Many employers will list ‘strong communication skills’ in a job advertisement, but how do you become a good communicator? It may be you’ve never thought about it. It’s time to consider how effective your communication skills are, because good communication makes every aspect of your life easier.
Frustration and confusion in your personal and professional life can be avoided, or resolved, if you spend some time learning about how communication works, why it sometimes fails, and how to avoid miscommunication entirely.
The importance of effective communication
- Contact: No matter what field you work in, either as an employee or employer, you will invariably have contact with co-workers or clients; we all need to be able to liaise and cooperate with all sorts of people.
- Getting it wrong: Miscommunication leads to mistakes - big and small. And when problems arise, it’s never a good excuse to say you simply didn’t understand what was being asked of you.
- Conflict: This is bound to arise occasionally at work and home, but conflict can be smoothly resolved with clear, positive communication.
The basics of communication
When we communicate, we verbalise a thought/feeling/need and ‘code’ it. For example, there are a million different ways to say “Pass me the salt”, politely or rudely, quickly or slowly, the list goes on. Tone is one example of the way we code our communication. The tone we choose to take depends on who we are talking to and how we are feeling; I don’t talk to my boss the way I talk to my best friend and I’m sure you don’t either! Similarly, we adopt different language depending on the circumstances we find ourselves in.
The second part of a message being effectively communicated relies on the recipient being able to decode it. Have you ever made a sarcastic joke and had it fall flat, because the person you were talking to thought you were being serious? That’s an instance of a recipient failing to decode a message. The miscommunication may be because you were being too subtle with your humour, they don’t know you very well, or they’re not good at picking up at sarcasm. It’s nobody’s fault, there are lots of factors involved in those kinds of misunderstandings.
Improving your communication skills
Communication is a skill that can be learned, which means you can become an expert! A lot of good communicators follow a set of guidelines when interacting with the world. They think carefully about how to listen and speak to family, friends and colleagues most effectively. A hugely important communication skill is listening.
- Interrupting: Do you ever interrupt someone who pauses mid-sentence, because you know what they’re going to say? Resist the temptation! Cutting someone off denies them the opportunity to express themselves fully.
- Eye contact: Try to make regular eye contact with people when talking/listening.
- Disagreeing: Avoid interrupting someone speaking to disagree with them. It’s respectful to wait until they’ve finished talking to share your opinion.
- Distractions: Never look at your phone mid-conversation! Or, if you really need to, explain you need to excuse yourself for a minute to attend to the matter.
- Repeat: Reflecting and clarifying is the practice of repeating back what someone has said to you, in your own words. This shows you have understood what they’ve said, and also gives the speaker opportunity to correct any misunderstandings. It affirms that you were giving the speaker your full attention.
The way you code your messages, or express yourself, is vital to being an effective communicator
- Be assertive, not aggressive: everyone’s opinion is important, so when given the space to share yours make sure you do it respectfully
- If you have time, it’s always best to have a chat with a co-worker in person rather than via email.
- A follow up email is a great way to summarise a conversation or meeting, and at the same time document what was discussed
- Speak clearly, and simply. Using vague direction or language only leaves room for your advice to be misunderstood.
- Repeat the most important parts of your message, to ensure they’ve been heard and will be remembered.
- Always welcome questions. This gives your team members an opportunity to check they’ve understood you properly.
- Monitor your body language. When having a difficult conversation with a workmate, turning your body away, staring at your notepad or looking out the window send the message that you don’t want to be there, or hear what they have to say.
- And finally, remember to speak up! If you’re a team leader or manager, it’s vital you keep an open line of verbal communication running through your team. If you have expectations of your staff members, you cannot hope they’ll implicitly understand them if you’ve never said them out loud.
How can you use your communication skills?
If this article has made it clear you’ve already got really great people skills, you should consider yourself a candidate for a career in Human Resources. And once you land your dream job, check out this article on how to make the best first impression in a new workplace.