By Paola Pascual on Oct 24, 2018 5:00:00 AM
Think for a second about all the conversations that you found extremely interesting and that you still remember. What do they all have in common? How can you have more of those awesome conversations by becoming a better communicator?
After working as an English teacher for about a decade, studying cross-cultural communication and psychology, and reading all the articles I found on improving communication skills, I’ve put together the top 14 (simple but highly effective) rules that will make you a better communicator. Here we go!
1. Listen more, speak less
Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” And we do it all the time, we listen to people with the only purpose of putting together a response that makes sense. We tend to spend more time thinking about our reply than actively listening to what others have to say. This makes us listen only partially and the result is us missing out on a lot of potentially valuable information. Listen carefully first and only once they are finished, do start to think what to say yourself.
2. Be fully present
How many times have you been in a conversation pretending to be listening, but you were actually thinking about the shopping list? And how distracting is it when you notice that the other person is doing so while you are speaking to them? No one likes this. We do love, though, when we feel they are interested in what we are saying, so why don’t we do this all the time? Because it takes concentration, and it’s easier to get distracted. Notice that being fully present doesn’t just mean putting your phone away. It means focusing on the conversation, and only on the conversation. Stop looking at what’s happening in the background or at that cute person that just walked in. Don’t try to know everything that’s going on in the room and be fully present.
3. Talk with people, not at people
“I loved that guy that was preaching his ideas without listening to me; I really enjoyed the conversation”, said no one ever. Speaking up is awesome, sharing your ideas is fantastic. But the line between being assertive and sounding bossy or arrogant is considerably fine. Give your opinion, share your ideas, but also listen to what others have to say. Enter a conversation with an open mind, be ready to learn and take in new perspectives. After all, a conversation is based on interaction, it only works both ways. Otherwise, don’t call it a conversation.
4. Be consistent, but don’t repeat yourself too much
It’s important to be consistent and coherent with your ideas, and the technique of paraphrasing (saying the same thing in different ways) is awesome to make sure your point gets through. However, you also risk sounding self-centered and repetitive, and the result tends to be bored people trying to get the heck out of the conversation as soon as possible. And you don’t want that. You want to have a pleasant conversation, and hope for the others to think likewise. So don't repeat yourself too much and keep giving them new information throughout the chat to keep them interested.
5. Use your voice wisely
Sometimes it is not what you say, it’s how you say it. The more musical and rhythmic your voice is, the clearer and more memorable it will be. In his TED Talk How to speak so that people want to listen, Julian Treasure briefly talks about concepts like register, timbre, prosody, pace, pitch, and volume. It’s a super interesting talk, but these are some key takeaways:
- Lower, deep voices convey power and authority
- We prefer voices that are rich, smooth, and warm
- Monotonous voices are not easy to listen to
- Intonation, rhythm, and stress are important
- We get excited by saying something really quickly, loudly
- We can also slow down and lower the volume to emphasize
- Silence is gold and can be very powerful. Much better than those uhms and ehs.
Use all these tools and tricks wisely and make people instantly more interested in what you have to say.
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6. Make it about them
Empathy is a fantastic skill, and we love to feel on the same wavelength as other people, but when they are telling you a problem, falling in the trap of “me too” does not help (I’m not talking about any hashtags here). What I mean is, when you hear about how bad your friend feels at work, they don’t need to hear that you also feel bad a work, let alone that you feel even worse. It’s not the same. It’s never the same. Each story is an individual and unique case, and instead of comparing yourself to them, just listen and focus on their situation.
7. Be transparent
From all those memorable conversations you’ve had, probably most of them, if not all, have something in common: you connected with the person. This is one of the golden rules to have meaningful and great conversations: connecting. And it is possible to connect at an emotional level even if you don’t seem to have anything in common. How? Through honesty. Be transparent, don’t lie, don’t pretend to know things you don’t. Be human. People are more likely to bond with you if you lay your cards on the table and they see your true self.
More on how transparency helps you at work: Click here.
8. Ask open-ended questions
Become a journalist! Why? A few important reasons: it will increase your likeability, it will make you look smarter, and you’ll probably learn something new. How? Go for the Five Ws - What, When, Where, Who, and Why. Oh, and How, of course. These are open-ended questions and they are used in journalism to gather information -make them your allies. If you ask a Yes/No, you are dooming the topic to be over soon, but starting a question with one of the W’s makes them stop and think about what to say. For example, if you ask “Did you like the event?”, you’re pretty much forcing them to say yes or no. While “What do you think about the event?” encourages them to come up with a more elaborate (and potentially more interesting) answer. Ask questions, and be genuinely interested in the answers.
9. Let it go
Have you ever watched an interview where the interviewer asked a question that came out of the blue, totally unrelated to the previous answer or already answered? This looks awful and breaks the charm. It happens because we are so engrossed in our own answers that we don’t listen and help the situation flow. So, if you have an absolutely awesome question to ask or a super witty comment to make, but it just simply doesn’t fit in the context anymore - Let. It. Go. Seriously, go with the flow and move on to the next thing.
10. Cut the fluff
Cut the fluff. Get rid of unnecessary information. Unless the other person is really going to benefit from the details, leave them out. Super exhaustive explanations with all sorts of data tend to be tedious and people usually don’t care. Make the most of the time you are given to speak before the other people lose interest and go straight to the point, especially in group settings. Figures can be interesting sometimes, don’t take me wrong, but only if they fit in naturally and you don’t need to stop to try and remember them.
11. Use the active voice
Use the active voice for more impact and clarity. If you want to learn the grammar behind it, you can check out this article by Grammarly, but in a nutshell, passive voice is a grammar construction in which the object becomes the subject (called passive subject).
Passive: A mistake was made.
Active: We made a mistake.
This grammatical form is correct and a priori there’s nothing wrong with it. Yet, when used in speaking, it tends to sound weak and either pedantic or evasive. Use the active voice instead to sound stronger and more direct, and ultimately more clear.
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12. Make it simple
Simplicity always seems to be a golden rule. Even when communicating complex ideas, try to limit the jargon to a minimum, unless it’s a commonly used word that all the people around know. When you are having a conversation, avoid pompous words that hardly anyone understands and save them for when you are writing a novel.
13. Be clear
Clarity is key. First, understand what it is that you want to communicate, and then try to lay it out in the clearest way. They will appreciate you not being ambiguous. If they can clearly understand your point, they will feel more at ease and the whole conversation will flow.
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14. Be brief
Nobody likes to listen to someone for 40 minutes until they finish their point to be able to feel part of the conversation again. Don’t give one-word answers, but remember - it’s an interaction, and as such, both parts should take fairly short turns to speak. Celeste Headlee also talks about some of these points, and when she mentions brevity, she quotes her sister: “A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject.”
Put all these rules into practice and let us know how that went here or here. Do you know of any awesome communicators? Would any of your friends benefit from these tips? Send them this post and let them know!
About the author: Paola is a social media manager, writer, and language coach, passionate about psychology and communication. Check out her LinkedIn profile to see her latest activity.
Talaera is an online platform that provides one-on-one English language training, anytime, anywhere, with 100% personalized lessons, HD video quality, and qualified teachers that will help you achieve your learning goals.
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