Leaders and executives. Individual contributors. Subject matter experts and professionals.
They all have one major thing in common – their success depends on communicating effectively. In this age of non-stop information, being able to convey your ideas, your vision, and your goals to the people around you is a critical skill for success. But talking about good communication and actually being able to master it on a consistent basis are two different things entirely.
Whether you find yourself struggling to communicate or just want to take your skills to the next level, here are four keys to make your communications more effective.
Often, we fall into the trap of thinking that communication is all about what we say or write – that the only thing that matters is what we put out there. But, what we take in before we respond is every bit as important.
That’s why the first key to effective communication is developing great listening skills. Listening requires a cluster of skills that are getting more and more difficult for us to achieve in our over-connected world. We must slow our initial urge to respond and defend. We must focus with all of our brains. We must really invest in the value of what the other person has to say, whether we agree with it or not.
If you find you’re not really listening in an interaction, start by just acknowledging that to yourself. “I could’ve done a better job of listening during that meeting.” Then, ask yourself what pulled you off track. Was it a need to defend yourself or your point of view? An inability to slow the chatter in your mind?
Once you key in on what’s keeping you from improving as a listener, you can pay more attention to it in real time. Gently, but consistently, remind yourself and redirect when you get off track.
Another communication killer is assumptions. By making assumptions, we’re short-circuiting real communication in favor of a surface level interaction. At their best, these conversations feel shallow. At their worst, they can cause the kind of confusion and misunderstanding that can derail a team for months.
The antidote to assumptions is to ask questions. Be curious. Make sure you’re clear on what’s really being said, and the thinking behind it. Not only will asking questions help you focus on what’s being said, you’ll challenge yourself to think outside the box – to see possibilities that haven’t been considered. And, hopefully, you’ll learn to avoid miscommunication – at least most of the time!
Communication isn’t always easy, but being an effective communicator means being willing to say things that feel risky or difficult. While there are many reasons we may shy away from these kinds of interactions, their value is undeniable.
So, how do you get used to having these tough conversations? Unfortunately, there’s no real trick to it – it just takes practice. You simply have to summon your courage and move forward. Over time, you’ll find the courage comes more easily and the conversations seem less intimidating.
Ability to Control Emotion
While you have to summon your courage to communicate effectively, you also have to learn to control your emotions. It may seem apparent that you can’t be a great leader if you can’t control angry outbursts, but learning to control emotion goes deeper than that.
To be truly effective at communicating, you must learn to recognize when you are triggered. When something or someone around you has knocked you off your center point. If you fail to recognize this shift, you can’t be sure that your responses are grounded, well-reasoned or effective.
With practice, however, you can begin to feel the surge in adrenaline that comes when you’ve been triggered. You can learn to wait it out, and to trust that it will pass. Then, you can build the patience it takes to allow it to do so before you communicate.
Communication is an art, and can’t be mastered overnight. But, with these key skills, you’ll have a great headstart on improving the effectiveness of your communication.