Do you struggle to communicate effectively with others — either verbally or in writing? You may need some effective communication techniques at work and in your personal life.
Your words come out easily enough, but the consequences of those words are sometimes far from what you intended.
Communication sounds so easy. Words come out of your mouth. Someone hears them and reacts with more words and then boom — you’ve had a conversation.
Or perhaps you had a monologue or an incoherent prattle, and you’re just not aware of it and how it impacts the other person.
Maybe one of your word exchanges didn’t go as well as you’d hoped — either because one (or both) of you didn’t understand the other’s message or because something else got in the way.
This confusion is particularly embarrassing or uncomfortable when you’re in a work setting.
- What is Effective Communication?
- Three Types of Communication
- 12 Effective Communication Techniques to Improve Your Skills
What is Effective Communication?
For communication to be effective, both parties need to clearly understand the other’s meaning.
Each participant in the conversation also needs to communicate meaning with clarity, both with words and nonverbal cues, so that the other person will understand it.
This is impossible when the words convey one meaning, while nonverbal cues convey another, sometimes contrary message.
Learning strategies for positive communication can make a huge difference both in the workplace and in your personal life.
Three Types of Communication
An effective communicator consciously develops fluency in all three types of communication:
Learning these three types of communication is particularly important for your career. Let’s take a look at why this is so.
Effective Communication Techniques in the Workplace
Your work is your livelihood, and it plays a role in your overall well-being and happiness. One of the most valuable skills you can have in any job is your ability to communicate clearly, confidently, and with the right demeanor.
Exactly how important is communication in the workplace? According to Gilbert Amelio, President and CEO of of National Semiconductor Corp.,
“Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership. The leader must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiasm to others. If a leader can’t get a message across clearly and motivate others to act on it, then having a message doesn’t even matter.”
But the value of clear communication isn’t reserved just for leaders. All levels of employees need to learn these skills. And here’s why.
Effective communication skills . . .
Studies have proven that your overall happiness, career and life success, and income improve when you’re an effective communicator. Ready to learn how to communicate more effectively? Let’s get started.
21 Effective Communication Techniques to Improve Your Skills
1. Offer a genuine smile.
The presence or absence of a smile isn’t the only thing that matters here.
While a genuine smile can immediately convey warmth and openness, another smile might communicate arrogance and contempt.
Smiles that don’t reach the eyes look either forced (to be polite) or manipulative. A genuine smile is felt as well as seen, and so is a fake one.
To communicate effectively, it’s important that you respect the other person enough to be real with him or her. If they detect falsity in your smile, that lie speaks louder than anything that comes out of your mouth.
If you want to earn the other’s trust, better not to smile than to lie with one.
2. Ask the right questions.
To better understand the other’s thoughts and their meaning, ask questions — either to learn something new about that person or to clarify something the other has said.
Closed-ended questions are those that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Think of the questions asked in a courtroom: “Is it true that…?” We ask these to get the information we need quickly and with minimal word padding.
Open-ended questions are those the other person can’t answer with a simple yes or no. Answers to these questions take longer and provide more detailed information.
We ask questions out of curiosity and to engage the other person. We also ask to keep a conversation going and to give us another opportunity to pick up on both verbal and nonverbal cues — which leads us to the next communication technique.
3. Practice active listening.
Notice the body language of someone listening carefully. They are turned toward the speaker, looking directly at him or her, and fully engaged in what’s being said.
Effective communicators practice active listening: they attend to everything the other is saying and doing during the conversation.
They pay close attention to how the other person is saying the words and what the other’s body language might also be saying.
They do this so they can then respond in a way that shows they understand what the person is saying or that shows the desire to understand it more fully.
4. Observe good communicators.
How better to learn effective communication skills than to observe skillful communicators and note how they succeed in conveying their message?
If you can place yourself near a group of people engrossed in a conversation, pay attention to what they say and do that conveys meaning and strengthens their connection with the others.
Learn from the best of them the tactics they use for strong communication. And practice using those tactics yourself.
5. Give (and receive) feedback.
Respond in a way that shows the speaker you’ve been listening and that you understand what they’re saying — whether you agree or not.
Your feedback should tell them you take their words seriously and consider them worthy of a thoughtful answer.
It works both ways, too. It’s just as important to thoughtfully consider the feedback from others and ask direct questions to ensure you understand their message.
Once you decide to take something personally (whether it’s intended to be taken so or not), you stop listening, and communication becomes more difficult.
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6. Destress and calm down.
