Communication. It’s everywhere, and in everything. Whether it’s face to face or online, we can’t avoid it.
We have to communicate in order to do anything, go anywhere, be anything, get anything. It is very literally a key component of our every day lives and interactions.
So then why do SO MANY of us really suck at it?
As a communications instructor (I teach this stuff at the college level, and used to teach it to corporations) I can honestly say it’s because it’s not something we are formally TAUGHT how to do…like walking, or riding a bike, or baking a cake, or starting a fire, or any other skill that enhances our quality of life. (And cake is ALWAYS a life enhancer…)
Isn’t that a bit strange? Nearly every interaction we have requires some form of communication and yet it isn’t a part of our formal curriculum from day one.
And with communication increasingly prevalent online, learning to do so properly is critical.
But even when we get to a point where it is formally taught (college classrooms, for instance), it’s always formulaic and dry.
Sit / stand up straight, orient your body toward the person speaking, make eye contact, be mindful of your tone and inflection, use physical and verbal cues to show you’re paying attention…
But as Celeste Headlee says in her really wonderful TedTalk on the art of conversation, “There’s no reason to show you’re paying attention if you are, in fact, paying attention.”
Don’t get me wrong, those things are important, but they’re more the “mechanics” of communication.
Communication is also something of an art…so there’s more to it than just eye contact and pitch.
Communication is one of those skills that IS taught, and IS learned. And it is, from this writer’s perspective, the number one thing that can impact not only the quality of your life, but the quality of the relationships that fill that life. It impacts everything from how you learn, how you relate to the world and the people around you, how you communicate your needs, how you develop and nurture relationships, and so much more.
So instead of just standing straight and maintaining open body language (thank you Essentials of Business Communication, 9th edition), here are 5 things you can do today to communicate better.
1 Don’t Multi-task.
I’m not talking about scrolling through social media while your partner is trying to tell you about their day, or continuing to send emails while your colleagues are asking for your feedback. (Although those are still no-nos.)
I’m talking about the mental multi-tasking we all do nearly all the time.
The next time you’re having a conversation with someone, be present in THAT moment. Don’t be half-in-half-out. Don’t be thinking about what’s for dinner, or whether you hit send on that last text or not.
Simply be present. Be focused on that moment and what is happening. And when a thought comes to you, let it go.
2 Don’t equate your experience with theirs.
Unless the topic of conversation is literally about YOU, then the conversation ISN’T about you.
If someone is telling you a story about an experience they had, shut up and let them. There’s no need for you to talk about the time that happened to you as well (unless they specifically ask). And what’s worse is when your story is told in such a way that you are trying to one-up them. That makes you a huge jerk.
Conversations are not promotional opportunities. So remember…it’s NOT ABOUT YOU.
3 Don’t repeat yourself.
It’s condescending. It’s annoying. It’s probably unnecessary.
Oh, I can hear all the moms rolling their eyes right now. But the truth is your kids are still learning to communicate, and it’s up to us to model better communication behaviour (being present, asking relevant questions, etc) every chance we get. So cut them some slack and help them learn to do it better.
In any other context, it truly is irritating. If the person didn’t understand you or didn’t hear you, they’ll say so.
4 If you don’t know, say so.
Admitting you don’t know something actually endears you to people rather than always saying you knew this, or knew that.
People can tell very quickly when you’re full of it. Not only do you lose credibility, but the quality of the conversation deteriorates pretty fast, too.
This is 50% of effective communication.
As Stephen Covey once said, “Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand, we listen with the intent to reply.”
If you’re listening, you’re not speaking. You’re present. You’re engaged and asking questions. You’re interested in the other person.
And that’s probably the most powerful thing you can do to improve any relationship.
So, 5 quick and easy ways to up your conversation game immediately.
Let me know which ones you are going to try, and how it goes. I always love hearing from you.
If you want 5 more tips, check out the Ted Talk referenced above here.