Five Steps to Better Communication
Good communication is about setting up the stage so that we can communicate well. There are many instances in which we can speak to others spontaneously, with little or no preparation and see where the conversation takes us.
Although it is important (and healthy) for us to be able to communicate in this way, communication is so much more than this.
We need to take into consideration who we are speaking to, how they see us, how we see them, the life role they and we are playing (are you speaking to your father, your peer or your daughter?) as well as what we actually want to say.
If we are good communicators, we have the ability to weigh up all of these aspects in a heartbeat and adjust our communication style appropriately. If communication is one of the life skills we need to work on, however, we may be aware of the above-mentioned considerations but may feel powerless to influence them. Our ability to communicate effectively therefore becomes hindered.
In order to improve our communication skills, therefore we must look at some of the ways in which we can take control of how we get our message across. There are five simple steps to be aware of whenever we have a message to communicate:
1. Know what you want to communicate
This sounds simple, but often we open our mouths without really knowing what it is we want to say. It is sometimes only once we have said it (or we are half way through saying it) that we realise that the words do not actually make sense.
Ensure that you do not just know what you want to say, but you fully understand what you want to say and why it is important.
2. Know your outcome
In order for your communication to be effective you need to know what you want to get out of the message you are communicating. Do you want to request something of someone? Are you passing a comment? Do you want to set up a working (or other) relationship with someone? Or is what you are saying just idle banter in order to make someone smile?
Whatever the purpose, being clear in your mind regarding what you want to see happen as a result of your communication, will have a positive influence on the way in which you communicate.
3. Decide how you want to communicate it
Once you know your outcome you can then decide how you want to communicate your message. This includes your body language, behaviour and tone of voice.
Do you need to step into a role, if so what is it? It could be that we need to play the confidence role (for instance) in order to get our message across in a certain way, or to ensure that we are taken seriously.
It could be, depending on who we are speaking to and what we are saying, that we need to adopt a more low-key approach, perhaps lowering our voice and tempering our body language; if we are speaking to a shy child our whole style of communication will be a lot milder than if we were communicating with the Managing Director of an international corporation.
In addition, remember the power of silence. You can sometimes communicate volumes if you use the power of silence to your advantage. One example of this is if someone says something you disagree with be silent for a few moments then respond calmly with your own viewpoint. The silence communicates that you do not agree with the statement without the need for you to verbalise it. By using this technique you avoid unpleasant confrontations but still get your point across
4. Rehearse/prepare what you wish to communicate
Preparing what we need to say could be the difference between a successful exchange, and one in which our communication aims are not met. Rehearsing what we want to communicate could be as low key as waiting for a fraction of a second before opening our mouth to give ourselves a chance to ensure that what emerges is what we want to communicate.
It could also be running what we want to say through our mind before saying it. Once we know what we wish to say, we then have control over how we say it.
On the other hand, the preparation could be as significant as spending days or even weeks practising a script. This is a given if you are an actor, but you can also do this if you are giving an important speech. It is your choice, but ensure that by the time you are ready to communicate you know exactly what you wish to say or do.
If your preparation does include learning a script, beware to leave room for spontaneity. Remember that good communication is also about being spontaneous and including off-the-cuff-remarks. These are just as important as your polished ‘speech’.
5. Communicate clearly
If you have taken the time to put the four aspects above in place, you should be in a position to communicate your message not only clearly, but succinctly.
Whilst you are in the flow of a conversation, you should also be thinking constantly of conciseness in terms of your comments and responses. This keeps the conversation tight and prevents your listener becoming bored and ‘switching off’.
Become passionate about what you want to say, allow your message to touch you emotionally so that it will do the same to others. We generally like to see a certain level of emotion or passion in people when we communicate with them. We do not want to feel we are engaging with robots.
The more engaged you are emotionally with what you are communicating the easier your message will flow.
For instance, have you ever noticed that you communicate more fluidly when you are very angry? Do you find that the words just seem to come from nowhere? This is because you are engaging in your communication in an emotional way, and this can help to break through your inhibitors.
There are also other considerations you need to take account of.
Ensure you are not over-tired. Getting plenty of sleep and drinking lots of water can boost our energy levels and thus work wonders in so many areas of our lives – including the way we communicate. When we are over-tired or dehydrated our thinking becomes muddled and this can have an adverse effect on the way we communicate.
If you are very tired you will need more time to prepare yourself before you begin communicating your message. Accept this and take the time.
This could in turn have a negative affect on how we perceive ourselves – we may begin to label ourselves as poor communicators when really the issue is one of low energy levels.
Finally, find 2-3 role models who for you are good communicators. See what they do, and how they communicate. Watch their body language, listen to the tone and pitch of their voice. How do they adapt to different audiences? What do they do with their face? How do they engage others? Your aim is not to become these people, you are just extracting the good points about their communication skills and adapting them for your own situation.
There are also other distant ways of communicating: eg by telephone, email, text message or letter. These are less full on than face to face encounters, but are also less personal. They all need, however, to be treated in the same way as personal encounters, and thus need to be put through the same five criteria.
The main thing to remember in all of this is that there is no substitute for practice. These are simple, but effective tips, which if you practise you will master.
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