I think we can all agree effective verbal communication is critical in building and maintaining any relationship, whether it’s with a partner, friend or family member or if it’s a business relationship such as a colleague, your boss or a client.
Why Words Matter
Our verbal communication skills not only impact how we solve issues, and resolve conflict, but also the level of trust we generate in our relationships. Unfortunately, a lack of verbal communication can lead to misunderstandings, confusion, and even create unnecessary karma for ourselves and with others.
And in a continually changing digital environment, where texting, social media and communicating happens without ever opening our mouths, it’s not shocking that authentic communication skills are one of the top skills companies look for in new talent. It rated “four” out of the top 10 skills employers most want, according to a recent survey.
Communication obstacles, or barriers, can prevent individuals from understanding an important message.
Here are some everyday barriers you may have experienced either in your personal life or at work:
- The words you use to express your thoughts can sometimes create a communication barrier. It can be as simple as speaking with someone who doesn’t speak the same language, or as indirect as interpreting the words you are using in a different way than you intend. It can also involve poor language use, such as using words incorrectly or even poor grammar. Additionally, it can relate to a lack of understanding of the context, such as a non-technical person attempting to share information about a technical issue, using specific jargon, or ambiguous words.
- There is a potential for a misunderstanding if emotions are involved in your communication efforts. For instance, if you are angry or sad, you may not be able to effectively communicate your feelings and ideas. Or, the person you are trying to communicate with could be in a similar state and end up distorting what you are attempting to convey.
- This barrier can involve numerous aspects, such as distractions, interruptions, environmental surrounding issues like noise levels, speaking too softly or a physical barrier between you and the other person. There is a time and place for everything, especially communication.
- The timing of a conversation can impact the ability to effectively get your message across to another person. For instance, there may not be enough time to communicate your opinion fully. Or the timing may be off for the other person to receive the message you wish to convey. Ask the other person for a time that works well for them to have this important conversation.
- Words are real and every word we speak either creates or destroys. Just because we know a thing, doesn’t mean we should necessarily share it. Regardless of your religious or spiritual background, taking time to check in with your spiritual guides before speaking can provide invaluable insight. This can be done privately, and no one needs to know you’re doing it.
Growing your communication skills is definitely not an overnight process – nor is there a perfect scientific solution for streamlining conversations. The following tips can help you gradually sharpen your verbal communication skills:
- Ensure you have the other person’s full attention. When you have something crucial to say, make sure you have the other person’s attention. Maintain respect by addressing him or her by the name they prefer you call them by and make eye contact before you start talking. You may have to ask them to pause for a moment to provide their full, undivided attention.
- Stay the course. It may be helpful to have the main goal and speak to that goal. Think before you speak and express your information in an organized manner.
- Respond but don’t react. Receive their response without interrupting them. Stay calm and be respectful. If the conversation escalates, take a break and try to set another time to resume the discussion when emotions are stable. Also, keep in mind, from time to time, you may have to “agree to disagree.”
- Use “I” statements. Try taking the pressure out of the situation by setting the stage with why this topic is important to you. You may wish to use “I” phrases, including “I feel …,” “I need …,” or “I want …” versus “you are …,” “when you did (x, y, z I experienced ….” and others. Why? “I” statements focus on your feelings, are less threatening and can help the person you are speaking with better comprehend your perspective instead of feeling ambushed.
- Avoid using absolutes. Absolutes such as “must”, “should,” and “always” carry with them an intention – your intention. In other words, what you think they should be feeling, thinking or doing. Remember, context is important, and even if you are their direct manager or parent, it is respectful and appropriate to invite the other person to consider your perspective. It’s most likely not appropriate for you impress your will upon them.
- Speak so the person will understand your message. Minimize the use of colloquialism, technical terms and so on. Talk in a way that is appropriate for the age, gender and emotional state of the other individual. It may also be helpful to consider their generation and understanding of trendy buzz words.
- Foster open-ended conversations. Incorporate open-ended questions that encourage a response, like “how do you feel about…?” This helps avoid asking questions that prompt a one-word answer – which may lead to frustration.
- Be aware of your voice and tone. When talking to another person, it’s crucial that you use a clear voice and the right tone. Unfortunately, the wrong intonation can impact the emotion your message conveys. In addition, the person you are speaking with could misjudge your message based purely on how they interpret or hear it.
- Check your emotions. Whenever possible, take a moment to become emotionally neutral about the topic. Remember, emotions, thoughts, and words are real. Taking a moment to become neutral and speak from a neutral place helps minimize creating unnecessary karma by hurting people and ourselves.
- Stay positive. Focus on the individual’s positive points and avoid blame. Be generous and specific with any praise and make sure that positive feedback outweighs the negative side of your concerns. Contrary to how many of us have been conditioned in leadership, it is inappropriate to blame. Remaining positive helps you seek solutions rather than focus on the cause.
- Don’t beat around the bush. Get right to the point but avoid bludgeoning with the truth. While it may initially sound kinder to incorporate lots of flowery language throughout your words, it’s usually better to get right to the point, but do so gently. Why? Unnecessary words and metaphors won’t help the other person understand your entire point or message.
Many people think speaking is the most important element of communication. But it’s important to realize that good listening skills are equally as critical to effective communication.
Listening helps you better understand the information other people are trying to convey, improve your relationships with others, and enhance your problem-solving skills. In fact, many people are so accustomed to expressing their views that they often disregard what other people are saying. Or may forget to invest time in discovering context for the situation. When in doubt, remember to ask for context. One of my favorite lead-ins is “help me understand…”
My advice: if you want to be a better verbal communicator, learn and practice how to become an active listener. (Surprisingly, the approach involves less talking and more listening).
Being a good listener can help you understand messages better and also provide a better-quality response when it’s your time to respond.
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If you communicate clearly and confidently, whether at work or in your personal life, you are much more likely to command the respect of others and build stronger relationships.
When it comes to mastering the art of verbal communication, one of the most challenging things for anyone to do is to perform a self-reflection assessment of your current energy levels, thoughts, and emotions – all factors that can significantly impact how you verbally communicate with others in your life.
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