It is imperative in a leadership role that you communicate effectively. An age old aphorism goes, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” Communication is what separates a poor leader from an exceptional one. Having effective communication skills is the key to good leadership.
Communication is effectively useless if you don’t listen to and comprehend the responses that you get in regards to your message. Listening isn’t just using your ears to collect sounds. You need to understand the things that are said to you in such a way that you can form a coherent and knowledgeable response. A class or seminar on active listening is one of the most effective ways to improve your listening skills, and by proxy, your communication skills as well.
No matter how much information is readily volunteered, you will never learn everything you need to know without asking a few questions. What type of questions should you be asking?
Closed-ended questions are designed to get a simple yes or no response. This can be a good tool if you need to gather basic information quickly or want to obtain an answer without a long or drawn out explanation.
Open-ended questions will provide you with a broader and more comprehensive answer. Instead of asking “Can I help you?” (Which is a closed-ended question because it can be answered with a yes or no) ask “What brings you to our company today?”
The Silent Treatment
Surprisingly, remaining silent can be one of the most effective strategies for communication, especially if are trying to entice someone to share more information with you. Instead of immediately answering a completed statement, remain silent but attentive. This can actually encourage people to volunteer more information than they would have done otherwise.
Feedback is an important part of communication, both from your intended recipients and from you. You should be able to convey your information in such a way that your targets can offer feedback or criticism on your information. They should also be able to form direct questions if anything is left unclear.
This is a good tactic if you have really poor verbal or non-verbal communication skills. Find a way to place yourself in or around a large crowd of people. These don’t have to be people that you know, and in many cases it may be better to use people that you are unfamiliar with. The only requirement is that these individuals need to be skilled communicators.
Open a Book
People don’t read as much as they used to and this is easily seen in poor written communication skills. Young people who were raised on computers and mobile devices are often most at risk for this, because they tend to convey their thoughts via shorthand and text speak which is not appropriate in a business setting.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be a book that you read. Pick up a magazine or newspaper or a For-Dummies book your latest and greatest hobby. What you read is not important; the important part is that you read.
Not only does reading keep you informed, it can help you to adapt and improve your written communication skills. Your verbal skills may also benefit because you will have new and exciting things to discuss with your coworkers or friends.
Communication can be very stressful, especially if your skills are not up to par. Problems only begin to arise when you cannot mitigate this stress and begins to interfere with your ability to deliver coherent information.
If you find yourself overly stressed by a situation, remove yourself from it for a few moments. This could be any situation that causes stress or anxiety, such as an argument or disagreement with a boss or coworker. Simply step away for a moment and take the time to compose yourself. Once you have done so, you will be able to approach the situation with a clearer head and communication will become infinitely easier.
Empathy and/or emotional awareness are also essential for a clear transfer of information. You can easily recognize when your own emotions are causing issues with your communication. Being empathetic gives you the ability to discern when the emotions of others are likely to cause a problem.
Empathy is one part emotional awareness, and at least two parts body language translation. You can often discern the emotional state of a person by simply looking at how they hold themselves. A happy person will walk with their head up and shoulders back. They will make eye contact and will smile, or respond easily to an offered smile. A sad person, on the other hand, will often walk with their shoulders hunched and head bowed. They will not often respond to an offered smile, and if they do it will not reach their eyes.
Learning to read these intricate emotional cues can make you a more effective communicator.
One of the easiest ways to get someone to respond to you in a positive manner when you are communicating is to appear enthusiastic in regards to what they are telling you. No one is going to want to talk to you if you sigh, roll your eyes, or seem otherwise impatient or bored while they are trying to convey their information.
This can actually be as simple as maintaining eye contact and modifying your body language to appear attentive and interested. Emphatic positive responses can help to magnify this feeling of enthusiasm. As a result, your speaker will be more interested in talking to you and will end the conversation with an overall positive outlook.
The words you choose to use to describe yourself or your coworkers can have a dramatic effect on their overall receptiveness to your communication skills. If you are trying to foster a sense of solidarity and cooperation, use pronouns like “we” and “us” to refer to the group. This will help them to consider themselves part of a team, rather than as an individual. “We need to come up with a plan to tackle this project”, implies that everyone is equal and can contribute to the group.
Alternatively, if you are trying to set yourself apart, as a leader or boss, using pronouns like “I” and “me” can do that effectively. “I need to come up with a plan to tackle this project”, implies that you alone has what it takes to come up with a plan, and everyone else on the team will be expected to implement said plan once it has been completed.
Keep a Sense of Humor
Keeping your sense of humor, even when things are looking bad, can be a great way to augment your communicative skills. Everyone likes to laugh, and laughing relives stress and releases endorphins, which can help to improve the overall mood of the conversation.
Make sure your humor is appropriate to the situation, though. No one should be cracking jokes at a funeral, after all, and not everyone will appreciate that dirty joke you picked up at the bar the other night. Using common sense and discretion where humor is concerned is often the safest bet.
Nothing sets a nervous team member at ease better than a friendly smile. A smile is your best tool and your best weapon rolled into one. A genuine smile can often entice an otherwise quiet or reserved person to be more open and willing to communicate. They are invaluable for setting nervous or apprehensive individuals at ease.
Your smile also makes an effective communications weapon. Where a genuine smile can encourage feelings of warmth and safety, a dangerous smile can create apprehension or even fear. This can be a boon if you find yourself facing a particularly unpleasant client or coworker. This sort of smile usually will not reach your eyes, but leaves no doubt as to who is in charge in the current situation.
Honestly is often one of the largest barriers to effective communication, but it is one of the easiest to overcome. Effective communication is largely based on trust. You have to trust the person you are speaking with to provide the correct information in an easy to understand manner. You put your absolute trust in this person not to lead you astray. Honesty should be paramount in every single thing you do. In this case, it really is the best policy.
A good verbal communicator can speak to an auditorium full of people and have each one leave feeling like he or she was spoken too individually, or that the presentation was designed especially for them. This is the sort of skill level that you should strive to attain. The first step to doing this goes back to observation. Find a seminar or a class taught by a skilled communicator and observe the way he or she works with the audience. From there, you can take the things you have learned and implement them in your own communications.
Never Stop Learning
This is often the biggest mistake that people make when learning to properly communicate. They think that after they have become an effective communicator, there is nothing left for them to learn.
Albert Einstein said it best.”Once you stop learning, you start dying.”