Communication occurs between people one on one, between people and teams or people and organisations. There’s the communication that occurs within a business and also that which you manage to communicate externally. The tips covered here apply to both internal and external communication, with your employees and with your customers. You can always improve how you communicate and these ideas are designed to assist you with that aim.
Employ active listening
When you’re open to hearing what someone else is saying you are truly listening. Take time to listen to the other person before you speak. It means letting go of thoughts as they come into your mind while the other person is speaking and only responding when they’re finished. What you say next, if you’re actively listening, is a function of what the other person said to you before. Active listening is just that, active – where you wait to hear what’s said before you speak or act.
Be a critical thinker
In its simplest definition, critical thinking requires you to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe. It includes the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking and to not let personal biases colour your thoughts. Critical thinking stages involve interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, explanation, and self regulation. A critical thinker is able to deduce consequences from what is known, knows how to make use of information to solve problems, and knows how to explore relevant sources of information to keep informed. If you want to be a critical thinker then you will have to make up your own mind once you have all the facts. Also, you are opening to changing your mind as new facts come to light.
Ask better questions
It sounds simple but it’s a skill we can learn and need to practice. The convention goes that you start your questions with who, what, where, why and when to get the best answers. What else is needed is a good dose of curiosity and interest in your subject matter. When it comes to techniques it pays to not interrupt the other person, listen actively, use silence, dig deeper, don’t overload your questions with multiple points and start general and then go specific. The better your questions, the better your answers.
Match the medium to the message
Sensitive issues need to be handled with sensitivity and not broadcast via your intranet. Sensitive topics need to be handled person to person. General news topics can be broadcast via email or in a presentation. When a topic is big and impacts many people you need to use a channel to reach many and provide people with the content when they need to hear it. In business, not matching your message to your medium means you risk disenfranchising your audience and potentially have them hear a totally different message than you intended.
Avoid miscommunication by clarifying what was said or repeat what you understood. It’s tempting to leave a conversation with a half formed idea of what you think occurred, however play it safe and communicate well by clarifying your understanding.
Always take time to check that people have understood your message. Restate what you hear. Rephrase what another person says to you by repeating the important points to show you’re listening and understand what you were told. Rephrasing is a great technique to reveal if there is any confusion and provides an opportunity to clarify. The practice of rephrasing is helpful to encourage the other party to tell you what you just told them.
The benefit of repeating it is that it will aid your memory too. It’s up to you to solicit clarification and you can do this by encouraging questions or a response to what you just said.
Open questions that start with how, why, or what are best used to check whether you are being understood by another person. These types of question starters encourage reflection, and help the other person to explain what they took away from your communication. Rather than blame the other party for not hearing or understanding you, it’s better to reflect on what you did, how you said it or what you said that might have caused some confusion. There are a lot of communication signals that could be getting in the way to being clear such as assumptions, biases, tone or intent. Ask yourself if you’re being transparent and explicit in what you’re saying or writing.
Simply being silent at the right time is a powerful communication tool. Silence provides the space to listen to your own thoughts or allows the other person to reflect. It’s tempting to want to fill silence with words by interjecting to break the tension. This is counter intuitive though, as the silence is a necessary part of the communication process and aids the overall flow of a conversation. Silence provides moments for new insights to be revealed.
Lean into difficult conversations
At some point, you will need to give negative feedback or receive it. Although avoidance is a strategy it’s not the best approach if you want to ensure small issues don’t escalate to bigger ones down the track. When you know a difficult conversation is about to occur, best to prepare what points you want to cover and be open to entertain new points from the other person. Keep to the topic to save from raising unrelated and unnecessary items that might be emotionally charged. At all times, keep criticism constructive if you want to have a healthy discussion. Speak from your perspective only without telling the other person what they are feeling.
When the conflict comes to you, don’t shy away from it. Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned even if it makes you uncomfortable. Use reflection here to consider what you can learn.
Tone it down
This is a reminder to watch your tone when you’re speaking to others. Your tone is a subtle quality that can come across quite loudly if you let it. It tells the other person of your intention towards them and can share if you’re being aggressive, passive or indifferent. It’s best to aim for an assertive tone that is confident and cooperative at the same time. Setting the right tone will help your message be heard.
Respond don’t react
There are times it’s better to just to cool it. That is, maintain a cool head. Stop and think before you act. Have you ever shouted at a colleague in frustration, or sent a terse reply to an email, without thinking your point through? If you have you’re likely to be acting from an emotional state, instead of responding calmly.
Keep in mind that an inappropriate emotional reaction can damage your reputation. You may upset people with your strong emotions, and give the impression that you lack self-control and emotional intelligence.
Take a deep breath and collect your thoughts before you speak or leave your computer and come back when you feel calmer. Sometimes it helps to write out the ‘bad’ response and then delete or throw it away. After that, once you feel more composed, start to write your message knowing you have cleared some of the negativity you felt initially.
Check your nonverbal signals
Even if you say one thing your body could share a different story. It’s not what you say but how you say it that could cause upset. It pays to be aware of the subtly. Nonverbal communication includes your body language, tone of your voice, its inflection, eye contact, and your distance to someone. Signals might be folded arms, shifty eye movements, overbearing voice or a disinterested, disconnected vibe. Improving your communication requires an understanding of these aspects and the various nuances of each. To do it stay aware of the other person, keep your attention on them and notice any movements or gestures that seem out of sync with what they’re saying. Similarly be mindful of your own non verbal signals when you’re not getting the response you expect. Check if you’re sharing a non-verbal story that’s different to what you’re saying.
Recover from miscommunication
Always think about your audience’s needs when you email, document, or present. Always allow time to check your correspondence and be ready to double check whether your message is getting through as you intended.
Just because you take care to communicate well doesn’t mean mistakes can’t happen. When you are using the written word take care to edit your work, double check who you’re addressing your email to before you press send, and apply the techniques here to the best of your ability. In person, apply the idea of clarifying what the other person said and reflect back to them your understanding.
If you remember that communication is a two-way process you’ll minimise any miscommunication.
Don’t assume anything. That means, don’t assume you understand the other person until you clarify what they meant or said. Don’t assume the other person understood your point until you ask them to clarify. Ask clarifying questions and double check to be safe.
Unless you’re talking with someone that’s from your industry or companyand you know understands the jargon you know, it’s best practice to avoid acronyms. Acronyms can get in the way of being understood and slow conversations down. Don’t let them come between you and your message being heard. Be mindful if you’re prone to using them with colleagues.
If you can only remember one piece of advice here it’s to focus. That is, focus on the other person, your audience or to whom you’re writing is targeted. When you do this you’ll act on some of the pointers that are suggested here. Being focused will help you engage the other person more fully. It will keep you more involved in the conversation and mindful of what you want to achieve.
Good communication in the workplace can enhance your working relationships and improve your job satisfaction. Good communication in your life can enhance your personal relationships. In both contexts I know it takes effort but the results are worth it.
Share this with anyone you think would benefit in your team or life.