Effective Communication: 6 Ways to Improve Communication

Over the last few months, we’ve all experienced restlessness in new ways — from navigating the unknowns of the pandemic to having important discussions regarding race. With everything now being virtual, effective communication is more crucial than ever to stay connected with others — both professionally and personally.

Strong verbal communication skills can boost our productivity, make us leaders in our careers, and help us establish better camaraderie with our peers. In fact, according to a 2018 survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), verbal communication skills are ranked first among a job candidate’s ‘must have’ qualities. 

Effective Communication helps with productivity.

Investing time to practice and improve your communication skills means you’re also investing in yourself. Effective communication increases our ability to be heard and understood, and it enhances our confidence by empowering us to speak up for ourselves. It’s never too late to work on your communication skills, and by doing so, you may find a great improvement in your quality of life. Whether it’s with your coworkers, friends, or family members, here are 6 ways you can be a better communicator: 

1. Actively Listen to Understand, Not to Respond

Actively listening, not responding, helps with effective communication.

Being a better communicator first starts with being a better listener. Have you ever had a conversation where you later barely recall what was said to you? Were you perhaps too busy thinking about what you were about to say next, rather than actually listening? If you have, don’t worry — many of us are guilty of this. A study conducted at Princeton University by Charles G. Gross found that there seems to be a lag — from a few seconds to up to a minute — between what you hear and what you actually understand. This is often where trouble in communication begins, for during this lag-time, we tend to start listening to ourselves rather than the person we’re talking to. 

Our thoughts and opinions prevents us from practicing effective communication.

Oftentimes, our confirmation bias leads us to pick out facts or aspects of a conversation that align with our own pre-existing beliefs, values, or perceptions. In other words, “you’re only listening for what you want to hear.” Some people do the reverse. A phenomenon known as Miller’s Law finds that many people tend to partake in competitive listening. People are inherently comparing their own thoughts and opinions to what the other person is saying. They tend to have negative reactions because they believe what’s being said is false. This can lead to interruption and interjection of their own thoughts and opinions while others are speaking, which can disrupt communication altogether. 

Tips to Be a Better Listener

To allow yourself to be a better communicator, you need to listen more and talk less. Instead of forcing yourself to concentrate on what the other person is saying, try to be more passive. This means:

  • Be open-minded. Don’t judge. Only listen. If you have a problem focusing, repeat what the person is saying in your head.
  • Pay attention to the big picture, not the details. Try to listen and understand the general message of what the other person is trying to say — not facts or small details. Until you get the overall point, it’s easy to misconstrue the facts or put them into the wrong context. Facts — especially when they differ from yours — will immediately cause you to listen competitively.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions or interrupt.  Until they’ve finished talking, don’t speak. Make sure you put in the effort to understand what the other person is trying to say. If you didn’t catch something, you can gently ask the speaker to repeat themselves, but try to do so after they’ve spoken a few sentences or finished sharing.

2. Be Aware of Your Body Language & Facial Expressions

Being aware of your body language and facial expressions is important for effective communication.

One study found that nonverbal communication accounted for 55% of how people perceived others. This means that the majority of what you’re communicating is not only expressed through words, but through physical cues as well. Your nonverbal communication cues — such as the way you appear, move, and sound — shows the other person how well you’re listening, and whether or not you care about what is being said. When your nonverbal signals match up with the words you’re saying, it increases trust, clarity, and rapport. When they don’t, it can create tension and confusion about what you’re actually trying to say. 

If you want to become a better communicator, it’s important to become more sensitive to the body language of others and yourself. To communicate more clearly and confidently, adopt proper posture. Avoid slouching, fidgeting, or folding your arms. Try not to look at the ground or your surroundings when you’re speaking. Instead, give enough physical space for both parties, maintain eye contact, put away all mobile devices, and have your hands at rest around your waistline.

3. Be Concise

Being concise and direct makes effective communication flow.

Remember to always be direct, simple, and to the point when you’re trying to communicate. Try to focus on getting your point across. Being clear and concise displays your clarity of thought. When you give your audience too much information, you make it harder for them to know what’s truly important. Those who ramble or are indirect can easily create misunderstandings.

To be more concise and clear, remember to think and organize your thoughts before you speak. Of course, you won’t be able to completely organize your thoughts in 30 seconds and say exactly what you mean everytime you speak. However, you can make an effort to not blurt out the first thing that’s on your mind. Our brains do a lot of processing on a subconscious level. By communicating your main idea first, it creates a roadmap for you to further develop on your message. 

