Why is this the ultimate guide to effective communication skills?
Simply put, this is one guide which will help you build skills for an effective communication and solve many of your problems. You will get complete communication skills tools and best practices in this article.
Effective communication skills is a broad area and this is going to a be long post.
I also recommend brushing up your skills by visiting relevant skills provided in the link.
People do not even realize how much they can gain from building effective communication skills. Also one of the hard truths that you may have to swallow is the fact that there is no overnight success formula for effective communication skills. You need to gradually keep improving and then improving, and well; keep going, because no one can claim that he or she is the best communicator in the world.
Therefore do not ever think that after going through the article you suddenly will become a superhuman communicator. However, if you diligently go through the article and helpful links, I can assure you is that you will be able to improve your effective communication skills considerably. Furthermore, you will get the tools to understand how to keep improving it. Improving communication is your focus and you are at the right place!
So how do we define effective communication skills?
I am not going to define what effective communication skill is. Please google it if you are looking for definitions. I will let you know the stages that you need to accomplish before you can be considered to have some abilities of effective communication.
- You are able to communicate your message to the other person, who you intend to communicate with
- You can communicate your message to the intended person and the person understands the message as you wanted it to be understood
- You are able to communicate the intended message to achieve your intended objective
- You are able to achieve your objective without damaging your relationship and offending others
- You are able to maintain the relationship, achieve objective and help others
Interestingly when we say somebody is communicating effectively, we often refer to stage 3. Reaching stage 3 is what most people aim for. However, in reality, most effective communicators are those who are able to reach stage 5 and keep improving it.
We have some book recommendations for you to build on your ability to communicate, Try reading these books when convenient to help you keep improving your skills.
How will building effective communication skills help me?
Effective communication will help you to strengthen your relationships with others. It will improve your ability to work with a team, make decisions and solve problems.
Having effective communication skills will enable you to present all information, even the negative or difficult messages, without creating conflict or destroying trust. It really is the glue that holds everything together.
Many people believe that because they can speak it means that they can communicate effectively. However, effective communication is a learned skill. Despite that, it is much more effective when it is spontaneous rather than when delivered by note.
For example, if you are giving a speech and simply read it from the notes you’ve made it will rarely have the same impact as if you appeared to deliver it ‘off the cuff’.
It takes time and effort to develop your skills and become an effective communicator. However, the more effort and practice you put in, the more natural your communication skills will become.
Before we move on let us look at some of the barriers of effective communication skills that you must overcome if you really want to build effective communication skills.
Barriers to Effective Communication
When you are stressed or overwhelmed emotionally you are more likely to misunderstand other people. You are also more likely to react to your impulses and more often than not, it’s not a wise thing to do. This leads to you sending confusing or off-putting nonverbal signals and falling into poor behavior patterns.
This, in turn, can lead to conflicts of varying degrees from confusion to heated arguments. If you find this happening, you need to take a moment or two so that you can calm down before continuing the conversation.
• Lack of focus
If you are multitasking, you aren’t able to communicate effectively. You will miss vital nonverbal cues in the conversation if you are planning what you are going to say next, checking text messages, thinking about other tasks you have to do or even daydreaming due to boredom or disinterest in the topic of discussion.
It is imperative that you stay focused on the experience as it is happening.
• Inconsistent body language
Your nonverbal communication should reinforce what you are saying, not contradict it. As an example, you cannot say ‘yes’ to something while frowning or shaking your head ‘no’. Having conflicting verbal and nonverbal communication will probably make your listener feel like you are being dishonest.
• Negative body language
This may seem like it is part of inconsistent body language but it really isn’t. If you really disagree with what is being said, it will show if you are not very careful.
Perhaps you dislike the person conveying the message, that too can show through in your nonverbal cues. The most common forms of negative body language are crossing your arms, tapping of fingers or feet and avoiding eye contact.
However, it can be something you don’t even realize you are doing; such as, heaving sighs, eye rolling, or even making sounds.
