You can probably think of a boss or two throughout your working experience who was a terrible communicator. My example? One of the last jobs I had before starting SEO National included a boss that talked over you, cut your conversations short, had no hesitations about blowing you up after hours, and skipped bonuses, then childishly threw the cash on your desk a few days later when reminded of his promise. Not to mention that he grossed $2 million a month and paid young 20-something me about $12 an hour. Felt valued? You betcha’!
Communication skills are some of the most important skills you can have as both an employer and an employee, but they aren’t necessarily inherent in everyone. If you are struggling to get your point across or would like a few tips to hone your current skills, you have come to the right place.
As Ursula the sea witch so pointedly declared to Ariel, “Don’t underestimate the importance of body language! Ha!”
Studies show that your audience will rely more heavily on what you do than what you say, so it’s crucial that you master the art of nonverbal communication. That is easier said than done, I realize, but if you can get a handle on how you say things, you will be better understood. Perfecting your body language may mean that you have to explicitly modify some of your character traits, which can be difficult, but to give a little demonstration, here are some common behaviors and how they are perceived:
|Behavior||What You Might Mean||Audience Perception|
|Folding your arms||You’re cold, or it makes you feel more secure in an uncomfortable situation.||You’re defensive. You don’t want to listen to anyone else’s ideas. You’re close-minded.|
|Tapping your fingers||You’re anxious due to discomfort, or you’re energized and want to move forward with a project.||You’re bored or impatient.|
|Hand on your cheek, looking off to the left||You’re genuinely considering something.||You’re distracted or thinking about something else.|
Do you see how your actions could be perceived very differently from what you intended? Especially in incidences where you are addressing large audiences, you need to be conscious of your body language and how it might affect your audience. At the very least, you should maintain eye contact, good posture, and a pleasant demeanor.
Say what you mean
If this means that you take a moment before responding to someone, give yourself that little bit of time. It is vital to say what you mean when you are addressing your audience and to break it down into comprehensible chunks. Never assume that they know what you’re talking about.
This is even more important where emails are concerned. In written communication, your audience doesn’t have the added input of nonverbal communication to help them understand what you’re saying, so you need to be exceptionally thorough. Whenever possible, give directions in person or over the phone and then send an email outlining the major points. This gives your audience an opportunity to monitor your voice inflections and/or body language and ask clarifying questions, and it also gives you a chance to assess their understanding in real time. Once you have said everything you need to say, sending out an email with your key points is a good way to keep everyone on the same page.
Check for comprehension
Throughout your conversation, check for understanding. There is a difference between hearing someone and genuinely listening. If you want to be a powerful communicator, you are going to have to learn how to do the latter.
In the olden days, it might have been viewed as weakness to ask for input from people who hold inferior positions, but doing so can have an incredibly positive impact on company culture. As you present, give your audience a preview of what you’re going to tell them, tell them, review, and check for comprehension. Let them tell you what they understand about the information, and answer any questions or misconceptions as they arise. Most importantly, listen to understand instead of listening to counter with your rebuttal.
In today’s climate, people’s attention spans are short. You might have prepared a thorough, 45-minute PowerPoint presentation, but if there is no audience interaction, there is little chance that they’ll remember much of it. Some experts even suggest steering clear of visual aids like PowerPoints altogether because they can become a crutch that inhibits meaningful presenter/audience interaction.
To keep your audience involved, work in ways for them to participate. Ask questions and expect them to either think about their answers or call them out depending on the situation. If you are teaching a concept, make sure to give your audience a chance to think through your questions and process the information before you move on to the next point. Few things are worse than a presenter who blows through important material without giving you time to internalize it.
Consider adding a novel element to grab their interest (appropriate videos, memes, jokes, anecdotes, etc.), but don’t go overboard. Your goal should be to engage and not necessarily entertain. That said, as any entertainer knows, timing is everything, so keep that in mind.
Open-mindedness is a powerful way to gain respect from those around you. You may not agree with everyone, but genuinely considering their ideas is a leadership strategy that will help you go far. Ask for feedback from others and strive to incorporate their suggestions while being respectful of their opinions.
Lastly, give your full consideration to whatever task is at hand. When someone is talking to you, stop what you are doing, and give him or her your undivided attention. In this fast-paced business world, you may be tempted to answer emails or text messages while you’re on the phone or chatting at a business lunch, but resist the urge.