Poor communication skills can be a major contributor to a multitude of problems including frustration, poor relationships, difficulties keeping jobs, marital conflict, low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. Luckily, you can learn to improve communication skills and build on your ability to express yourself clearly and effectively. Communication skills are vital in expressing yourself and getting your needs met on a daily basis. They are truly the foundation to forming healthy relationships and success in all settings, including occupational.
What is effective communication? Communication involves exchanging information, understanding the emotion and intentions behind the information, and receiving information. Effective communication includes both expressive and receptive communication and you must be skilled at both in order to successfully communicate. Effective communication also includes verbal and nonverbal communication, or body language and facial expressions. In other words, there are many many factors that contribute to your ability to communicate effectively.
Unfortunately, it is not always a lack of skills that leads to ineffective communication. There are a number of barriers that contribute to communication difficulties. Stress or extreme, out of control emotions are probably the number one down fall to communication. These extreme emotions can lead you to misread people’s message or intent, can change your body language and meaning of what you are saying, and make you more apt to look for confrontation. Stress lessens your ability to think before you speak and often reduces the filter that is necessary in daily conversation. Another barrier is lack of focus. If you cannot focus on what you say or what is being said to you, you are more likely to derail a conversation or miss key details that can change the meaning of what is being said. And finally, being unaware of your own body language, or the body language of others is a major barrier to effective communication. Body language and other nonverbal communication conveys just as much as the words you are saying. If your body language is negative or does not match what you are saying it can and will send the wrong message.
All of that being said, there are a few tips that you can follow to significantly improve your communication, leading to better emotional regulation, improved relationships, and greater successes.
- Be an engaged listener. It is easy to become focused on what you are trying to say or want to say next and miss what someone is saying. Being engaged and actually listening allows you to pick up all the subtle nuances of language and better receive a message. This will actually help you to communicate your message, reduce misunderstandings, and eliminate unnecessary conflict; not to mention reduce the likelihood of hurt feelings when someone feels dismissed or not heard.
- Pay attention to nonverbal language (body language, facial expressions). Nonverbal communication often times communicates more of the information than the words do. It shows emotion and intent. Paying attention to it on both sides will assist in messages being interpreted correctly. Watching your nonverbal communications to make sure they match what you are saying is just as important as watching the nonverbal communication of others.
- Keep note of your emotions and stress and make sure they are not negatively impacting your communication. It is important to feel and express them, but allowing them to overcome you can interfere with your ability to share your message as well as your ability to correctly interpret others.
- Be assertive, meaning express your thoughts, feelings, and needs clearly, respectfully, and honestly, while standing up for yourself. Do not be aggressive or too passive. Do not disregard others opinions or feelings and do not let them disregard yours.
- Be patient. Do not rush through a conversation just to get to the end result or make your point. Take your time to get there in a collaborative way in order to most effectively get your point across.
- Request feedback or follow up to make sure that the other person understands what you are saying. This will hopefully prevent misunderstandings before they start, assure both parties are actively engaged in the conversation, and give you clues to know if your communication is not currently the most effective it can be.
- Avoid conversation fillers such as “umm,” “like,” or other filler words. These distract from your message and imply that your thoughts are not clear or thought out.
- Ask questions if you do not understand. Asking for clarification does not reflect negatively on you, but rather shows that you are interested in what they are saying and are invested in understanding.
- Put away or avoid distractions. Avoid eating while having important conversations, turn off the television, put away your phone. Even when not doing it intentionally these can distract you and show that you are not interested in what the other person is saying.
- Always consider the audience. If you are talking to a group of children it will need to be much different than to a group of adults. Also consider occupation, level of education, and culture.
- Show empathy. Showing empathy allows others the window to show you empathy. It is the understanding of how someone is feeling and the ability to put yourself in their shoes, so to speak. It is vital to successful communication.
- Know if it is the right time for the conversation. Five minutes before a movie starts is probably not the time to start an in depth conversation and a crowded restaurant is probably not the place to discuss high emotion topics. Setting and timing have a major impact on the success of the communication.