You don’t have to agree with what is being said or like the person saying it. However, in order to communicate effectively, you must be able to listen without making the other person defensive. To do this, you must avoid sending negative signals.
Listening as a key to effective communication skills
People often focus on what they should say. Effective communication is more about listening than talking. When you listen well, you will not only understand the information being offered but will also understand the emotions the speaker is communicating.
There is a difference between simply hearing what is being said and engaged listening. When you are engaged with what is being said you will hear the subtle tones of the speaker’s voice. Hearing those tones will tell you how the speaker is feeling and the emotions they are trying to convey.
You will make the speaker feel heard and understood which will help to build a stronger relationship between you and the other person.
You will find that being able to communicate in this way that you will experience less stress.
As an example, if the person you are talking to is calm then you will be calm as well. Similarly, if you are speaking to someone who is agitated, you will be able to help them calm down if you listen attentively and make them feel understood.
- Favor your right ear
- Focus on the speaker
- Avoid interrupting or redirecting
- Show your interest
- Set aside personal judgment
- Provide feedback
You can read more Become an Engaged Listener, Active Listening skills to build your skills in active listening and find details about the above mentioned points.
Reading non-verbal cues
As much as it is important to be an engaged listener, you must also pay attention to non-verbal cues to get the entire context of effective communication. Without reading non-verbal cues, you only get some part of the message, not the whole.
Nonverbal communication includes facial expressions, eye contact, body movement and posture, gestures, the tone of voice, breathing and muscle tension as well as your mode of dress. The ways that you look, move, listen and react to other people tell them more about how you are feeling than words ever will.
By using open body language like uncrossed arms, sitting on the edge of your seat and maintaining eye contact you will be able to enhance effective communication. Patting a friend on the back while complimenting them or pounding your fists can help to emphasize your verbal message. These are part of that nonverbal portion of communication that helps you and others to understand all of what is being said.
By improving your ability to understand and use nonverbal cues you will be able to connect with other people, express what you really mean, navigate your way through difficult situations and build better relationships in any situation you may find yourself.
• Be aware of individual differences
You must take into account that age, religion, gender, culture and emotional states affect people’s body language. An Indian teenager, a grieving refugee from Syria and a businessman from China will all use different nonverbal signals.
• Look at nonverbal communication signals as a group
You don’t want to read too much into just one gesture or nonverbal cue. You want to consider all of the nonverbal cues you receive
and give, from the tone of voice to eye contact to body language, from the person speaking.
Brief lapses where eye contact slips or arms cross unconsciously can happen to anyone. Therefore, if you consider the signals as a group, you will get a better ‘read’ on the speaker.
• Use nonverbal signals that match your words
As stated before, nonverbal communication is supposed to reinforce what is being said rather than contradicting it. If you say one thing but your body language or tone says the opposite, your listener will feel like you are being dishonest.
This can cause them to entirely discount the information you are trying to impart but it can also cause them to distrust everything that you say in the future.
• Adjust your nonverbal cues to sync with your audience
The tone of your voice will be different when you are addressing children than it will be when you are addressing adults. You must also take into account the emotional states and cultural backgrounds of the people you are interacting with as well.
• Be positive in any situation
You can convey positive body language even when you are not actually experiencing positive feelings. For example, if you are nervous about a situation you can still show the absolute opposite. This process is called ‘fake it till you make it’.
Pretend you have a job interview and you are nervous. Would you walk with your head down? can you avoid eye contact with the interviewer? Would you mumble a greeting and offer a limp handshake?
You can ‘fake it till you make it’ by walking tall with your shoulders back, smile at your interviewer and maintain eye contact as well as offering a firm handshake. This will put the other person at ease and help you to feel more confident at the same time.
Keep Stress in Check and Manage Emotions
In order to communicate effectively and build effective communication skills, you must be aware of your emotions and remain in control of them. This means you must learn how to manage stress.
Misunderstandings happen when you and others send confusing nonverbal signals which can cause you or your listeners to be put off or to begin reacting with unhealthy patterns of behavior.