If necessary — and if possible — walk away and take a moment to breathe and recollect yourself during heated conversations. Better to do this than to vent your anxiety and frustration on others — particularly in the workplace.
If you’re in danger of losing your temper or falling apart emotionally, it’s best to remove yourself from the situation and give yourself (and others) the time to recover.
This is just as important when communicating online with someone whose words have offended you. And it’s generally easier to step away from the computer than to leave a meeting or escape from a crowded room.
Give yourself and the others involved in a heated conversation a chance to step away from the conflict. If they continue the conflict, it’s probably best to delete whatever they write in your absence without reading it.
In some cases, depending on whom you’re talking to, it’s perfectly all right to tell them what you’re feeling and to ask their patience as you take a deep breath and calm yourself.
7. Empathize with others.
To empathize, you need to be aware of the other’s emotions (most likely revealed in their body language and nonverbal cues) and to feel those emotions as if they were your own.
When they’re happy and excited, so are you; if they’re grieving (silently or otherwise), you grieve with them.
If they’re angry about something, your genuine empathy can help them feel less alone and defensive, making it easier for you both to understand and appreciate each other’s meaning.
Empathy doesn’t always involve a conscious awareness of those nonverbal cues. Just because you can’t identify the exact cues and what they mean, it doesn’t follow that you’re not able to empathize with them.
If you’re an empath, you might feel what the other person feels before you can even begin to explain how you picked that up.
8. Read regularly.
If you want to develop your written communication skills, or you’re interested in learning from books written by effective communicators, reading is a powerful way to cultivate your skills in this area.
Reading is also a good way to stay informed and to learn interesting news and facts that you can then work into a conversation. You’ll also improve your vocabulary which helps make you a better communicator.
Whatever your immediate goal, good reading is a potent catalyst for personal growth.
9. Choose your words carefully.
Your choice of words can convey empathy and solidarity or the lack of both. It reflects the difference between just talking and communicating thoughtfully.
Never underestimate the power of word choice in communication; one word, used in a particular context, can trigger a response that is the opposite of what you intended.
The words you use to describe yourself and others can either foster a sense of fellow-feeling and camaraderie (“we,” “us”) or alienate others with a focus on yourself as one set apart from the rest of them (“I,” “me”).
In some situations, it makes sense to do the latter – particularly when you’re accepting responsibility for something.
10. Show keen interest.
Let your verbal and nonverbal (or written) communication convey an interest in the other’s words.
Active listening is part of this, but you also convey interest with your body language, with a comfortable degree of eye contact, and with relevant, thoughtful questions.
People want to be around those who share their enthusiasm for something. Showing positive interest in something that matters to someone else is essential to building a connection with them, and that connection makes effective communication between you more likely.
Your positive engagement creates an environment where every message you send has its own ambassador.
None of this guarantees you’ll get everything you want, but if your main intention when entering into a conversation is to get something from the other person, you’re not likely to make a convincing show of genuine interest in the other person’s concerns.
Make the connection and effective communication the primary goal rather than the means to something else.
11. Keep your sense of humor.
Humor can be part of your arsenal of verbal communication skills. It can diffuse a volatile situation and give the other person the space needed to see the situation from another perspective and to calm down.
Laughter isn’t always appropriate, though. (Note: Never laugh at your boss’s expense.) It’s never appropriate to use humor as a weapon to dehumanize others or to dismiss their words.
Humor is best used as a way to build (and maintain) rapport or to lighten the mood and encourage others to relax. Read the room, though. If it’s not a good time for laughter, avoid it. And leave the dirty jokes in the sewer (where they belong).
12. Notice your body language.
It’s one thing to pay attention to what others are communicating non-verbally, but are you doing the same for yourself?
- If your arms are crossed in a defensive posture, what are you communicating?
- When you don’t make eye contact, what are you revealing about your confidence?
- If you loom over someone while talking, how comfortable does that make the other person?
Your body language should reflect the intent of your communication just as well as your words do. If you want to be heard, respected, and understood, match your non-verbal communication to your words.
13. Reflect and affirm.
When another person is speaking to you, you still have responsibility for the success of the interaction. It’s not all about the speaker.
Most people use the time when another person is speaking to mentally rehearse a response or defense. We don’t hear half of what the other person is saying because we are too busy in our own heads.
For communication to be successful, both parties need to feel heard and understood. As a listener, you can show you’ve been listening by reflecting what you heard the speaker say and affirming that you understood it, even if you disagree.
