A few months ago I watched the documentary, The Making of a Murderer. For those who haven’t seen it – and I highly recommend you do – I won’t spoil the gut-wrenching plot. I’ll just say that it’s an extremely emotive true story about a family that is dealt one bad hand of luck after another. As I watched this 13-episode docu-series, what struck me – in addition to my ‘perma-cringy’ state of being – was how poorly the main characters were at communicating and expressing themselves. Every scene had me on the edge of the couch screaming at the TV: Just spit it out! Say what happened! Be more vivid! Be more articulate!
This documentary tells the story of the tribulations of a poor, un-educated family from ‘small town America’ and their quest to overcome the hardships and injustices they continuously faced. As I binge-watched, what became clear was how the ability to communicate – or lack-there-of – played such a pivotal role in determining the characters’ fates.
I realized that our capability to express ourselves articulately, succinctly and convincingly is perhaps one of the most powerful tools we can hone. It allows us to be better influencers, get ahead in our careers and increase job satisfaction and overall happiness both personally and professionally.
So what’s it take to be a good communicator?
In an article published in Fortune Magazine, Sylvia Ann Hewlett wrote about a study she conducted to see if executive presence can be learned. Through her research she pinpointed three essential elements:
- Gravitas: how you act
- Communication: how you speak
- Appearance: how you look
The key to communicating is to have a knack for conveying tremendous amounts of knowledge and giving people the impression you could go ‘six questions deep’ on the subject you’re talking about, but in a way that’s concise.
She explains that today attention spans are so short that whether it’s in a speech or in a meeting, it’s imperative to illustrate how you can add value in a way that’s both compelling and brief.
Also Read: Ten public speaking tips for crafting & delivering a powerful speech
Photo provided by Shutterstock
Eight ways to add value when communicating
You don’t have to be born with the gift of gab in order to be a stellar communicator. Just like emotional intelligence, this can be learned. It just takes practice, dedication and self-awareness. Here are eight things to consider perfecting if you want to enhance your communication skills and enhance professional success:
Communication Rule #1: Be Real
People are like dogs, they can smell $^#%. We all get nervous – especially in front of ‘higher-ups’ or large crowds – and that’s OK. What’s not OK is when we compensate by going over the top – by putting on airs, pretending to be something we’re not or by changing our demeanor. Sometimes the most refreshing conversations are the ones where people admit to the fact that they’re anxious or not feeling quite themselves – the ones where we’re vulnerable. Genuine people are memorable people, so don’t try too hard to be a different ‘you’.
Communication Rule #2: Connect Personally
Make your message matter to the person on the other end. Most of us don’t care what’s being said unless it resonates with us on a deeper level. Find that personal connection and tap into it. Whether it’s a point of common interest – the fact that you both have children or are from the same city or share in the same values – find a way to touch on that commonality. It’ll increase the strength of your connection and the value of what you’re trying to convey.
Communication Rule #3: Be specific, simple & get to the point
If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. – Albert Einstein
Good communicators say what they want to say, quickly, clearly and briefly. People’s attention spans today are a minute at most (if we’re lucky) and they get lost in long sentences and large words. Choose simple, straightforward messaging and cut right to the chase.
Communication Rule #4: Listen Empathically
People want to be heard. They want to be acknowledged and they want to be seen. The best way to do this is not only by actively listening. It’s by doing something that only a reported two percent of the population does. It’s called empathic acknowledgment. This is basically the ability to listen without giving advice and without relating it back to you. All you have to do is let the person know that you’ve heard them and acknowledge their feelings surrounding the issue. Literally saying something like, ‘I can see how upset this makes you‘ goes a lot further than trying to solve the problem. It’s been said that if you’re able to do this, the other person will walk away feeling like they’ve just had the equivalent of a psychological hug. It’s not easy, but if you can master this, you’ll make the other person feel amazing and differentiate yourself from the masses.
Sometimes people just want to be heard
Communication Rule #5: Ask Questions
There’s nothing worse than walking away from a conversation realizing that the person didn’t ask a single question about you – yet it happens all the time. When we inquire about the other, we’re letting them know that we care and we’re also helping create a space for them to talk in. The key is to make sure you listen to the answers and not just zone out.
Communication Rule #6: Read body language
When we can pick up cues and read your audience, we become better able to meet their needs. For example, if you’re giving a talk and a few people have their arms crossed over their chests they’re most likely closed off to something being said (unless it’s freezing, at which point you might want to turn off the AC.) Whether it’s intentional or not, the act of crossing our arms affects how open our minds are to the conversation. So in this situation the goal would be to change their position and uncross their arms. Something you can do is to ask the person to write notes on the board, or give them a drink of water, hand them a marker, or get them to stand up. Do something that will force them to change their positioning. If you can learn to read body language you can tailor your communication in order to maximize influence.
For more on this there’s a great book called The Definitive Book of Body Language by Barbara and Allan Pease.
Also Read: The Power of the Gesture: Learn sign language for effective communication
Communication Rule #7: Practice positive communication: Change the but to and
What we say and how we say it shapes the dynamic of our conversations. Most of us don’t realize how certain words or ways of speaking can greatly affect the outcome of our interactions. For example, when we use the word ‘But’ in a conversation it automatically erases everything that was previously said. It’s unfortunate as there are so many great things that are said before the ‘but’, however as humans we focus only on the ‘post-but’ information.
Instead of saying ‘but’ try changing the word to ‘and’.
For example take these two sentences:
- I love your blog. It’s informative and funny but it could be a bit more practical.
- I love your blog. It’s informative and funny and I think making it a bit more practical would enhance its impact.
Do you notice a difference?
Not only does doing this force you to re-think the message you want to deliver, it also changes the tone of what you’re trying to convey and places equal emphasis on everything being said.
Communication Rule #8: Think now, talk later
I have a rule that if I’m ever having a bad day, haven’t had enough sleep or just am in a ‘mood’, everything I want to communicate – via email, phone, text or in person – I postpone until the following day. If the next day I’m still on board with what I wanted to communicate, I go ahead with it. What happens is that 50 percent of the time I decide not to say anything at all. Sleeping on things gives yourself the space to decide if you really want to communicate that message. It helps avoid knee-jerk reactions and allows us to formulate our thoughts and deliver our message in the best way possible.
For this Weekly Happiness Challenge, there are two parts:
1: We challenge you to remain positive in all of your communication, especially on social media.
- Be conscious of what you’re saying, the words you’re using and how you’re using them.
- Be conscious of the emojis that you use.
- Be conscious of what you post, what you like, what you share and what you re-tweet.
2: We challenge you to actively practice empathic acknowledgment.
- Listen to a friend, family member or a colleague without inserting yourself into the conversation
- Don’t refer back to a situation that you think might resonate with them
- Don’t relate it back to you in any way
- Don’t try to give advice or find a solution to their problem
- Just listen and acknowledge their emotions surrounding the issue. For example: ‘I see that you’re sad’, ‘this seems to make you upset’. Let them know that you hear them.
Share your experiences with us in the comments below or in the #gopositive Slack channel exclusive to Happy Melly members. Tell us one specific trick or piece of advice for how you make your communication as positive as possible. Then join us during our wrap-up Zoom web chat to talk about the experience on September 15 at 1700 CEST!
And don’t forget, it’s not too late to sign the Social Media Positivity Pact and commit to seven days of only positivity on your socials! Already signed it? Try to challenge a friend to join you in this fast!