Communication is an art – it’s the key to almost everything and consists of so much more than “choosing the right words”.
No matter what you do and how good you're doing it – expressing results, needs, successes and plans the right way can make or break anything. Be it personal decisions, changes in business, a new project idea or a job interview. Communication is everywhere. And it often seems to be impossible to master it in its entirety. Because even though you might be an excellent presenter, interpersonal conversation require a different skillset – and vice-versa.
"Communication is a continual balancing act, juggling the conflicting needs for intimacy and independence." – Deborah Tannen
Overall, the significance of interpersonal communication is incredibly large in our day-to-day-lives. After all, you’re talking to people every day. Thus, knowing about some basic communication strategies will help you communicate your needs and opinions more accurately and effectively.
💡 1. Start with why
“Why” is the core of everything. Why are you reading this article? Why would you like to work for a certain company? Why is Apple so successful? Why has Martin Luther King wanted to change America for the good? Why implies dreams. Why implies a vision. Why inspires. And that’s why it's is so powerful.
Imagine you’re presenting an important decision to your colleagues. If you state what you did first, people will judge you immediately after finishing your first sentences. On the other hand, if you explain your "why" first, you give your colleagues with a bigger picture that explains the action in a much broader, understandable way.
👂🏼 2. Listen carefully and ask questions
It sounds unbelievably obvious – but asking questions and listening to what people have to say opens up a communicational highway. In our age of E-Mail, Online-Chats and remote calls, we often forget that. Gathering useful information is about giving people the invitation they may need to open up tell you what’s going on. Even something as simple as, “Hey, how are you doing?” or “I’ve heard you’ve been working on [project] lately, how’s the process?” shows curiosity and acts as an effective opener into a more meaningful conversation.
[...] curiosity and the willingness to listen can open up new possibilities and opinions.
Not everyone is poled to speak up without prompting. Communication styles are different. And that’s why curiosity and the willingness to listen can open up new possibilities and opinions. It creates engagement for the conversation partner and motivates to speak honestly. Even in a group decision, it usually pays to listen before you come in with your own ideas. Hearing alternatives provides you with an information advantage and the opportunity to respectfully acknowledge your team. After all, people are also more like to listen to you if they feel they’ve been listened to.
👩🏼🤝👩🏾 3. Clear relationships and expectations
No matter whether you’re if engaging with a long-lasting colleague or a client who has just walked through your door – any preexisting expectations and judgements limit the possibilities of the outcome.
Especially relationships can easily distract you from thinking objectively. And since they’re a deeply human thing, it’s almost impossible to take them out of any equation. Therefore, try pausing for a moment before and during important conversations and think about what would be the objectively best decision. What would you do if you didn’t know this person that well? This step is about acknowledging what you and your business truly require.
Additionally, expectations are generally flawed. Whenever you’re looking for a specific outcome or response from a person, your communication is based on projections and not possibilities – which significantly limits your bandwidth of expression. You’re not communicating the big picture anymore, you’re trying to sell something with all tools possible.
Clearing your communication of expectations and projections allows for a whole new freedom of choice. This means asking questions without seeking answers. Some examples would be:
What other possibility is there that I haven’t considered?
What is this person contributing that I haven’t acknowledged?
What’s right about this that I’m not getting?
🚦 4. Be willing to be wrong
To step up your communication, allow yourself to be wrong. Give up having to be right. If you’re unwilling to be wrong, you always need to justify your point – which creates separation. Consequently, you won’t be able to actively acknowledge the other person’s ideas as much.
Being willing to be wrong destroys barriers and allows you to find other options. You as a person become an invitation for different opinions and provide conversation partners more space to breathe and talk – which results in much more open communication.
🔧 5. Utilize the right tools
In some situations, certain communication strategies work better than others. For example, when giving feedback or making a point. Here are four tools you can use to express yourself more effectively:
1. Use the NVC-format to give feedback:
Giving feedback and making requests is always challenging – partly because the other person’s reaction is unknown. Marshall Rosenburg, author of the book Nonviolent Communication (NVC), therefore suggests a communication format that is as empathic and open as possible:
“When [observation], I feel [emotion] because I’m needing some [universal needs]. Would you be able to [request]?”
2. Stick to the 40-word rule to make a point
Many of us tend to talk way too much when making a point. Just because you’re talking that doesn’t mean anyone is listening. To communicate your opinion effectively, try to conclude your stance in no more than 40 words – even if you might have to prepare it. Everything can be summed up in 40 words or less.
3. Ask for permission to before you give feedback
Don’t just shove your opinion up the other person’s face without asking. Instead, show the other person you respect them. One way to do that is to ask for permission, like:
Do I have your permission to interrupt you if we go off agenda?
Do I have your permission to give you some feedback?
Asking for permission provides people with a sense of control and security. Who wouldn’t be happy to accept feedback in such a setting?
4. Instead of “no, but” use “yes, and”
“Nothing someone says before the word ‘but’ really counts.” — George R.R. Martin
Try not to use the phrase “no, but …” in a discussion. Instead, use “yes, and …“. This is a technique that originally comes from improvisational comedy. By using the word “and”, you build on top of the other person’s idea instead of tearing it down – and thus encourage him/her to actively participate in the conversation.
📟 Better communication for a better world
Communication is everything and everywhere. According to sociologist Niklas Luhmann social systems – and therefore society – mainly consists of communication. Therefore, it’s an incredibly important skill to master. Not only will effective communication advance you in your career, but it will also help you become more empathic, make other people feel better and turn you into an overall better leader and human being. If you’re able to collaborate and communicate your ideas well, you’re able to make this world a much better place than if you were alone.
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