Do you want to get your message across, persuade others to your way of thinking, or get people to help you achieve your goals? There’s much more to successful communication than the words you use. Read on to discover five secrets of outstanding communicators you can start using today.
1. Listen well
Communicating means listening as well as speaking and good communicators listen deeply – focusing on what is being said, how it’s being said, and sometimes even what’s not being said.
‘They listen with their ears, their eyes, and even their heart – so they can appreciate what the other person means,’ explains career coach Ruth Winden of Careers Enhanced.
‘Their secret is to give the other person their undivided attention, and not to let their own thoughts or emotions get in the way. Their whole aim is to listen carefully and to appreciate someone else’s opinion. And only once the other person has finished, will they respond – but not before.’
It sounds simple, but is not always easy.
‘It’s a far cry from thinking that we know what the other person means, so we don’t really listen, blurt out what we want to say, and score points instead,’ adds Ruth.
- Check you understand right
When faced with a conflict situation, good communicators ask questions and seek to understand the other person’s point of view, before they put their point across.
‘If you take the time to understand where the person is coming from, you are more likely to find a solution. Unfortunately, many people are too busy defending their position to look for a compromise,’ says Ruth.
If you are involved in a disagreement, let the person finish speaking and then feedback the gist of what they have just said.
‘This ensures you have understand the situation correctly. Re-stating the other person’s point of view (in a neutral way, you don’t have to agree with it) will make them feel heard,’ adds Ruth.
- Be clear and specific
When asking someone to carry out a task, good leaders know the importance of communicating clearly. In his book The Language of Leaders, Kevin Murray relays a conversation with General Charles Guthrie, Chief of the Defence Staff between 1997 and 2001.
Speaking about the need to be specific and keep things simple, Guthrie said: ‘I remember observing a young officer giving out his orders to attack something and he said: “We will capture hill so-and-so.” And then he spoilt it all by saying: “We will then have a nine-phase operation.”
‘Well, in my experience, when you attack something it always goes wrong after the first phase and it’s probably better not to have the debris of a plan that is not going to work cluttering your mind.’
As a manager, you may be challenged with complex projects that require you to think strategically, but when it comes asking your team to deliver, your job is to keep it simple.
- Build the relationship first
You might have a powerful argument to make, but if people don’t trust you or care about your opinion, your words will have little impact.
Good communicators take time to build the relationship before they state their argument or make a request, whether that’s convincing someone to buy a product or come round to their way of thinking. Simply asking, “How was your weekend?” before you move to your work purpose, will make people feel valued – as long as you listen to their reply, of course.
‘Don’t just show an interest in someone when you want something,’ warns Ruth. ‘Pass the time of day with everyone in the office and show genuine interest in your team and co-workers. Many high achievers underestimate the importance of people skills – but in any business, people come first.’
- Be a voice of positivity
No one can agree all the time, but good communicators chose their words carefully when they disagree. In some cases, it’s as simple as saying “and” instead of “but”.
For example, instead of saying “It sounds like a great idea, but we need to do x differently,” say, “It sounds like a great idea, and if we did x differently I think it would be even better.” The word “but,” invalidates everything that comes after it, so use it with caution.
Shaun Simmons, Managing Director of Cordant Technical and Engineering Recruitment specialists, adds: ‘Try to avoid negative phrases, such as “I’ve tried that before and it won’t work”. Instead, replace “no’s” and “won’ts” with positives such as: “What I can do is…” If you’re seen as someone who provides solutions instead of problems you’re far more likely to get ahead.’
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