Being able to communicate effectively is an essential life skill.
Communication is how two or more people exchange ideas and come to a shared understanding. Whether you want to have better conversations in your social life, or if you strive to get your ideas across at work, here are some tips for learning to communicate more effectively.
There are three types of communication: verbal, non-verbal, and written.
Verbal communication uses spoken words and is the form we are probably most familiar with. You probably think about speaking when you think about verbal communication. But listening is actually just as important.
How to improve verbal communication:
- Think before you speak: Take time to organize your thoughts before opening your mouth. You’ll find it easier to speak without awkward pauses. You’re also likely use fewer words and your thoughts won’t be so scrambled.
- Be clear and concise: It’s tempting to use big words and complex sentences to prove how smart you are. But this can actually backfire because people may not understand you at all. State your arguments in a direct manner using everyday language.
- Speak confidently: Even if you don’t feel 100% certain of what you’re saying, it’s important to convey confidence if you want people to listen. To sound more confident, speak audibly at a steady pace and annunciate your words. Make eye contact. Avoid the temptation to phrase statements as questions.
- Be a good listener: When you listen genuinely, you’re able to make arguments that take others’ perspectives into consideration. People appreciate feeling heard and will respect you for it. On the other hand, if you speak without listening, it will be apparent to others that you only care about yourself and they may distrust you.
Body language, gestures, facial expressions and posture are all part of non-verbal communication. According to research, 93% of communication is conveyed through body language, so this is a pretty big deal! Body language is so important that one wrong move can undermine everything you’re trying to say. Imagine you’re in a job interview—you’re speaking confidently about your qualifications and feel you have a good shot. But if you don’t make eye contact and you’re slouched into your chair, this non-verbal communication tells the interviewer that you’re not really interested.
How to improve non-verbal communication
- Use the right tone of voice: Every though we think we listen to people’s words, more often it’s the tone of their voice that really comes across. Has someone ever told you “I’m sorry” and sounded like they didn’t mean it? Their tone of voice probably gave them away. It’s vital that you match your tone to what you’re saying. If you’re excited, use an animated voice. If you want people to believe you, don’t sound hesitant.
- Make eye contact: When people don’t make eye contact it seems like they are trying to hide something. But too much eye contact can be seen as confrontational. What’s the right amount of eye contact? Some experts recommend intervals of eye contact lasting 4 to 5 seconds. If speaking to a group, make eye contact with each person for a few seconds before moving on to the next.
- Position yourself for success: Body posture is something we often forget, but it’s one of the most important parts of communication. An open posture, facing the other person with your chest exposed and arms at rest, conveys friendliness and positivity. Closed posture, like crossing your arms, crossing your legs, or sitting forward, can give an impression of distrust, hostility or detachment.
- Pay attention to touch: Think about a weak handshake, a timid tap on the shoulder and a warm bear hug. These different touches convey specific emotions. Pay attention to the quality of your touch—is it gentle, or assertive? Touching can be a great way to connect closely with others, but it’s important to remember that not everyone is comfortable being touched and that not all touching is appropriate.
Written communication is a huge part of our everyday lives. The written word is essential for conveying complicated information, such as statistics, and for reaching large audiences, such as the news. It’s also common to use written words to send quick messages, such as over email or text messaging. Written communication allows a message to be re-read at a later date and to be passed along to others. When you write, you will be double sure that what you write is accurate.
How to improve written communication
- Spell check and re-read: If there are grammar, punctuation or spelling errors in what you write, anyone who reads it may think you are sloppy or uneducated. You must check your work. Even with computers, remember that spell check doesn’t catch every mistake! One trick to proofread for errors is to read the whole thing aloud to yourself.
- Know who you’re speaking to: Is this message for a friend or your boss? This will affect how you write. Messages to friends and family can be more informal, but professional communications should be more impersonal and meticulously written.
- Be concise: An issue many people have with written communication is that the same sentence takes longer to read than it does to listen it. When writing, try to stay on topic and use clear language.
- Re-read your message: Before you send, make sure you have written what you want to say and that everything is accurate. Once it’s out in the world, there’s no taking it back.