Whether we like it or not, communication lies at the heart of everything we do. More importantly, the strength of our communication skills influences our success at work, at home, and in our relationships.
In our experience, everyone believes they are great communicators. Spoiler alert! Most aren’t. In our overly connected, over-scheduled worlds, we all have everything BUT real-time, face to face conversations – especially if conflict, or the possibility of conflict, is involved.
We have learned that people feel real-time conversations take too long, are uncontrollable, and require actually talking to someone. Face to face. In real-time. It’s 2020, who wants to do that?
Email, SMS, and social media are now the go-to forms of communication as they are faster, controllable, and done in the comfort of our solitude. Especially when conflict, or the feeling of conflict, is involved, they are the preferred modes of contacting people.
Sound familiar? Don’t worry, you are not alone.
Here are 10 communication skills that you need for life and work. Practice these and you will not only enhance the quality of your conversations, but you will also improve your relationships, leadership style, and life in general.
And who doesn’t want that?
Communication Skills for Life and Work
1. Be Present
Phubbing anyone? If you are wondering, this is a real thing and we have all done it. It is defined as ‘the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention.’
This can look and feel like multitasking – you know, catching up on emails while listening to a colleague or friend. While you are definitely communicating a message, it may not be the message you want to send.
Stop what you are doing and be present in the moment, so you can give the speaker your full attention. This is how you listen, learn, and command respect.
2. Actively Listen
Most people believe they are great listeners. Again, SPOILER ALERT! They aren’t.
People tend to listen to what they want to hear (keeping the focus on yourself) rather than what is being said (keeping the focus on another). Active listening is fundamental to strong communication and building relationships.
It is how we learn, understand, and connect with others. There are a lot of factors that contribute to active listening (body language, tone, etc.); however, if you can remember to enter each conversation and ABSORB what the speaker is saying, then it will help you stay present during the entire conversation or discussion.
3. ‘Listen’ to Non-Verbal Cues
How important are non-verbal cues are in the message we send? Very! HOW we say what we say provides many cues about how we are feeling and what is important to us. When we pay attention to those cues, such as tone of voice, body movements, and eye contact (or not), we ‘hear’ a lot more about what is being said.
4. Choose How To Listen
You might be thinking, how does one choose how to listen? We listen or we don’t. While NOT listening is a choice (choice 1), there are other options, too.
Most people listen through the lens of self, their thoughts, experiences, and perspective (choice 2), so they judge the speaker in the context of self. This Focus-On-Me choice closes down conversations, as our thoughts are focused on OUR needs rather than those of the speaker (e.g. “I think you should…” “I can’t believe you would…”).
We can also choose to listen with the Focus-On-You (choice 3) approach, where the listener judges the speaker in the speaker’s own context. This looks and sounds like helping, fixing or solving, by jumping to a solution, telling others what to do when advice was not requested (e.g. “You should…“ “You need…”).
Your most powerful choice is to Focus-On-Understanding (choice 4), where you relinquish control over the outcome. Your sole interest is to listen and learn, keeping the focus on the speaker with NO judgment and wanting to simply understand.
This is where conversations become innovative, collaborative, and open to opportunity and possibility (e.g. “What would you do?” “How do you want to do it?”). There is a time and a place for each choice. The important thing is to remember you ALWAYS have a choice – and your choice of listening will affect the outcome of your conversation and relationship.
5. Be Open And Impartial To Create Empathy
When we choose to listen in a way that is open and unbiased, this allows us to focus on the speaker and understand WHAT is going on for the other person. This creates empathy. Empathy helps to deepen our connections and better understand others.
This is one of the most powerful communication skills.
You know the time when you tried to solve something for your spouse or friend, and they got angry with you because they didn’t want advice, they just wanted to you listen?
This is where paraphrasing becomes your best friend. Paraphrasing is getting the essence of what someone said, and delivering it in a different form without changing the subject. It allows you to get on the same page as the speaker. It lets him or her know that you are actively listening, you have kept your focus, and you want to understand them (e.g. “It sounds like…” “What I am hearing you say is…”).
7. Ask Open Questions
Real-time conversations can be hard, especially if you are under the age of 40 because fewer opportunities may be presented to you to practice your communication skills.
The easiest way to start a conversation or improve its quality is to ask open questions. Not all questions are created equal. Some open-up conversations to learning and possibility (open questions), while others shut conversations down, limit learning, or lead to conflict (closed and partisan questions).
Great leaders ask open questions. It is how they learn, innovate, and collaborate. Open questions begin with who, what, where, when, and how. ‘Why’ can hold judgment depending on the tone of voice, especially when emotions are involved. So we suggest using it sparingly.
8. Test Assumptions
You know the saying ‘assumptions make an ass out of you and me’? There is a reason for it. We have learned that when we make assumptions, we are almost always wrong. Rather than assume, be curious and ask those open questions to test your assumptions to gain clarity and deepen your understanding.
9. Calm Your Gremlins
Ever notice the little voices in your head that tend to interrupt you, make negative comments and generally confuse you? Those are your ‘gremlins’. Stop listening to them.
They are little judges (of self and other people) who want to pull us down, interrupt our focus, our attention, and close us to possibility. When we quiet them, we can truly focus on what is being said so we can better understand others.
10. Stay Calm
Did you know that when we are curious about another, dopamine is released to make us feel good? Neuroscience has found that when we continue to be inquisitive (asking open questions), both oxytocin and dopamine are released, deepening our connection and helping us stay calm, even in conflict.
Are YOU ready to try these communication skills?
While technology is faster – and at times more streamline – it comes at a cost: our relationships, personal and professional. Only real-time, real-life, face-to-face conversations can nurture and create those authentic relationships that we all crave and want to live an abundant and fulfilling life.