Communication plays a large role in everyday life and is extremely important in the business world. Whether your finding out how your coworker’s weekend went or having an in-depth development conversation, effective communication raises the level of your relationships. Communicating effectively is a learned skill that can be developed with effort and practice. Understanding the full meaning of what you hear is the most crucial part of the communication process. I have three tips that will improve your communication by helping you gather a complete understanding of what is being said. Providing non-verbal support, actively listening and expressing your understanding of what you hear, will add depth to your conversations. Putting these three simple tips into practice will strengthen the relationships you have at work.
Tip #1 Non-Verbal Support
Providing non-verbal support during a conversation allows you to gather valuable social information and creates a safe environment for the conversation to take place. Giving non-verbal support starts with your body positioning. Your shoulders should be parallel to the person you are speaking with. Sit up straight and give them your full attention. Occasionally nod your head in an affirmative fashion to show that you are following what they are saying. Try leaning towards the speaker when crucial ideas are presented. Jot down a quick note of things you want to remember. Do not obsessively take notes or doodle though, as this portrays boredom or non-interest.
By far, the best non-verbal support you can provide is proper eye contact. The right amount of eye contact can be difficult to accomplish. Too much eye contact can come across as aggressive communication. Too little eye contact and you are seen as having little interest. Find a happy medium by looking at the person you are speaking with, while avoiding intense staring. Pay attention to the speaker, but occasionally, look away. This will help you avoid the awkward stare. However, do not look down when you break eye contact, as this indicates that you are done with your part of the conversation. Instead, look up or to the side as if you are thinking about or remembering something. Maintaining eye contact lets the person speaking know that you are paying attention. It shows them that you have an interest in what they are saying.
When you provide non-verbal support, you create a safe environment to speak. This will encourage the speaker to open up and you will get the deeper information that makes a conversation meaningful. The next article, containing tip #2, addresses active listening and provides helpful hints on listening, not just hearing, the meaningful information that your non-verbal support will draw out.
The first tip to improve your communication was providing non-verbal support to the person you are speaking with. Non-verbal support is sitting up straight, facing the person you talking with and maintaining proper eye contact. This support creates a safe environment for open and honest communication. Although this tip brings meaningful information to the surface it is still dependent on hearing what is being said. This brings us to the second tip for improving your communication.
Tip #2 Be an Active Listener
Epictetus, the Greek philosopher, once said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” You do not have to talk a lot in order to contribute to a discussion. Active listening plays a large role in the value of a conversation. An active listener tries to understand the content of the message as well as the intentions, expectations and feelings of the sender. Paying complete attention is the biggest obstacle of active listening. Try to remain focused on the conversation and speaker at hand. Don’t pretend to be listening when your mind takes a detour to a different topic. For some of us, this is harder than for others. It is understandable that you have lots of things on your mind. Even at this very moment I am fighting to keep your attention. Avoid thinking about the future or dwelling on the past. Keep your attention in the present and on the person speaking.
Even with your mind on the present, there are still many things that can steal your attention away from the conversation. It is human nature to make judgments and feel emotions about the people you communicate with. Try not to get hung up on irrelevant observations and tune out of the conversation. Just because someone has a zit or their tie is crooked, try not to lose focus on what they are saying. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2cs8gnb42A) Keep your emotions in check. It is hard to stay engaged when you find the topic uninteresting or irrelevant. Don’t let your emotions for or against the topic or person defer your attention from completely understanding their message. Be careful not to miss what is really being conveyed. The objective of the listener is to understand what the speaker is saying and where he or she is coming from.
By using the first and second tips, you have provided non-verbal support and actively listening. The final tip, coming up in the next post, will address the importance of expressing your understanding of what was actually said.
The first two tips to improve your communication were providing non-verbal support and being an active listener. These tips will help you engage in an open and honest discussion with others as you will be giving them your full attention and showing them your support with your body language. The final tip to enhance your communication skills is to express your understanding of what you heard.
Tip #3 Express Understanding
Clarification of what you thought you heard is crucial to effective communication. Improve your communication skills by going beyond simply hearing what is being said, to actively participating in the conversation. The best way to involve yourself in a discussion, when the other person is doing most of the talking, is to express your understanding of what they said. This can be done by providing feedback, asking for clarification, or simply paraphrasing what the speaker just said.
In order to gain proper understanding and alignment with the person that is speaking to you, try offering a summary or restatement of content back to the speaker. This will allow them to correct or confirm what they are trying to convey to you. It will also provide a level of support, as they will know that you are engaged in the conversation. Another way to show your understanding is to verify specific facts that you hear. Asking for clarification about names, titles, times, dates, and actions are good opportunities to show that you are interested in what the person is saying. Simply restating important facts comforts the person speaking and keeps the conversation moving forward.
Understanding the meaning of what another person said goes deeper than just the content of their words. It is important to search out the feelings and emotions behind what was said. Express your understanding of what the speaker is feeling and the reasons they feel the way they do. Clarify that you are on the same page.
Effective two-way communication does not happen by accident. To get the most possible out of a conversation, provide non-verbal support, actively listen and express your understanding. Using these three tips will improve the quality of your conversations and the relationships that you have with others.