14. Be concise and clear.
Have you ever been around someone who is enamored with the sound of his or her own voice? They talk and talk, taking forever to get to the point — if there is one.
Once they do make a point, you’re so brain dead you can’t register it. Over-talkers don’t seem to realize how infuriating they can be. And how rude it is to assume others have the time to listen to their ramblings.
If you notice you tend to be a rambler, work on being more concise in presenting your information and clear in the point you want to make. This is a skill that takes practice, but those around you will see you as a strong communicator if you learn it.
15. Remember the Golden Rule.
And now, we come full circle. We already discussed your smile (or lack of it) and how others can often pick up from that whether you’re being honest with them. If you want honesty from others, you need to be upfront with them, too.
So, be authentic. And be kind. Treat others with the same respect you want for yourself.
Good communicators know the value of a real connection to the communication of their message. It’s the magic wormhole that speeds the transfer of ideas from one head to another.
- Communicate for the good of others as well as for yourself.
- Communicate in the other’s love language to build or improve a relationship.
- Communicate great ideas to make the world better for more people.
Effective communication should be about building trust and strengthening relationships.
Yes, sometimes, it’s about less elevated things like haggling over fish and buying movie tickets. And that’s okay. Even mundane conversations can build connections.
If you apply the strategies in this article, not only will you communicate your ideas and convictions more effectively, but you’ll also know how to help others do the same.
It’s all in a day’s work for an effective communicator.
16. Practice sharing your voice.
Whether you prefer blogging, vlogging, or connecting with people on social media, find a way to share your voice with the world. Write about your passions or about the unique experiences you’ve had and what you learned from them.
Write about your mistakes, how you’ve managed them, and how they’ve shaped your perspective.
Write about any struggle you have that others are likely to share, if only to let them know they’re not alone (and perhaps to remind yourself that you aren’t).
Practice putting yourself out there and risking criticism. It may help you show more compassion toward those whose perspective differs from your own.
17. Harness the power of silence.
When you’re itching to offer a counterpoint, it sends the message that you care more about how you look than about the other person’s message — which goes beyond the words they’re using.
When you’re fixated on filling the silence with your words (as soon as you get an opening), you miss important clues.
You miss more than you gain. Often, your best listening tool is silence. And few people know how to use it to their advantage. Be one of them.
When you hold your tongue, you give the other person room to fill the silence themselves, and they may provide information you wouldn’t otherwise learn.
18. Lose the filler words.
You may not realize how many filler words you use until you record yourself giving a speech. But you hear them easily enough when other people use them. It’s distracting.
Try recording yourself talking about something that interests you. Then catch your filler words and count how many times you use them.
Notice when you use them most — probably to fill a brief silence when you’re mentally editing what you want to say next.
Then try to redeliver the speech without a single filler word. Instead, give your audience brief, silent pauses to think about your words or refocus their wandering attention.
19. Use the other person’s name.
Show that you bothered to commit their name to memory, and use it in a way that tells them you value their perspective and their ideas.
When people remember your name, it matters to you because it communicates interest in you and your concerns.
When someone has to ask your name every time they meet you, it tells you your name isn’t important enough for them to remember.
Show each person you talk to that they and their names are worth the extra mental effort — and they’ll be more likely to return the favor.
20. Keep your ego under control.
Your ego is not great at putting other people first. The good news? You are not your ego. And you can keep it from running the show.
It just takes a conscious effort to remind yourself of your goals for each conversation: what you want to learn and what message you want to send the other person.
Your ego will keep looking for a place to intervene and hijack the conversation, often by suggesting tangents or witty replies.
Don’t let it. Keep your eyes on those other-centric goals, and focus on being a good listener.
21. Avoid information overload.
Whether we’re talking cringey TMI or just too much information for the human brain to process in the time given (and way more than it needs), try to avoid unnecessary info dumps.
Not only will you bore your listener and make them forget what they wanted to talk about, but you’ll also get even further away from either making your point or seeing theirs.
It’s tempting to follow those golden tangents that appear in your mind, but think of your listener and whether that extra information will actually do them good.
Often enough, those tangents are a way for your ego to make the conversation about you. Resist!
Want to learn how to be the best communicator?
To be an effective communicator, you need to do more than read good strategies — you must implement them. Like all skills, good communication requires practice and time.
But you can accelerate your skills by looking for opportunities to practice them. You don’t have to wait for the perfect scenario at work or a social gathering. You have plenty of opportunities in everyday life.
Use the most ordinary interactions as your training ground to practice these new techniques so that when you really need them, they’ll come more naturally.