Communication is something we all know how to do, but few of us can do it effectively. We talk more than we listen, we tune out what bores us, and we allow personal judgments to cloud our understanding. If we want to succeed in the workplace, however, then effective communication skills are essential.
Whether you’re presenting at a meeting, sending an email to a client or negotiating with a supplier, the bottom line is that the principles of communication can result in increased productivity and success. Regardless of the type of business you’re in, effective communication skills can help you develop stronger relationships, build stronger talent and increase your bottom line.
Read on for some helpful tips on how to improve communication skills and what can get in the way of you being a better communicator.
What Is Effective Communication?
Effective communication is all about exchanging information in a way where the message is clearly received and understood. When you communicate effectively, you exchange knowledge, opinions, and ideas with another person in a way that leaves both people feeling understood and heard.
I’ll give you an example. Say you’re in a meeting with your boss and he’s talking about a new project he’d like your team to work on. His presentation is overly long, directionless, and frequently diverges into unrelated topics. Sound familiar? While we’ve probably all worked with someone like this, we may not realize that the problem here is ineffective communication. When you’re an effective communicator, you know how to transmit information quickly, clearly, and concisely. Ineffective communication can turn off listeners, confuse people, and lead to costly mistakes.
Common Barriers To Effective Communication
We are all capable of learning effective communication skills. However, we’re all susceptible to certain barriers that keep us from being good communicators. Here are a few of the most common communication barriers that prevent people from finding common grounds:
Stress and out-of-control emotions
When we’re upset, we don’t always think, act, or speak rationally. If you’re under a lot of stress or feeling angry, you’re less likely to listen with an open mind and respect other opinions. You’re also less likely to be direct yet courteous. Passive aggressive comments and outbursts are not only ineffective, but also damaging to our professional relationships. So, it is vital to know how to stay calm during an argument and foster positivity.
Lack of focus
True, not everyone is the most enthralling at telling a story. If you find yourself growing bored or the person you’re listening to starts rambling, then you’re much less likely to communicate effectively. But just because someone else’s communication style is lacking doesn’t mean that yours has to be. You can overcome this barrier with a little bit of discipline and some good follow-up questions.
Cultures differ, and with them our communication styles. Some cultures have a much more direct communication style than others, while some have a certain tradition of courtesy that we may not be used to. If we’re communicating with someone from a different culture, we may find it difficult to understand their communication style or have our own be understood.
Negative body language
Our body language sometimes says more than our words do. Nothing shuts down a conversation faster than crossed arms and a scowl. It’s important to be mindful that our body language is open and nonjudgmental to encourage others to be honest. Otherwise, we might find that our body language keeps us from hearing important information that we need to hear.
Tips To Initiate Effective Communication
Communicating effectively is a skill that you can learn. There are a few practices you can work on that will help you improve your effective communication skills over time. Here are six tips to foster effective communication:
How can you communicate effectively when your mind is elsewhere? There is no understating the importance of giving someone your undivided attention. This means putting down the phone, maintaining eye contact, and practicing active listening. When someone knows they have your full attention, they’re much more likely to speak freely. You’ll also be able to pick up on things like body language and other nonverbal communication that can add to what they’re saying.
The easier it is to communicate, the less information falls through the cracks. Communication apps are great ways for team members to exchange information back and forth without having to go through multiple channels. Instead of having to sift through dozens of emails, put everyone on your team in the same chat group using the communication app of your choice. This will act as a central hub for all questions, ideas, and announcements.
People enjoy being told what they’re doing well. When you show appreciation for effective communication, you encourage others to improve their communication as well. This acts as positive reinforcement for their behavior and enforces an atmosphere of inclusivity.
If you don’t know something, ask! This is the best way to clarify that what you’re hearing is what the other person is intending to say. Ask questions, repeat what you’ve heard back to the other person, and don’t be afraid to send follow-up questions by email if you think of anything later.
It’s not always easy for people to speak up with their superiors. But effective communication goes both ways, which is why two-way feedback is so important. When you encourage team members to offer you feedback, you make it easier to give them feedback without making them feel like they’re being singled out or negatively reacting to constructive criticism.
Civil discourse is at the heart of effective communication. Part of communicating effectively is ensuring that you’re allowing an open, honest, and respectful exchange of ideas. That means having an open mind, listening fully before formulating a response, and refraining from interrupting.
Just as you didn’t learn to speak overnight, you won’t become a perfect communicator overnight, either. Follow these tips to keep sharpening your effective communication skills and watch as you become a better leader.