Every relationship you have is impacted by your ability — or inability — to communicate well.
Whether at work, in your love life, or with friends and family, good communication fosters better understanding, helps us resolve differences, promotes mutual trust and respect, and allows creative ideas to flourish.
Although communication seems fairly simple and straightforward, so much of our communication is misunderstood or misinterpreted. Of course, this can cause conflict and wounded feelings in personal and professional relationships.
Think about the times you’ve said something to your spouse or a friend, and your meaning was entirely misconstrued. Or consider an occasion when someone said something that hurt your feelings, only to learn later they had no idea how their words wounded you. In my own life, I’ve seen how the power of words can sow the seeds of trust and love — and how they can be divisive, hurtful, or misunderstood.
Learning effective communication is a skill set that should be part of every school curriculum, beginning in elementary school. Knowing these skills can make the difference in the quality of your personal relationships, your potential career success, and your own self-esteem and social confidence.
Here are 10 good communication skills you absolutely must know:
1. Body language
Your body language speaks volumes before you ever open your mouth. How you stand, your facial expression, and your eyes tell a story and create the very first impression others have of you. It doesn’t matter how powerful your words, if you don’t appear confident and friendly, people will assume you aren’t.
Become aware of your body language, and begin to make changes. Look others in the eye when you speak. Smile frequently (and appropriately). Offer a firm handshake or a warm hug (with friends and family). Stand up straight and hold your head high with your shoulders back. Don’t cross your arms or legs in a defensive posture.
2. Active listening
Good communication isn’t just about talking or using body language. It’s about listening well to others. By becoming a better listener, you can improve your relationships and social interactions, as well as your ability to influence, persuade and negotiate.
Active listening involves consciously hearing beyond just the words spoken. It’s mindfully paying attention to the complete message being sent. Focus intently on the speaker, and try not to get distracted. Notice the speaker’s body language. Use your own body language to show you’re listening by nodding and smiling appropriately. Offer feedback and thoughtful comments.
3. Conflict resolution
Conflict is inevitable in any relationship, and learning how to handle conflict in healthy ways is essential to making a relationship work.
Many people choose to avoid conflict altogether because they don’t want to deal with the discomfort and pain. This only causes resentment and misunderstandings. When conflict triggers strong emotions, often a deep-felt unmet need is at the root of the problem. The needs and feelings of both parties must be respected and considered.
The ability to resolve conflict healthily requires you respond in a calm, non-defensive, and respectful manner. When you’re in control of your emotions, you can communicate your opinions and needs without threatening, wounding, or punishing others. Conflict resolution also means you can forgive and forget quickly, and that you have the ability to compromise for the sake of the relationship.
People can sniff out phoniness and affected behavior a mile away. When you try to pretend you’re someone you’re not or put on false airs, it’s an immediate turn-off. People also notice when you create a wall around yourself for protection or disengagement. You can’t create connection or intimacy in any relationship when you build walls or put on an act.
Authenticity means you are free to be real and can show others who you are with all of your perceived flaws. Being authentic can be uncomfortable, so start by defining exactly who you are and what you value. You can practice speaking from the heart, showing vulnerability in small ways, and sharing personal experiences that others can relate to.
5. Emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is our ability to understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others. This is essential for effective communication, which should be a give and take between two people. In this dance between the speaker and listener, the speaker reads the other person and adjusts the conversation accordingly.
You can practice emotional intelligence by noticing nonverbal signals from others, like body language and facial expressions. Once you notice these signals, then seek to understand the meaning of the emotions expressed (anger, sadness, excitement, fear, etc.).
The key to emotional intelligence is responding appropriately to the emotions of others through communication. For example, you might be discussing a new client with your boss when you notice she seems distracted. This would be the time to measure her demeanor and change course, perhaps asking if she’d like to talk later or inviting dialog about her distraction.
6. Articulation and tone of voice
One of the most basic elements of good communication is how you sound to others. If you mumble, speak too softly or loudly, slur your words, or use lots of filler words like “ah,” “like,” and “um,” then your message will get lost as your listener struggles to understand you. Poor speaking skills also reflect a lack of confidence and knowledge.
Practice enunciation and proper articulation of your words. Record your own voice so you can hear the tone and quality. Put a rubber band on your wrist to remind yourself to look out for filler words. Stand up straight with shoulders back to open your diaphragm and allow for easier breathing. Speak slowly and calmly.
There’s a neuron in your brain responsible for recognition of faces and facial expressions. This neuron triggers you to copy facial expression you see on others. You mirror their expressions unconsciously.
When you mirror someone’s body language, you are offering non-verbal cues that you relate to them and feel the same as they do. In fact, research shows people who share the same emotions are likely to experience stronger levels of trust, connection and empathy.
You can reverse-engineer this process to make close connections with others. The next time you converse with someone, practice mirroring them for a few moments. Don’t exaggerate it, but subtly mirror their facial expressions and body movements. Take note of how they respond to you.
8. Ask great questions
One of the best ways to learn more about someone and to engage in active listening is by asking great questions. Open-ended, probing questions compel the person to reflect and share more of themselves. It makes them feel heard and invites dialog and intimate connection.
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Follow-up questions after a response show you are engaged in the conversation and interested in the person. Ask questions such as, “How did that make you feel?” or “Why do you think that?”
Try not to interrupt or respond too quickly when the other person pauses. Sometimes silence and the discomfort of silence invites more sharing. People often have more they want to say, and it will come to the surface when you quietly wait for it.
9. Small talk
There are occasions where lighter conversation is appropriate. Small talk is the polite and sometimes meaningless conversation you have at parties and other social gatherings. It’s a casual discussion that creates a friendly atmosphere and establishes common ground between you and the other person.
Although it doesn’t always invite deeper connections, the skill of making small talk is important in social and business settings. It shows you have social poise and can engage other people and put them at ease. For some, small talk flows naturally — but for others, it feels tedious and overwhelming. You can learn some small talk conversation starters by reading these 30 conversation topics. Also read about behaviors you should avoid during small talk in this article.
10. Clarity and knowledge
When you are communicating ideas and information to a group or even in casual conversation, it’s important to be prepared and clear in your presentation. Know exactly what you are trying to communicate. Conduct necessary research in advance, and have your ideas organized logically. Be sure you tailor your message to the audience, using language and concepts they will understand.
Avoid unnecessary jargon or fluff, and keep your message precise. The more knowledgable and clear you are on your subject, the more confident you will feel. And your listeners will be more engaged and interested in what you have to say.
Becoming an effective communicator requires practice. Review these ten skills and decide where you are the weakest. Determine some specific occasions in the coming weeks where you can practice these skills. It will feel uncomfortable at first, but in time you’ll grow more confident in your ability to communicate well.
You’ll also notice the positive effects of your efforts in the responses of your spouse, friends, and business associates. As thought leader Brian Tracy reminds,“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.”
photo credit: masondan