Your communication skills can make or break you in the business world. Without them, your chances of success will be greatly reduced. With the right communication skills, though, you’ll find that doors are opened much more easily and opportunities will come your way that would have otherwise been closed off to you.
Here are ten ways to improve your communication skills so that you can succeed in your career and in all areas of life in general.
1. Listen Well
YOU ALWAYS SPEAK WHEN YOU LISTEN FIRST. In order to improve communication skills, you have to first start by listening well. If you don’t listen, you can’t actually learn anything. Listening helps you better understand what your teammates are trying to tell you.
Most of us think we listen well until we get feedback from others that they feel they don’t get listened to on our team. Make sure that doesn’t happen by taking time each day in a 1:1 meeting with a direct report or another person on your team, and really listen and focus intently on their ideas and thoughts without interruption. They will walk away feeling heard, valued and appreciated, which improves employee morale – which means higher productivity for your team!
2. Know Your Listener
If you want your message to be heard, you need to be clear about who your listener is and what they really want from you. One of my favorite ways for improving communication skills comes from renowned expert Michael LeBoeuf: Before speaking with someone, picture that person in your mind and think about why he or she wants or needs information that you have.
Next, think about how many different ways there are for reaching him or her and realize that not all people react well to exactly the same kind of information. Understanding who your listener is will help you tailor what you say—and how—to get through in a way that’s actually heard.
3. Watch Your Body Language
An important first step in improving communication skills is learning how to watch your body language. Since so much of what we communicate is nonverbal, a lot of important information can be missed if you don’t pay attention to your physical appearance and behavior. Make sure that you’re sitting or standing at an angle that invites a positive response and make it clear that you’re paying attention with open body language.
If possible, have a conversation in person rather than over video conferencing or email; not only does personal interaction allow for more communication but other cues such as facial expressions and gestures are more clearly relayed.
4. Be brief, yet specific
There’s actually a BRIEF acronym—Background, Reason, Information, End, Follow-up—to help you keep your emails short without leaving anything out. It’s a good policy for both written and verbal communication ,Clear and concise are two of the 7 Cs of communication, along with concrete, correct, coherent, complete, and courteous.
5. Watch Your Tones
Did you know that up to 65% of communication is nonverbal? That means your tone matters just as much as what you actually say. An angry or frustrated tone can make a conversation go sideways very quickly. When engaging in any type of professional conversation, be sure to watch your tone; remember that it’s easy for tempers and emotions to flare when discussing important business topics.
Remember that practicing good communication skills will only make you a better communicator, so don’t overlook little things like monitoring your tone of voice during conversations—it could go a long way toward helping you improve your communication skills!
6. Maintain a positive attitude and smile
Smiling, even if you don’t feel like it, and keeping a positive attitude is a good way to improve communication skills. In other words, fake it until you make it. You can bet that no one wants to work with someone who never smiles or who has a problem face all day long. It sends a negative message about you and your company before any words are ever spoken.
7. Plan and practice what you’ll say
Whether you’re pitching a new idea, giving feedback or simply making small talk with a client or co-worker, it’s important to always plan what you want to say beforehand. According to Annette Gendler, founder of Executive EQ Communications and author of The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence in Leadership and Life, about 90 percent of communication is nonverbal—meaning your body language can either make or break how effective your message is. In fact, 55 percent of what people take away from your message has nothing at all to do with its actual content; rather it’s based on inflection and tone.
To be more effective when communicating anything that matters, pay close attention both how you’re saying something as well as what you’re saying.
8. Make eye contact while someone is talking
One common miscommunication is not knowing when someone is finished speaking. The best way to ensure you don’t miss an important point or continue a conversation too long: Make eye contact while listening. It doesn’t have to be all at once—just try to catch your interviewer’s eyes once in a while as they speak.
9. Don’t cross your arms
Some people think this is a “power pose.” This might be true in some situations, but in others, it makes you look blocked off from the other person. It can give the impression that you can’t wait to get out of there, which isn’t helpful for a good conversation.
10. Don’t be afraid of silence every now and then
It’s OK not to fill every second of silence with a comment or response. You can practice making listening silences and have fun with it by imagining that your words are white and you’re throwing them into space like confetti at a parade. You might be amazed at how much more you hear, or how much better you listen, when you don’t feel pressured to speak up all of the time.
If someone asks you a question, let them know that you want some time to think about your answer before answering; if they don’t ask for an immediate response then chances are good they didn’t really want one in any case.