How many times have you regretted saying or doing something because you were stressed over a disagreement? If you are like most people your answer is probably more than you can count, correct?
You can avoid such regrets by being able to relieve that stress quickly so that you return to a calmer state of mind. Oftentimes you will be able to calm the other person as well. Only when you are calm and relaxed can you know whether or not the discussion you are having requires a response or whether it would be better to remain silent. I highly recommend you to read about emotional intelligence understand the concept.
These are all predicated on the nonverbal signals the other person is giving. There are many ways that you can work on relieving stress so that you can communicate more effectively. Controlling stress will allow you to manage your emotions and think on your feet when you are under pressure. Follow these tips to help yourself stay calm when you are under pressure.
• Use stalling tactics
This will give you time to think. You can ask to have a question repeated or you can request clarification of a particular statement before you respond. This is a very powerful technique and many effective orators use it.
• Pause. Being silent isn’t always a bad thing
It allows you to collect your thoughts. Doing so will make you seem more in control which is always better than rushing a response and coming across as less than competent.
• Make points singly
If you have several points that you must get across, make each point individually. If you waffle from one point to another in a random fashion you risk losing the interest of your audience. Make a point and offer an example so that you can gauge your listener’s reaction to be sure they are ready for the next point you need to make.
• Provide a clear delivery
How you say things is just as important as what you say. First, you need to speak clearly. Mumbling or slurring your speech comes across as informal and inconsiderate of your listeners.
Second, make sure you keep eye contact as much as possible. This tells your listener that you are interested in and focused on them and their needs at that moment. Third, maintain an even tone of voice.
This doesn’t mean speak in a monotone, it simply means that if you start with an excited or welcoming tone of voice then you should continue that tone until you are at a point where the conversation deserves a change in tone. And fourth, you need to keep your body language open and relaxed. This will show your audience that you are willing to listen to their idea or opinion about your conversation.
• Summarize and stop
This is it, literally. Wrap up the information with a summary and then stop. Even if it leaves a silence in the room, once the information has been delivered then it is time to stop talking. Remember that silence is not always a bad thing.
Handling difficult Conversation
If you find that a conversation is starting to raise tempers you will need something that will bring the emotional tension down quickly. Learning to reduce stress while at the moment, you will be able to face any strong emotion you are experiencing and behave appropriately in each situation.
When you are able to maintain a relaxed and energized state of awareness you will be able to remain emotionally available and engaged with your listeners even when something upsetting happens in the course of conversation. The tips below will help you to deal with stress during communication.
• Recognize you are becoming stressed
Are your stomach muscles tight or sore? Is your hand clenching into fists? Are you forgetting to breathe or are your breaths shallow? These are all ways that your body tells you that you are stressed while you are communicating. Recognizing these signs will help you deal with the stress and return to a relaxed and calm state of communication.
As shown above, this allows you to collect your thoughts. However, it also gives you a moment to calm yourself before you decide to continue the conversation or if it would be better to postpone it.
• Quickly manage stress
You can bring your senses to your rescue to help you alleviate stress in the moment. The best way to rapidly relieve stress is through your senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.
You can take a few deep breaths, clench and relax muscles or recall an enjoyable, sensory-rich memory. However, each person will respond differently to sensory input so you will need to find something that is soothing to you.
• Be humorous
You want to look for humor in the current situation. If you use it appropriately, humor is a very good way to relieve stress when you are communicating. This is why public speakers will have an icebreaker at the start of their speech.
When you or those around you begin to take things too seriously, you can lighten the mood by sharing an amusing story or a joke. Once tensions are reduced then you can continue where you left off.
You must be willing to compromise, that’s what life is all about. If you and the person you are speaking with can bend a little, you will find a happy middle ground that will reduce stress for everyone involved.
If the other person cares much more about a topic than you do, a compromise may be the easiest thing for you to do. It might also be a good investment in your future relationship with that person.
