Learning to communicate effectively can pay dividends throughout your life. Not only will you be more effective at work and in your career, you’ll also become better at relating to your family. In fact, being an effective communicator is one of the greatest skills that you can hope to master. Communication is a broad topic, however, and it helps to break it down into several different categories. That’s why in this article we’ll talk about several different facets of communication, and how mastering them can improve your quality of life.
One of the building stones of a good relationship is being able to understand the other person’s point of view and react accordingly. This is true whether you’re talking to your spouse, or a potential client. Seeing the world from another person’s perspective gives you a chance to understand where they’re coming from and answer appropriately. If you lack empathy you may sometimes come across as cold and uncaring, even if you do care deeply. To build empathy in your daily interactions, always take a second to ask yourself: how is this other person feeling at the moment?
A famous salesman once said “if you can get a customer to laugh with you, you can get them to buy from you.” Obviously most of us aren’t in sales, but humor is still a great tool to have. It can lighten a mood, build rapport, and quickly increase your likability. Also, in communication the ability to tell a story is important. If you can add some humor into that story and make a person laugh, so much the better. Even if you don’t consider yourself an inherently funny person, you can always learn to be more funny. It might take a while, but the best things in life take time.
For tens of thousands of years, we passed down stories orally. The Odyssey is nothing more than an oral stories that was then written down. The reason being able to tell a good story is such a useful communication skill to have is that it’s effective. It’s often easier to teach a lesson if it’s buried within a story, than it is to try to teach the lesson on its own.
Another benefit of telling a story is that as long as you do it well, it’s easy to keep your listener’s attention. Some great examples of master storytellers are Cal Fussman and Derek Sivers. When you listen to them tell a story, it’s easy to see why this is such a beneficial communication skill to master. There are many books on the subject of becoming good at telling stories. However, as Derek Sivers said, ultimately it comes down to one thing: lots of practice.
Listening should not be confused with hearing. The first is an active process, the second is passive. Unfortunately, it seems like quite a few more people just “hear” each other, they don’t listen to one another. There’s a huge divide there and the results are obvious. If you don’t actively listen to another person you’re probably not going to remember much of what they say, and you’re also not going to give them the impression that you’re really focussing on their message. Active listening is the answer.
When we talk about active listening, what we mean is someone who is totally focussed on the process of listening. That means they’re maintaining good eye contact with the speaker, they’re not distracted, and they’re encouraging the speaker with nods of the head or other encouragement. Skills You Need has an excellent article on the subject of active listening, and it’s worth reading it. Another great resource is the book Conversationally Speaking by Alan Garner.
This is the ability to match your body’s posture to that of the person that you’re listening to. People who are masters of communication do this unconsciously, and the result is that the people who they’re listening to feel warm, and as if the person fully understands them. Compared to everything else here, mirroring is relatively easy to start doing. You simply need to be conscious of how the other person is positioned during a conversation. On a deeper level, mirroring can also involve the listener unconsciously mimicking the facial expressions of the speaker (indicating that you’re carefully listening to the other person). This happens at a subconscious level, however, and it’s best to not try to fake it consciously. Instead, practice active listening and you’ll get better at it naturally.
This might not be the first thing that pops into your head when you think of communication, but removing the stress from your life and becoming relaxed in all your conversations is a very useful habit. That’s because stress can be a serious barrier to effective communication. This is especially true when under deadlines or dealing with people you don’t get along with well.
Different studies come up with different numbers, but the consensus seems to be that anywhere from 75 to 95% of communication is nonverbal. That means that your posture, eye contact, gestures, and a whole host of other subtle cues are actually telling the person listening a lot more than your words are. That’s why becoming good at nonverbal communication is essential. However, it’s not always easy.
Improving your posture and eye contact is a relatively straightforward process. Other things, not nearly as much. These subtle, nonverbal signals are controlled by your unconscious brain. That means that the only way to improve them is to actually become more confident. Thankfully, if you work on everything we’ve mentioned in this article, you’ll notice that your nonverbal signals improve automatically.
When it comes to reading body language, some people are naturally better at it than others. Also, it’s estimated that women are anywhere from three to five times better at reading body language, just as a default. If you’d like to improve your understanding of nonverbal communication, What EveryBODY is Saying is a great book to get started with.