The importance of good communication skills cannot be overstated. Communication is key to any relationship whether at work or in your personal life.
Equipping yourself with strong communication skills is one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself, and can vastly enrich social interaction. Working on improving your communication skills is a journey, simply because with it you are opening new social horizons. So, how do we improve our communication skills, ensuring that we speak to the world with clarity and confidence?
Listening, a Generous Act
Listening is really the single most important factor in becoming a clear and confident communicator. This is a key communication skill and something that so few of us are experts at. Actually listening to people’s words, to their nuances of intonation and hints of emotion, means you are much more likely to understand where they are coming from and what they are trying to tell you.
On top of this, a focused engagement in this way is good for social understanding and the development of tolerance. So if you find yourself in a conversation in which you have stopped listening and are just waiting for a break in the noise in order to speak, then stop and rethink your priorities. Actively listening and engaging fully in the conversation is great for confidence and personal clarity. Firstly, good listeners are always respected; it is an act of generosity towards the speaker. Secondly, you’ll feel in control: you’ll understand the conversation’s finer points, and knowing the finer points means you’ll be much more able to construct coherent and relevant responses and questions.
Unfortunately, simply improving listening skills cannot heal all communication problems. There are a number of other reasons – such as poor self-confidence – why you find your conversations might prove unsatisfactory. A good exercise is to write yourself an open list (don’t show it to anyone – that way you can be completely honest!) about what you find uncomfortable about your interactions and the negative feelings you experience after you have left a conversation. Keep the list with you and the next time you come out of a conversation feeling unhappy write down what you feel went wrong – all the time remembering the points discussed about listening above. This way you will be able to conceptualise some of the issues involved in your communication problems. Perhaps you need to work on your self-confidence? If so, take up that social hobby you’ve been putting off, and which will improve your confidence, and beat your communication problems at the source!
Taking Responsibility for Your Words
An unconfident speaker peppers her or his speech with “Maybe”, “But…”, “I’ll try…”, I think…”, and “I hope…”. It serves to muddy your message and as such works in a vicious circle, reducing confidence, which in turn reduces clarity, which in turn reduces confidence, ad infinitum. Next time you go into a conversation make a conscious effort to show commitment to your proclamations. Believe in your words and make strong statements! That doesn’t mean you will seem bullish, it just means that you’re happy to stand behind your words as you speak them. If you don’t presume to speak for others (for example, saying, “We think”), if you are a good listener, and prepared to learn from others then this positivity of speech becomes something to be admired.
Aiming your Speech
All communication, in whatever form, has aims. You speak to be heard, and so cause a reaction in the listener. Knowing why you’re entering a conversation, if you initiate it, and what you want your words to convey, once you’re in it, means you can focus clearly, keeping all irrelevant details out. As well as this, taking a step back and looking at your intentions before you speak means you’ll be more able to spot negative aims, such as wanting to be hurtful. It’s quite simple – negative aims create negative conversations. Guarding against this can improve your experience of conversation no end. This is especially useful if you have a habit of blurting out horrible things when you are in a fury or under pressure!
Communication is never straightforward. Subtexts lie below subtexts, below subtexts, below subtexts. And that’s to say nothing of those thoughts that people leave in their minds. In many ways that is what makes life exciting; after all, we’re not robots. Ultimately, perfect communication, in terms of fully understanding others, is impossible. That is not to say that there is no point in trying to be a good communicator. It’s quite the opposite. Developing your communication skills means you get nearer and nearer that impossible goal – to understand what it is to be another person.