10 top tips for more effective communication

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”, said a scholarly George Bernard Shaw. For communication to be effective, we need not only to be heard, but also to be understood. More than this, in the workplace, for communication to be effective we often need people to do something.

These are no small feats and yet, like breathing in and out, we rarely give it any thought. It’s the feedback that landed badly; it’s stumbling around trying to ask the boss for a pay rise; or the project that went off-course because of our own imperfect directions.

Are we paying attention to the way we communicate? Or are we doing what we’ve always done and hoping for the best?

Here are some top tips for effective communication. Recognise any bad habits you might have and make a commitment to practising new skills.

1. Be clear on the aim

You need to be clear on the message you’re trying to deliver. If your goals are uncertain, you can’t expect others to understand what you’re trying to say. Preparation is key for effective communication.

2. Consider feelings

Once you’re crystal clear on what it is you need to say, consider how it will make the other person feel. What will their state of mind be and how might this impact where and how you need to deliver the message?

3. Be open

Don’t over-complicate the issue. Communicate in an open, honest and straightforward way. This means getting to the point quickly, and without clouding the issue with irrelevant information, excuses or apologies.

 4. Don’t make assumptions

When you look at this picture, what do you see?

Do you see a beautiful, young women? Or a mature lady with prominent features? It may take you a while to spot both!

Each of us see and interpret the world differently, and we hear messages through our own paradigm, often filling in our own gaps.

Don’t assume people will hear things exactly how you meant them. This comes back to good preparation again, but don’t rush things and take the time to consider how the information will be received.

Too many times we assume someone will be happy or unhappy with something, just because we are.

5. Think about tone and body language

Unless you’re doing a spot of Hollywood acting on the side, you’re probably not as convincing as you think you are.

If you don’t feel 100% behind what you’re trying to say, or if you’re winging it, we’ll read you like a book.

Think about your tone, the language you need to use, and the impact this will have. Make sure your body language is congruent with what you’re trying to say.

 6. Be patient

No-one wants to not understand. It’s our responsibility to communicate in a way that can be understood. Have you ever been given directions and, when you said you didn’t understand, been told exactly the same thing again?

Be patient and adapt your message and style until you’re communicating in a way that makes sense for the other person.

 7. Beware of barriers

Unwittingly we can put barriers in the way of communication. Your colleague didn’t help you out last week, and deep down you think they’re a bit of an idiot. Consequently, every time they speak, you switch off and start thinking about what you’re having for tea.

Start each conversation as a fresh one, and don’t let past encounters or preconceptions cloud your communication. Don’t score conversational points and avoid judgemental listening.

8. Seek feedback

Being able to communicate effectively is a huge life skill and one that benefits us both professionally and personally.

Nothing worth having is easy and why wouldn’t you want to hone your verbal and written communication skills as far as possible? Ask for feedback on how you’re doing and emulate those you look up to.   

9. Think about communication styles

We usually communicate in a way that feels natural to us. We deliver messages and information how we want to send them, rather than how others need to receive them.

If we want to have great results and avoid misunderstandings, we must tailor our approach in line with the preferences of others. For example, if your boss usually sends you short punchy emails, avoid lengthy replies. If someone usually engages in a bit of small talk at the start of a meeting, don’t skip this just because it’s not important to you.

Make note of how others like to communicate, as people respond to like-minded folk. 

10. Check for understanding

As we’ve said, for communication to be effective, we need to be understood. The best way to know if we’ve been understood is to ask. Don’t assume it’s all gone swimmingly, check it out. Also, observe if your communication caused the results you expected. If it didn’t, it might be time for some introspection.

We’ve communicated how we do now all our lives. Some of these habits won’t be easy to break. But, by becoming more aware of your current strengths and weaknesses, you can make small changes. Over time, as these become the new norm, it can have a huge impact. I look forward to hearing about your successes!