception? If the feedback isn’t understood, make clear that you have plenty of time for questions. Rushing through what’s clearly an open conversation is disrespectful and discouraging.

15. Follow Up

Not all lessons are learned immediately. After giving a member of your team constructive feedback, follow it up with an email. Make sure you’re just as respectful and helpful in your written feedback as you are on your verbal communication.

You could say:

  • “I wanted to recap . . .”
  • “Thanks for chatting with me about . . .”
  • “Did that make sense?”

16. Expect Improvement

Although you should always deliver constructive feedback in a supportive manner, you should also expect to see it implemented. If it’s a long-term issue, set milestones.

By what date would you like to see what sort of improvement? How will you measure that improvement?

You could say:

  • “I’d like to see you . . .”
  • “Let’s check back in after . . .”
  • “I’m expecting you to . . .”
  • “Let’s make a dent in that by . . .”

17. Give Second Chances

Giving feedback, no matter how constructive, is a waste of time if you don’t provide an opportunity to implement it. Don’t set up a “gotcha” moment, but do tap the recipient of your feedback next time a similar task comes up.

You could say:

  • “I know you’ll rock it next time.”
  • “I’d love to see you try again.”
  • “Let’s give it another go.”

Final Thoughts

Constructive feedback is not an easy nut to crack. If you don’t give it well, then maybe it’s time to get some. Never be afraid to ask.

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Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

Reference

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