Would it be an exaggeration if we were to say that if ‘breath’ keeps your life going, ‘communication’ keeps your living going? It certainly isn’t an understatement. Communication is not just important among soft skills, it also tops the list among all life skills. This also makes people wonder on how to improve communication skills.
Power of communication distinguishes individuals.Tweet
To answer how to improve communication skills, lets understand what is communication in the first place. “Communication is the simple act of sharing or exchanging ideas, information or feelings either verbally or non-verbally”. Simple as it may sound, the catch lies in getting it right! So let’s get geared up to learn more on communication and how we go about mastering communication skills.
Communication is not just about speech. Communication is a mirror that showcases your confidence. It’s a combination of your body language, facial expressions, verbal nods, and listening skills among others. In recent times of the existing COVID-19 pandemic, etiquette in virtual communication also cannot be ignored.
How to improve communication skills?
To improve communication skills, we need to understand and work on below 7 ways:
- Make the first impression right
- Master the 7Cs of verbal communication
- Skill of Listening for powerful communication
- Understand and avoid barriers in communication
- Dos and Don’ts of successful communication
- Adopt virtual communication trend
- Pursue with practice to improve communication skills
Make the first impression right
To begin with, the first impression in a face-to-face communication would be your body language. By body language we mean showing how you feel by the way you move, stand, sit, etc. rather than what you say. The gestures and postures in body languages also send strong positive or negative vibes. So these gestures are a major influence in any communication. The different aspects of body language can be elaborated as below:
Facial: Every tilt on your face, a smile, or any other expression can convey a certain message.
Eyes: The eyes are often the most powerful of all facial expressions. Eye contact is an essential part of focussed communication. However staring or gazing can send negative signals and conversely, wearing cooling glasses could also be a setback in making the right type of eye contact.
Figure: Your posture, the way you walk, bow down, sit or stand defines you. Hand movements also attract a lot of attention. Hand gestures are a great way to help add emphasis and structure when you talk. They say a lot about your emotional state; say whether you are confident, speaking with conviction or just anxious. You may convey your message right by appropriately using your fingers, fist or arm movements.
Territory: By territory, we mean by the proximity or space we maintain while interacting. Pay attention to not getting too close or distant with the person whom we are interacting. It is important we draw our lines and maintain an arms length distance in minimum.
Dress: Attire follows posture. Your sense of dressing, choice of clothes, accessories, and foot wear also speak for you! Make sure you get them right.
Master the 7Cs of verbal communication
The foundation to great verbal communication are laid by the seven ‘Cs’. Let’s look into them:
Being Crisp: Communication needs to be crisp and to the point rather than letting it drag.
Having a Concrete Purpose: Ideas being conveyed need to be based on concrete facts and information. In other words you need to have ‘something to say’ rather than just ‘say something’!
Keeping it Concise: Take care to keep the speech or written matter concise. Nobody likes to read too many pages or listen to hours.
Being Courteous: Always make sure the tone in which you speak or write is courteous. It helps when you put on a smile while speaking or be firm but polite when you write.
Being Clear: Clarity in communication is brought about by the right pauses, punctuations, intonation, voice modulation, and most importantly audibility in speech and legibility in writing. It is also important to arrive at your point without beating around the bush.
Being Complete: It is necessary not to leave any statements incomplete.
Correctness in Matter: Make sure what you say or write is based on facts and just not just on what you might have heard. It is important to be candid and not pretend to know something when you actually do not.
That’s not all. When it comes to speaking, we must know just how much to talk because it should be our prime concern to value the time of others.
Skill of Listening for powerful communication
The most powerful ‘mantra’ to improve communication skills, is the skill of listening. If you imagine a scale that ranges from only hearing to deep listening, we will arrive at broadly four type of listeners:
- Non-Listeners, who do meagre listening and do not pay much attention.
- Marginal Listeners, who are only superficially listening and not venturing to go deep into the idea being conveyed.
- Evaluate Listeners, who continuously determine at all stages if the information they heard is well-constructed, significant, biased, organized, or based on facts.
- Active Listeners, who fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what has been said.
Being the right mix of an evaluate and an active listener helps one understand ideas. It also build on one’s confidence. Listening is also a great way of educating oneself. While getting ready to listen, we must sit with a clear mind with no preoccupied thoughts. Taking quick notes will help us retain the discussed matter. We can then respond appropriately to subjective or objective questions thrown at us and be judgemental on when to ask open-ended or closed-ended questions ourselves.
Routinely engaging oneself in listening to new ideas by impressive speakers is an entertaining way to nurture your listening skills. For example, listen to TED talks regularly. This also comes with the added advantage of gaining more knowledge.
