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One of the most satisfying parts about watching a child grow up is observing how they learn to communicate. Maybe they start with some baby sign language and then move on to basic sounds and words. There’s also something refreshing about communicating with a small child: they always cut to the chase and tell it like it is. While that’s not always going to be appropriate as an adult, we could all learn a thing or two about effective communication from those little straight-shooters in our life. Regardless of your age, here are four ways you can learn how to communicate better.
Get Comfortable With Small Talk
Is making small talk fun? Not necessarily. But is it an important skill? Absolutely. It’s something we have to do at various points throughout our daily life, both in professional and personal situations. If you’re not used to chatting with strangers or even coworkers, it may seem awkward at first, but once you get used to it, it becomes second nature. Not sure where to start? The “triangulation method” is a safe bet. According to Josh Ocampo at Lifehacker, “This method involves three points: you, your partner, and the observable thing in front of you — in other words, your common ground.” So find something that ties you and the other person together — even if it’s something basic like the weather or the weekend — and go from there.
When in doubt, always keep it simple. If you know you will be attending a work event or function where you will be meeting and mingling with people you may not know well, you can keep the conversation easy and light with talks of favorite books, current movies, upcoming travel plans. Always steer clear of heavy topics like politics and religion, and certainly stay away from office gossip.
Listen to And Hear the Other Person
We learn early on that it’s important to be a good listener, but that involves more than just sitting there quietly with your eyes directed towards the person speaking. You should actually make the effort to actively listen to and hear the other person. Actively listening involves doing so attentively while someone else speaks, then paraphrasing and reflecting back what is said, all while withholding judgment and unsolicited advice. “We’re often so afraid of not being heard, we rush to keep talking,” Dr. John M. Grohol writes on PsychCentral. “Ironically, such behavior makes it all the more likely we won’t be heard.”
Pay Attention to Nonverbal Cues
While you can’t really pick up on nonverbal cues when speaking with someone over the phone, or corresponding via email or instant message, it’s an important component of in-person and video calls. Nonverbal communication includes things like your body language, the tone and inflection of your voice, and eye contact. Not only should you pay attention to the other person’s nonverbal cues, but also keep track of your own. Grohol provides the following examples of nonverbal cues:
- “Folded arms in front of a person may mean they’re feeling defensive or closed off.
- Lack of eye contact may mean they’re not really interested in what you’re saying, are ashamed of something, or find it difficult to talk about something.
- Louder, more aggressive tone may mean the person is escalating the discussion and is becoming very emotionally involved.
- It might also suggest they feel like they’re not being heard or understood.
Someone who’s turned away from you when talking to you may mean disinterest or being closed off.”
So as much as you love a well-timed eye-roll, it’s not always the best option for in-person conversations.
You can be as present as you want in the conversation but if your body language is sending the message that you’d rather be anywhere else but right there with your conversation partner, well, that’s just not going to foster any sort of communication. Keep away from your phone, try not to be distracted by what’s happening around you, concentrate solely on the person you are speaking with. You wouldn’t want to be speaking with someone who keeps looking out the window or checking their phone, try to keep your own actions in mind during the conversation.
When effectively communicating with someone, make sure that you’re not just physically present, but mentally there as well. This means doing things like asking the person appropriate, thoughtful and relevant questions to keep the conversation moving, and being forthright and honest with your own responses. If you don’t know the answer to something, don’t be afraid to let the person know. Stay away from distractions, like checking your phone or watching TV, and give the other person your undivided attention. Remember that learning how to communicate better involves both improving your conversation skills, as well as understanding how to be a more effective listener.
Insightful quotes about communication
“Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say infinitely when you mean very; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” ― C.S. Lewis
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
― George Bernard Shaw
“When you give yourself permission to communicate what matters to you in every situation you will have peace despite rejection or disapproval. Putting a voice to your soul helps you to let go of the negative energy of fear and regret.” ― Shannon L. Alder
“One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone.”
― Shannon L. Alder