Improving communication skills is critical for success in many aspects of life. Communication is essential for our interpersonal relationships and social interactions and are also a key ingredient in the workplace.
A Deloitte study placed communication skills as the number one essential for leaders. These skills distinguish some of the world’s most influential people, like Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Gary Vaynerchuck.
However, many people still do not understand the basics of communicating effectively, which has often cost them dearly.
Therefore, in this article, we shall examine the basics of effective communication and how best you can improve your skills.
How to improve your communication skills
Communication is more than just great speeches and nice words. Rather, it represents a combination of both verbal and non-verbal skills. To improve your overall communication, you must tackle each of the elements.
Adapting your communication style
A major factor for effectively speaking to people is adaptability. Different settings often require you to tweak your communications approach.
For example, in a professional setting, you want to be taken seriously. It may be tempting to communicate light-heartedly or others, but this may hinder your original intentions.
When speaking to a large audience, you may need to include a few jokes here and there to keep their attention. However, you should try not to make your entire presentation a joke. This waters down any serious points you might have raised. It also makes them less likely to take you seriously.
Similarly, when sending messages or emails in a professional setting, you want to keep away from all manner of slang and small jokes. 99% of the time, it just makes you look unprofessional.
On the other hand, when communicating in a casual setting, you have to adjust and lighten up. It applies to your words, dress code, tone, etc.
- Cory Booker, a US Senator from New Jersey, is widely praised for his ability to relate to different audiences. He can effectively connect to his community and on social media, then switch up to a more formal setting at a Democratic debate.
Therefore, to improve your communication skills, you have to adapt your presentation to the audience you are addressing. That way, they are more likely to pay attention to you and relate to what you are saying. Also, it gives them the freedom to express themselves.
Short and sweet
Speaking with clarity is a critical component of effective communication. When you talk to people, you must say just enough to help the other party understand. Your words must be cohesive, specific, and, most of all, brief.
Research indicates that the average audience attention span is just about 5 minutes. So, to put your message across without losing the audience, get to the point. Thomas Jefferson famously stated;
“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
Even in public speaking, ensure you say just enough to get your point across and avoid fluff. Otherwise, you might only lose people’s attention.
The same rules apply to written communication. Keep your text short and avoid giving too much information.
Furthermore, whatever you say must be coherent and logical. So, take time to plan whenever you are going to give a speech. Write down as much as you will need to guide you.
Confidence is also a critical factor in effective communication. Why? Because people are more inclined to take heed and trust the words of someone who speaks confidently. Such a person appears to know what he/she is talking about, so it could even pass for competence.
- Facebook Chief Operations Officer Sheryl Sandberg is highly praised for speaking with confidence and thus showing credibility. Even in the male-dominated tech industry, she has mastered how to address and affirm her positions confidently.
As a result, she is one of the most prominent and respectable female figures in business.
Therefore, in improving your communication skills, you ought to learn how to speak confidently. First, be convinced of what you are talking about. It becomes much easier to speak firmly about things we know well. So, before you start talking to people, you want to make sure you have your facts straight.
Another critical component is your body language. Confidence is not only about speech but also tone and body actions.
When speaking to people, you should maintain eye contact. Face them as you talk, and don’t use your hands too much. All these are small acts that make you appear more confident.
Speech experts also suggest that you train yourself to speak slower and more clearly, giving yourself time to think through your words.
“I only wish I could find an institute that teaches people how to listen. Business people need to listen at least as much as they need to talk. Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions.”
— Lee Iacocca, former president, and CEO, Chrysler Corporation
Effective communication goes both ways and therefore starts with listening, not just talking. Listening makes the people with you feel heard and understood. This gives them the incentive to listen to you and also helps you understand their standpoint.
Listening, however, goes deeper than what a speaker is saying. It also involves understanding how the person feels as they speak and relating to it. Such creates a safe space where people can freely express themselves and thus come up with creative solutions. It makes people feel understood.
- Effective communicators like Oprah Winfrey really understand how this works. She pays careful attention to what her listeners are interested in and then directly addresses those concerns. Such practices are some of the reasons her shows were so popular, and her speeches still command large audiences.
Similarly, successful business leaders like Gary Vaynerchuck urge people to listen to understand and not respond. Therefore, to improve your communication skills, you must learn to listen attentively.
Pay attention to every aspect of the speaker, from their words to tone to body language. Thankfully, there are several communication resources that can help you to improve this skill
Any well-meaning statement can easily backfire if you use the wrong tone. You may be saying one thing while your tone is saying something completely different. This greatly confuses your audience because then, they are not sure of what you are saying. Because of that, they can’t trust you.
As a general rule, maintain an aura of positivity in your speech at all times, even when reprimanding. People are more inclined to positive characters, and it will quickly get you on good terms with all those around you.
Positivity entails smiling as often as possible when you speak. It makes you more approachable and opens up free communication. Additionally, if you are excited or passionate about something, let it show in your voice.
Improving your tone and aura in speech takes practice if it doesn’t come naturally for you. However, it is worth it in your quest to become an effective communicator.