Understand and avoid barriers in communication
What could come in the way of efficient interaction? They are what we call the barriers in communication. To list them out, they include:
Distractions such as Noise: It refers to anything that interferes with the communication process between a speaker and an audience. Noise may be external when it is a physical sound or internal as in pre-occupied emotions causing mental disturbance. Distractions affect the sender, the channel of message being sent through, the message itself and the recipient of that message. One must work in completely avoiding or at least minimising distractions to a great extent.
Inattention: Even with no distractions, inattention among some listeners due to poor listening, lack of interest, too much content or due to time pressure will result in communication having had no impact on them.
Language Barrier: Right choice of language should be of concern. If a majority of the audience do not follow the language or accent of the speaker, they will be left unable to understand.
Assumptions: Assuming that people have followed what you have conveyed can be the biggest mistake. So if you don’t stop to receive questions from the other end and clarify doubts, it will defeats the purpose of a talk.
Dos and Don’ts to improve communication skills
Based on what we have discussed so far, we can briefly summarize the Dos and Don’ts to improve communication skills:
- Communication needs to be precise and powerful
- Citing examples and analogies, and using hand gestures helps the listener to connect to your ideas
- Making appropriate eye contacts is very impactful
- Appropriate acknowledgement with verbal nods adds to the mood
- Short and simple communication sounds more appealing
- Abbreviations and jargons are to be kept minimum
- Avoid speaking too fast or too slow. The right pace keeps the audience in tune
- While speaking, make sure you are audible
- While among the audience, do not interrupt the speaker as this would disrupt his/her flow of speech. Instead you may make note of the questions you have in mind and wait till the speaker pauses to clear doubts.
- A major setback both as a speaker and listener is to have preconceived notions or assumptions.
Virtual Communication: The new trend
Now we arrive at what seems to be trending now: virtual communication. Virtual meetings have now become an essential, easy, and cost effective part of modern communication in so many companies and is there to stay! Be it telephonic, or on platforms like Teams, Zoom or Skype, one needs to adapt to the new requirements.
When you join such a virtual meeting, introduce yourself quickly, and say a ‘hi’. Mute your microphone when you are not talking. Food on table and eating during meetings is a no no. Dress appropriately for a video call and beware of your surroundings. For example, make sure there are no messy bedspreads, pets, or anything that appears inappropriate.
In a telephonic call, the very first thing to keep in mind is to take the call without delay. Maintain a good posture while answering the call because speaking in a laid back position shows up in your tone. Speak with a smile. Plan beforehand to keep yourself free during the call and do not parallelly do other chores like cooking which could be distracting to both the speaker and listener. If you have to place someone on the hold, do so for genuine reasons and after giving a briefer as to why he/she is being put on hold. No munching or chewing should be done while on the call. Polite denial should replace a blunt ‘no’. Before closing the call, summarize the keys, reconfirm and reassure.
Emails are a formal and an essential mode of communication in professional work front and even otherwise. Following the right email etiquette can never be overlooked. Always make sure you:
- Include a clear subject to your mail
- Get the salutation right
- Do not use humour
- Proof read your content
- Use ‘Thank you’ and ‘Regards’ before you sign off
- Include your signature at the end of your email
Social media that include the popular Youtube, Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linked-in and the like, not just help you stay in touch with your friends, relatives or get professional updates from the corporate world, they are platforms that also let you learn too. New and emerging applications like the ‘Clubhouse’ launched in the year 2020, is making waves with its concept of audio-chat where you can join live conversations, interviews and discussions between interesting people on various topics.
Pursue with Practice to improve communication skills
It isn’t wise to just lean back and think that knowing something or learning is enough. What you learn develops into a complete skill only with continuous practice. Practice and perfection are two sides of the same coin. In fact practice is the best way to even learn something new. Practice also increases the ability of applying knowledge automatically. Further, practice with rehearsals and repetition help you become better.
Practicing in front of a mirror works wonders. You can also practice oral communication skills in simulations which mimic video-conferencing software. Watch yourself back and receive automated feedback. Alternatively you may think of joining professional coaching centres to learn communication.
Communication is a seamless skill. It has such a broad perspective, that one can still have a vast spectrum of it unexplored! For example, learning new languages, singing, dancing and reading all count as forms of communications. Singing is an enjoyable way of instilling confidence in your oral communication and also an interesting way to learn new languages as you try singing in new languages. Dancing is a non-verbal form of communication that is an excellent way of improving self-expression.
Finally, Good communication helps build healthy relationships among friends and relatives and also puts you a notch higher than the rest when it comes to professional life! So what’s the delay?
Recommended books to improve communication skills:
This article is contributed by Ms Preeti Tambraparni, post graduate in microbiology with a certification in clinical research. Her expertise are writing personal blog in life science related topics and health blog.
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