One of the most critical skills in every field is the ability to communicate. Your company thrives when it’s packed with team members who trust one another and can share meaningful messages and creative ideas freely. When you are an expert communicator yourself, your career will flourish.
If you are interested in learning how you can improve your communication skills, implement these nine tips in your interactions with others. They’re easy to start practicing today, and they’ll bring immediate, positive results.
If you’re nervous about talking, it’s easy to think compulsively about what you’re going to say next. But if you’re so focused on your own ideas and the next great thing you’re going to share, you’ll miss out on what others are trying to say, even as they are speaking directly to you. Research shows that most people only listen at about 25% efficiency.
Rather than worrying about what you’re going to say next, practice active listening. Active listening is when you’re present in the conversation, and you strive to understand the message that is being shared with you, not just the words.
Focusing on listening first can lead to some dead air and silence during a conversation, and that’s okay. Silence can be a good thing. It shows that you heard what someone was saying, you’re seriously thinking about it, and you’re mindful enough to respond with intention rather than throwing out whatever quickly comes to mind.
A key part of communication is sharing ideas back and forth with your audience, not just lecturing them. To make a mediocre conversation amazing, get the other person involved. The easiest way to do this is by asking good questions.
While there are no such things as bad questions, some questions are better than others. Yes/no questions lead to flat conversations. Questions like, “Do you have any questions?” will almost always be answered with a simple “No,” and can create an awkward pause.
By changing your yes/no questions into who, what, where, when, why, and how questions, you empower your audience to participate fully in the conversation. For example, you can change the question above to “What questions do you have?” which prompts people to respond with more than a single word.
Be Aware of Your Body Language
What your body says is just as important as your words say. Nonverbal communication is what your facial expressions, body posture, position, and movement are telling your audience. Researchers might disagree about just how much meaning is conveyed through your body, but most agree that nonverbal communication speaks much louder than anything you say.
Simple awareness of your body language is a great first step. Don’t obsess over every movement you make. For example, you can take note of your posture and make a quick adjustment if necessary.
Learning to control your body language isn’t about silencing it completely; it’s about communicating the message you want to send (and diminishing the ways your body might distort that message). Good communicators know how to use their body language for great effect.
Re-read and Edit
Writing is a wonderful communication tool because you have more time to craft and control your message. Unlike when you’re speaking to someone, writing gives you the time to go back and make improvements to your message when needed.
Whether it’s an email or a letter, no one makes a perfect first draft, so get into the habit of proofreading before you click send. This will save you from embarrassing typos and errors, but it also enables you to create a complete, concise message.
One easy tip to improve your writing is to read what you wrote out loud. Pay attention to where you stumble or correct yourself—those are the points that need a little more work. Your ear knows how language is supposed to sound, so use it to help improve your communication skills.
Focus on What Matters
Avoid rambling, long-winded, or undirected communications. If you’re aiming for creating effective dialogue, do not waste your time opening with small talk, a short comedy routine, or any other topic. Get to the point of what you want to talk about.
If you are leading a conversation and it starts to get away from you, gently guide the dialogue back to the original topic. Conversations can easily be derailed when participants hold their own agendas and emotions are high. But to successfully address the issue, it’s crucial to stay on topic.
If the secondary topic keeps coming back, be clear about the reason for the dialogue and why it’s important to stay on topic. You can offer to talk about the other topic at a different time when you will be able to give it the attention it deserves.
Pick the Right Tool for the Job
No one likes sitting through a meeting that could have been an email. Choosing the right communication tool for the job is an essential part of learning how to improve your communication skills.
Consider the message you’re sharing and how you want to interact with your audience. One-sided monologues work great as an email, but if you want to interact with your audience, opt for in-person communication. There’s a time and place for a formal meeting, phone call, message, email, text, thoughtful note, or even poking your head into a person’s office for a quick chat, and it’s important to know when to use each one.
By picking the right tool for the job, you can gain respect and trust from your co-workers because you are being mindful of their time. The conversations you do have will be much more focused, productive, and meaningful.
Create a Safe Place
If people do not feel safe sharing their ideas or viewpoints, they will never speak up and share their truth. A great place to start with respect is by considering others’ perspectives and trying to understand what they are saying with empathy.
If you do run into conflicts or differing opinions, focus on rebuilding safety within the dialogue. You can do this by finding and cultivating a mutual purpose. This will help you have a respectful and positive conversation, even when you don’t agree on everything.
Don’t Overly Rely on Visual Aids
Some of the largest companies have abandoned slide decks and visual aids. When you’re uncomfortable with speaking or writing, it’s easy to lean on visual messages. However, it usually ends up distracting both you and your audience from the conversation.
There are times where visual aids can be helpful. In these cases, remember they should enhance your message, not carry it. Don’t use visual aids as a script that you read directly from—your audience will retain less information if you do.
In texts to friends or informal messages, it can be fun to sprinkle in emojis, but they should never show up in professional written communication. Emojis don’t make a good first impression, and instead of lightening the mood, you could, unfortunately, damage your reputation and appear uneducated or incompetent at your job.
Learn How to Transform Debates into Meaningful Dialogues
These nine tips work great for improving your day-to-day workplace communication skills, but what about Crucial Conversations? How can you prepare for sensitive topics where emotions are high?
For the last 30 years, we have studied the communication skills of top performers. We’ve found that day-to-day, top performers communicate just like everyone else. But in crucial moments – when the stakes are high, opinions differ, and emotions run strong – top performers are masters at achieving candid and respectful dialogue. And the good news is these top performers demonstrate learnable and replicable skills for masterfully holding Crucial Conversations. Our goal is to give you these same tools and confidence so you can transform heated arguments into meaningful dialogue.
Our Crucial Conversations course covers eight crucial skills grounded in decades of social science research to create lasting improvement. We help you improve equity and inclusion, streamline decision-making, and bolster engagement and teamwork. With over one million people trained worldwide, we know that Crucial Conversations can help you take the next step in creating cultures of candid and effective communication.
The ideas expressed in this article are based on the skills and principles taught in Crucial Conversations. Learn more about Crucial Conversations