Effective communication relies heavily on non-verbal communication cues. Therefore, to improve your skills, you must work on your body language and tones as well.
According to studies, non-verbal communication elements contribute to over 55% of their perceptions of a speaker. So how can you improve your communication skills through non-verbal cues?
People pay more attention to how you act than what you say to them. So when trying to improve your communication skills, work on the following:
Hands: Your hands are crucial when talking to people. You must avoid fidgeting at all costs. It makes you appear nervous or bored.
Furthermore, you want to avoid crossing your arms when talking to people. Doing this makes you appear closed up. So, the other parties may not be as comfortable talking to you. Instead, open up.
Posture: You must train yourself to maintain appropriate posture when speaking to people. This is important whether you are standing or sitting down. Keep your shoulder back and avoid swinging your legs or hands.
Successful business leaders like Amy Cuddy attest to adopting “power poses” when giving speeches or talking to subordinates and partners. They make you appear more confident.
Barbara and Allan Pease in their book, “The Definitive Book of Body Language” teach people how to read and understand this phenomena.
Many people underestimate the importance of note-taking. It is also one of the best indicators of listening. Taking notes ensures that you understand and remember what they say. It also forms a basis for asking follow-up questions for clarity.
Taking notes is, therefore, a great way to improve your communication skills. Notes get misunderstandings out of the way and create room for two-way communication.
Understanding and relating with people around you is an effective communication skill that you ought to work on. It is closely tied to emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence refers to the awareness of your emotions as others, with the ability to effectively control and express them. Developing emotional intelligence would therefore help you to relate with others both in professional and social settings.
Whereas interactions tend to take a more logical approach, remember that people are still humans with emotions. So, without empathy towards your audience, you can easily come off as cold, unapproachable, etc. All these close-up doors for effective communication.
Some of the best ways to develop empathy when communicating include:
Practice putting yourself in other people’s shoes. If you understood where they are coming from, it would help you relate with them better.
Recognize differences among people and eliminate biases. Many of us have preconceived biases that affect how we see and listen to people. Yet, if you can educate yourself and appreciate other people, it would improve your ability to empathize. As such, you would become a better communicator.
Empathetic communicators like Martin Luther King and Jesse Williams were able to draw audience attention because of these factors. They showed that they understood and related to the audience’s struggle. This is what encourages many people to listen to them to this day.
Why is it essential to improve communication skills?
Communication skills are the most valued in the workplace. So, you need to develop them to advance further in your career. Candidates with better communication skills are often preferred in interviews and thus get jobs quickly.
Furthermore, good communicators always find it easier to get noticed by superiors within the work environment. They also get promotions or coveted tasks faster. Therefore, it is very critical for you to improve your communication skills.
Create lasting impressions
Improving communication skills is very important in the business world. Through effective communication, you can create and leave lasting impressions on your associates or business partners.
Similarly, these skills can help you in developing better relationships with customers. As a result, it is easier to win them over and get contracts and recommendations.
Excellent communication skills are the secret ingredient to any successful relationship. Studies indicate that good communicators are 90% more likely to stay in marriages.
Improving your communication skills lets you air out your thoughts and opinions, listen and understand other people. You are thus more likely to deal with each other and stay longer in the relationship.
Pro tips on improving your communication skills.
1. Record yourself and make improvements
Several communications coaches and leaders like Jared Atchison recommend the mirror approach. You can practice communication in different scenarios or even make recordings.
With a mirror, you can adequately assess your appearance while communicating. Do you smile enough? Are your hands in the right place? From then, you can practice making improvements. For example, try different power poses and see which ones work.
Furthermore, by prerecording your mock communication scenarios, you can quickly identify areas that need improvement. Over time, you might notice an improvement in your verbal communication skills.
2. Imitate people you admire
Another famous trick is to imitate people whose communication skills you admire. If you like how they speak to people or large audiences, get all the videos you can find. Then try to practice their habits. It could be the way they move around the stage, how they use their hands, etc.
3. Make it about them
It is no secret that people love to talk about themselves. No one ever enjoys a conversation where the other party just spoke of themselves the whole time.
Even top politicians know this. Rather than talk about their own achievements and abilities, they focus on what the audience is actually interested in. An example is former US President, Bill Clinton who has frequently been praised for his ability to connect with his audiences.
Similarly, in more social interactions, people relate well with those that allow them to speak. It keeps the listener engaged.
4. Use people’s names
“Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
As Dale Carnegie so clearly stated, calling someone by their name is one of the best things you can do. It adds a personal touch, makes them feel recognized, and shows that you are paying attention.
This is especially important when dealing with colleagues or subordinates. When people feel special, they are more likely to pay attention to what you have to say and feel free to speak back.
It is therefore imperative that you practice remembering people’s names and using them when you speak.
Improving your communication skills generally involves figuring out how to express yourself better and relate to others. However, there is no one way you can improve these skills.
Excellent communication requires a broad set of skills, both verbal and nonverbal. Key among these include training yourself to listen, actively engage with your listener, and develop effective non-verbal practices.