4. Be Compassionate & Open-minded

Being compassionate and open-minded is key in effective communication.

Treat every conversation, regardless of its context, as an opportunity to connect with others who are going through their own personal journey. At some point, everyone goes through difficult and sad times. Compassionate communication displays a genuine desire to understand and get to know the other person. It builds trust, which is the rock upon which healthy relationships are built. 

It’s important to not apply your own opinions and thoughts onto others while they’re speaking. Don’t judge. Everyone processes things differently, and your experiences do not always reflect the situation others are going through. Consider their feelings. When we’re able to pay attention to the core needs of our own and others, we’re more motivated to act out of compassion instead of turning to defensive or blaming language. By remembering the human experiences we all share, you will find that you are able to bring kindness and empathy into the conversation.

5. Don’t Accuse or Assume. Just Ask!

Accusing and assuming can disrupt effective communication.

In situations where you disagree with what someone has to say, it is important to sympathize with their point of view rather than simply try to get your message across. Whether it may be with a coworker, family member, or a friend, respect the opinion of others and never resort to demeaning those who don’t agree with you. For clear communication and your personal wellbeing, it’s important to manage your emotions and express them appropriately. Allowing strong emotions to unnecessarily sneak into a conversation can lead to miscommunication and conflict. 

According to Boaz Keysar, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago, people often use short, ambiguous messages when talking to their colleagues or spouses, which can unintentionally create misunderstandings.

“People are so used to talking with those whom they already share a great deal of information, that when they have something really new to share, they often present it in a way that assumes the person already knows it.”  – Boaz Keysar

We have an equal responsibility to understand and to be understood. In order to avoid the frustrations that come with assumptions, be proactive. Instead of assuming, ask non-confrontational questions if you don’t understand their intentions. Even when we mean well, we can sometimes come across as harsh because of our word choices. For example, using “you” can sound like you’re attacking, which can make the other person feel defensive and less receptive to your message. Instead, try using “I” or “we.” You can say “I feel like we haven’t been talking as much” instead of “You’ve been distant with me.”

6. Speak With Confidence & Be Yourself

Authenticity is the core of effective communication. It requires sincerity, and you cannot be sincere if you’re trying to be someone you’re not. Oftentimes, our confidence is dampened due to worries that others are judging us for everything we say or do. 

Be yourself and speak confidently!

In reality, most of us are just too self-absorbed to even notice. In fact, others are often thinking to themselves that you’re judging them instead! Research has shown that 78% of conversations involve us talking about ourselves and our perceptions of the world. A certain part of our brain known as the “default network” gets activated when the brain is at rest and is not engaged in external demands. Scans and studies have confirmed that this same area lights up when we think about ourselves. In other words, our brain’s default is to think about ourselves. 

What we assume others are thinking of us often affects our behavior and communication. So when you feel judged, it’s usually because you’re judging yourself. If you can remind yourself of this when you’re communicating, it will give you a sense of relief that allows you to relax and communicate more clearly and naturally. The truth is, you’re not going to get along with every single person, and not every conversation will go great. However, if you can accept this and realize people’s opinions don’t determine who you are, you can communicate more confidently.

How To Build Confidence in Communicating

Confidence in communication comes from experience, so to get better, practice more! The more you do, the better and more confident you will become.

  • Don’t put anyone on a pedestal. Speak with people knowing they are no different to you when it comes down to it. We can have respect for others, but never believe we are any less than anyone else. You have value, and you are no less important than any of your friends or colleagues.
  • Slow down and breathe. Don’t try to rush when you speak. Nerves can make us speak faster, so we need to consciously slow down and take pauses in between. 
  • Watch your body language. Don’t fidget or look at the ground when you speak! Keep your head up and maintain eye contact.
  • Try not worry about what others may think. This is a lot easier said than done. However, if you’re worried about making a mistake and becoming a laughing stock, realize that no one will notice your mistake except for you. People are too consumed with things occuring in their own lives to remember about how you sounded or what you may have said. 

Takeaway Thoughts

Communication is one of the most important skills you can invest in. Learning effective communication skills will help you become a more confident and adaptive conversationalist. By utilizing these tips to take your communication skills to a new level, you will reap the benefits in both your personal and professional life. So go and have some great conversations while building your confidence with communication!

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