Communication is defined as the “exchanging of information” or a “means of connection.” Given those definitions, it’s hard to imagine that anyone wants to be a poor communicator. We use communication every single day.
In our personal lives, we communicate with family members and friends. We have to communicate with doctors, accountants and other business professionals. In business, we communicate with our boss, colleagues and vendors. You get the point. We communicate a lot. And it only makes sense to do it well. Here are 8 tips to consider when communicating with others.
1. Focus on your audience. Chris Winston, director of corporate communications at Colonial Life, points out we’re inclined to think about what we want to say rather than what our audience wants to hear. Flip that around to be more effective. “Start with them, not with you. If you’re communicating with a colleague, you probably need them to know something or do something, or maybe both. Or perhaps you need to learn something or do something, or maybe both.”
2. Match the method to the message. Think about the message you’re trying to convey, then decide the best way to communicate it. Some messages are straightforward and can be delivered via text or email. Others are more nuanced and need a voice-to-voice or face-to-face conversation. Also consider the recipient’s preferred communication style. It shows you respect them to deliver a message in the way they want to hear it.
3. Consider timing. While for some messages there will never be a good time, there are some schools of thought that bad news is better delivered in the morning and not right before a holiday, weekend or someone’s vacation. Even when we can’t follow those rules, it does help to acknowledge when timing isn’t perfect by saying, “I wish there was a better moment to share this …”
4. Think about logistics. There’s a scene in the movie “Jerry Maguire” where the lead character is fired in a crowded restaurant, so he won’t make a scene. Of course, all our communications aren’t about firing people, but it’s a reminder to think not only about when (See #3) but where. Even celebratory conversations need to happen in the right place at the right time.
5. Learn to listen. Listen. Winston reminds us that listening is as important as talking. And listening involves giving the other person our undivided attention. “Don’t multitask. Put down your phone, shut your laptop, quit looking at that dang Apple watch. No one disengages faster than someone who can tell you aren’t paying attention to them.”
6. Be direct, but polite. Good communication involves clear messaging. There might be times when we feel adding some filler helps the message, but often it doesn’t. Same with subtlety. We might believe we’re being clear when in fact, we’re not. Because we have no clue if the other person “read between the lines” and understood our message.
7. Ask questions and paraphrase for understanding. Winston suggests starting conversations by understanding the other person’s perspective. “If the other person’s perspective is unclear to you, open the floor. Ask questions, get feedback to figure out the best approach. And be transparent about what you’re doing. This isn’t cloak-and-dagger stuff. Tell them you want to understand their perspective, and you’ve already advanced the conversation.”
8. Admit mistakes. As much as we don’t want mistakes to happen, misunderstandings do occasionally occur. Winston recommends a flat-out apology. “There’s no magic here. ‘Wow, I really messed that up, and I’m so sorry.’ sounds easy but we all know it’s not. We should all apologize a little more often. It feels so good to hear. The question becomes why is it so hard to say?” And take the extra step of finding out what happened to make the conversation go sideways.
Communication skills are one of those things where we can always use some refreshers. We’re never going to be perfect. We’ll always need to practice. Winston shared a couple of the books he uses for inspiration.
“My favorite resources aren’t always tactical communication resources. They’re more about mindset and strategy for communications — and for life. But two resources full of stuff you can actually do to get better at being alive in the world with other people — which inherently involves a lot of communication — are Greg McKeown’s ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less’ and ‘Made to Stick’ by brothers Chip Heath and Dan Heath.”