• Agree to disagree
Sometimes it is necessary to step away from a situation to allow everyone to calm down. Go for a walk outside or spend a few minutes in meditation if you need to.
Doing something physical or finding a quiet place so that you can regain your mental balance will help you reduce stress quickly.
A few minutes away from the situation that caused that stress will allow you to return to the conversation in a much calmer frame of mind so that you can resolve any problem that may have arisen during that interchange.
Assertiveness the Holy Grail of Effective Communication skills
The are thousands of effective communication skills tips and guides and all will talk about assertiveness as a key to effective communication. However, assertiveness is mostly misunderstood and many times explained as a difference with aggressive communication.
I am sorry but it is not the right way to understand assertive communication. So let me try to make it clear.
Assertive and direct expression of your thoughts keeps communication clear and can boost your self-esteem and decision-making abilities.
Being assertive must be done in an open and honest way when you express your feelings, thoughts or needs while standing up for yourself. To do this, you must remember to respect others as you do so without being rude or hostile.
Unfortunately, assertiveness is often confused with aggressiveness because the person being assertive does so without being respectful of others at the same time. Effectively communicating through assertiveness is not about forcing your opinion on someone else or winning an argument.
The following list will help you to improve your assertiveness.
• Value yourself
You are important. Unfortunately, many people do not believe this of themselves because others have demeaned and discounted them for so long. Your ideas and your opinions are just as important as anyone else’s.
• Express negative thoughts in a positive way
It is perfectly fine to be angry. However, you must be respectful while you express those thoughts at the same time. Failure to show that
respect to another person while trying to tell them that you are upset and what exactly upset you can cause even worse problems for you. Lack of respect for others often leads to placing blame, name-calling and, sometimes, the outright hatred which will lead to loss of a relationship.
• Receive most feedback positively
This is often the most difficult for anyone to learn and implement. It is often a self-esteem issue. You need to accept compliments graciously, learn from your mistakes and ask for help when you need it.
• Learn to say no
You need to know your limits and not let others take advantage of you.
It can be difficult to develop this skill if you have previously been the one to accept any ‘job’ even if it overwhelmed you.
You will need to start looking for alternatives when you must say no so that everyone will feel good about the outcome.
Final words on your assertiveness journey
Being assertive takes time. Not only for yourself to get used to being assertive but also for those you interact with and who are probably not used to the new you. When you show sensitivity to the other person, you are exhibiting empathetic assertion. To practice this, you will recognize the other person’s feelings or situation before making your needs or opinions known.
For example, you can say “I know you’ve been very busy at work, but I want you to make time for us as well.” when asking a friend or family member to spend more time with you. Perhaps you have been having a difficult time getting your kids, boss or coworkers.
If your first attempts at being assertive do not succeed, you may need to become increasingly firm as time passes which might include consequences if your needs are not met. With a child, you may say, “If you do not clean your room, I will be forced to take away your computer privileges.” With a boss or co-worker it may be more along the lines of, “If you don’t abide by the contract, I’ll be forced to pursue legal action.”
Finally, it takes practice
Wherever you are in the assertive behavior, you can always practice being assertive. Beginning in low-risk situations and finding success there will help to build your confidence and allow you to move up to higher risk situations. If you have just chosen to be more assertive, you might ask friends or family members to allow you to practice the suggested assertiveness techniques on them first.
Remember Effective Communication skills is all about achieving your objective
A communication is only effective when you are able to achieve your objective. It can be as simple as asking for somebody to help and she obliges or more complex as a high-value sales.
Though some objectives will require additional skills to achieve, like a high-value sales will require you to master your sales skills. But setting the goals effectively is very important.
You should go through the goal setting guide to first set your objective in complex situations. However, in simple conversations, a predefined simple objective will also do.
How about Self-Confidence to Communicate Effectively?
All the tips and best practices will not give you optimal results if you do not communicate with confidence. Refer our guide to build confidence and start implementing the effective communication skills that you learned.
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