Regardless of your profession, communication is an essential part of your day. From calming down irate customers to negotiating with vendors to giving instructions to employees, your communication skills determine your success. Communicate well and you’ll sell your ideas more effectively, deal with discord better, and run better meetings. Communicate poorly and you’ll leave conversations wondering if anything was accomplished at all.
Think about the conversations you have throughout the course of any given day. Are all of them productive? If you’re like most people, they’re probably not. Realize that productive communication involves more than just two people talking. Communicating effectively requires planning, concentration, and consideration of others. So whether you need to talk with your spouse, hash out a problem with a friend, or land that next big business deal, here are some tips to add power and productivity to your conversations.
Tip One: Think Before You Speak
Know what you want to say and make your point quickly. By doing so, it is more likely that the listener will remember your message. Know why you are having the conversation and what you want to accomplish from it before you begin to speak. If possible, let the other person know the conversation topic in advance, and keep the conversation focused.
Tip Two: Stop Talking and Listen
The best way to be a good communicator is to be a good listener. Think of your conversation as a tennis match, with each person taking turns serving and receiving, or speaking and listening. When it’s your turn to listen, do just that. Give the other party your undivided attention. Don’t think about what you’re going to say next or you may miss something important. When you actively listen, it shows the other person that you value what they have to say.
Tip Three: Ask Questions
To gain the most from any interaction, find out what people want. Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a “yes” or a “no.” Instead, ask open-ended questions that will give you more insight into their thoughts and feelings. If you aren’t clear on a point they are trying to make, ask for clarification. Then, restate what you heard and ask them to verify that you received their message correctly.
Tip Four: Anticipate Distractions
Nothing you do will make others feel more important than giving them your full attention. Conduct your interaction in a quiet, peaceful location with a minimum of distractions. Turn off your pager and cell phone. If there are other conversations or events going on in the same room, ignore them. If an unavoidable interruption occurs, excuse yourself and return as quickly as possible. If you must end the conversation due to an unforeseen crisis, reschedule it for a later time.
Tip Five: Be Mindful of Your Volume and Tone
Your vocal tone gives the listener a snapshot of your feelings. If you want to show respect or affection, soften your tone. If you find yourself feeling impatient or angry during a conversation, listen to yourself to make sure your voice isn’t reflecting those emotions. If a conversation begins to turn into an argument, consciously lower your volume; often your listener will, too. Keep your voice calm and even whenever possible.
Tip Six: Handle Disagreements with Tact
It is unrealistic to think that everyone will always go along with whatever you request. Disagreements are inevitable. But what do you do when someone disagrees? Do you start an argument, or do you continue to communicate with tact? Tact begins with listening. Be sure you clearly understand the issue and ask questions. Stay calm and think of disagreements as a difference in opinion, not personal rejection. You can understand another’s point of view without agreeing with it. Remember that everyone has a right to an opinion, so respect that and work at finding your common ground. If the differences of opinion are over minor issues, work on a compromise. If the disagreement is a matter of principle, you may decide to end the conversation…or even the relationship.
Tip Seven: Be Open to New Ideas
Don’t assume you know everything about a given topic and close off your mind. Instead, relax and allow time to receive vital input from another person. Listen attentively and consider how new ideas may apply to things you already know. If you find someone does know more than you about the topic, don't be afraid to yield control, as the new information can add to your knowledge, encourage you to study further, or even change your mind!
Tip Eight: Take Notes
Always carry a PDA or a pen and notepad to jot down thoughts. Record new ideas and items on which you must take action. When you first meet someone, take a moment and jot down key information about the person and the conversation. Make sure you get the correct spelling of their name, and also spell it phonetically. You want to be able to address them correctly the next time you see them. Someone may not notice if you say their name right, but they’ll sure notice if you say it wrong!
Tip Nine: Watch Your Body Language
Studies show that 93% of communication is non-verbal. Make sure you make good eye contact, stand tall, and keep good posture. If you want to let the other person know you agree with them, don’t fold your arms tightly cross your legs or turn your body away from the person. Instead, try to match their body positioning; this indicates silent agreement. Make sure your message and your body language match. If there is any discrepancy, people are more likely to believe what your body language is saying than your words.
Tip Ten: Eliminate Audible Pauses
There’s no need to fill every second of a conversation with sound. Verbal fluff (“ah,” “er,” “um,” “like,” “you know”) obscures your message and reduces your credibility. If you feel you are about to use a non-word, take a breath, hold it a moment, and then resume speaking. Use shorter sentences, or pause using silence instead of audible sounds. Becoming very familiar with your topic will help too. Practice what you want to say, but don’t sound rehearsed.
More Power to You
Communication and success go hand in hand. The more effectively you communicate your ideas, the better your outcomes will be. So practice these communication tips and apply them every day. When you do, you’ll communicate powerfully and with confidence and achieve the results you desire.
Jo Condrill is a speaker, business coach, and coauthor of 101 Ways to Improve Your Communication Skills Instantly. She is the recipient of the Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service (the highest civilian award one can achieve with the Pentagon) which she received for her mastery of leadership and communications techniques while she was a civilian supervisor at the Pentagon. Visit her website, http://www.goalminds.com, or contact her at 800 697-5680 or via email at Condrill@GoalMinds.com