I think most of us would agree that on a practical, day-to-day level the most important life skill is communication. However, when we take a look around we discover that:
1. Many of us have trouble expressing ourselves effectively.
2. Many of us spend the majority of our life not saying what we think or feel (for a range of reasons).
3. Some of us talk a lot without ever saying much.
4. The vast majority of us don't consciously work at becoming more effective communicators.
Sadly, too many of us mumble and bumble our way through much of our life. Or we remain silent. And frustrated. And unfulfilled. And angry. And sad. Sure, we'll learn how to weave baskets, use a computer, build a spaceship from scrap metal and we'll even attend university for years to learn irrelevant stuff that we'll never need, remember, or use, but will we actually make a conscious effort to learn how to communicate and connect more effectively with people? Nup.
For many people in many situations their inability to be able to engage in meaningful, productive conversation or to communicate a message clearly is a major barrier to living their best life, maximising their potential and developing healthy and productive relationships. Many of us talk a lot, but not effectively. Being talkative doesn't equate to being a good communicator, it just means someone talks a lot. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes what we don't say is a more effective way of making a point or creating a particular outcome. Just like me singing in the shower every morning doesn't make me a good singer (trust me), neither does a person being somewhat verbose necessarily translate to them being an effective communicator. In fact, the reason some people are terrible communicators is because they actually talk too much and listen too little.
So, why do we need to be better communicators?
1. Healthier relationships across the board - in every area of our lives.
2. Less conflict and misunderstanding - and therefore less stress and problems.
3. More confidence in a range of situations and settings.
4. Better connection and rapport.
5. More opportunities.
6. Less wasted time and energy - because we can communicate our message (thoughts, ideas) more effectively.
7. Less frustration - always nice.
8. More respect.
So, of course the obvious question is... how do we become better communicators?
1. Ask people open ended questions, not yes/no questions.
"Did you have a nice weekend?" - Bad
"What did you do on the weekend?" - Good
Ask questions which show that you're interested in the other person and give the conversation a chance of lasting for more than thirty seconds!
2. Be an active listener. Participate rather than spectate. Consciously be involved in the discussion, ask relevant, meaningful questions and don't simply wait for a gap in the conversation so that you can be heard.
3. Be genuinely interested in the other person. Self-centred people are terrible communicators because they always steer the conversation back to themselves and they rarely acknowledge, validate or actually consider the other person's feelings or perspective. If you're not interested in the other person's perspective, you're not part of a conversation, you're delivering a monologue.
4. Have fun and don't take yourself too seriously. Be able to laugh at yourself. Some people are so intense that they're no fun to hang out with or talk to.
5. Be open to the notion that you might be.... wrong! Crazy thought I know but just try it anyway. If you go into any conversation with a level of arrogance and superiority (in your mind anyway) then you will never have a productive conversation or meaningful exchange. Don't talk at people, talk with them. If you can't consider someone's perspective other than your own, you will never relate to others and you'll never learn or grow as a communicator.
6. Put yourself in situations where you will be forced to develop those communication skills. Speak to a group, deal with a situation you've been avoiding, have that long-overdue discussion with that person.
7. Before you open your mouth, get clarity about what you want to say. Some people engage their mouth before they engage their brain. You know those people. Who am I kidding, you and I are those people! I'm always putting my foot in my mouth. Okay, feet.
8. Listen to yourself on audio tape or watch yourself on video/DVD. Can be a particularly uncomfortable but eye-opening exercise. Not always a feasible option this suggestion (you may not have such a tape) but when possible it's always sure to provide you with a fresh perspective of... you. The first time I saw myself talk to an audience on video, I cringed for forty five minutes and hated every second of it. But I did learn a lot about how others perceived me and I did identify one or two (hundred) annoying little communication idiosyncrasies.
9. Learn the other person's language. Sure we all speak English (our version anyway), but in reality we all speak a different language. If you can't speak your bosse's, wife's, friend's, kid's, neighbour's 'language', then you can't communicate effectively with them. Many people use the same communication style with every person in every situation - with disastrous results. The question we need to ask is:
"How do I need to communicate with this person to create the best outcome" (to understand them and to be understood by them).
9. Be aware of, interpret (as best you can) and react to, non-verbal communication. Everything a person does (as opposed to says) is telling you something; conveying a message. Ninety three percent of all communication is non-verbal, so sometimes we need to watch more than we need to listen. Whether or not someone is happy, sad, angry, uncomfortable, stressed, intimidated or confused can usually be perceived without a word being spoken.
10. Don't talk for the sake of it. Learn to be comfortable with silence and learn when not to speak. Incessant talking is a sign of nerves or insecurity or both, and never results in meaningful dialogue.
11. Ask for feedback. Of course we don't want to ask for feedback. What a stupid idea. What if they tell us what we don't want to hear? Nearly every presentation I do is critiqued (rated) by my audience in the form of written assessment sheets and that has been one of the best learning tools for me. Not always fun but always valuable. If you want honest feedback, get it anonymously! There ain't no candy-coating!
Listening to the Gurus...
Over the last few days here in Colorado I have had the pleasure of listening to some of the best communicators and teachers in the world. My poor little brain has had information and sensory overload. I have listened to twenty two lectures and I have been astounded at the ability of some people to connect with an auditorium full of people within seconds. While I have always understood the importance of great communication, this collection of genii have reminded me that we all (me included) need to constantly and consciously work at being the best communicators we can be because without doubt, it is life's most important skill and it directly affects virtually every area of our reality.