Improving your communication is close to improving everything else in your life. No kidding.
Skilled communicators are able to make you think of something and let you think that was actually your idea. They can agree with you while convincing you of something else. They can describe what you want better than you. And it is oh so pleasant to listen to them all evening long.
Not only do great communicators make more money according to studies, they also have stronger relationships and marriages and have a higher self-esteem.
So let’s get to it shall we ?
I have found some common important elements of efficient communication. Developing any of them guarantees that you will see great improvement in your interactions and might even get you invited to this VIP event you have been dreaming about.
Excellent communicators master active listening
The first element of great communication is to actually shut up.
Active listening is not just about staying silent (although it is a big part of it). Giving others the space to speak - to really speak - is something you rarely see these days. And when you are staying silent, the trick is to not just wait for your turn to speak, thinking about what you are burning to say. The key is to be present and to actively listen to the person in front of you. Drink their words as if they were the best water you ever had. Savour them and let them fill you up, listening to every word they utter. The language they speak will give you amazing insight into who they are and what their needs and beliefs are.
In Neuro linguistic programming there is a broad concept called sensory acuity under which you can find several useful tools to boost your active listening skills. One of them is sensory specific language. Every person uses different representational systems to describe their world and we all have a favourite one.
These representational systems are sensory based : visual, auditory, kinaesthetic (touch), smell and taste. Once you pay attention to what words people use, you will find they have a favourite sense they use to illustrate their speech. For example a visual person like me will use a lot of visual words or expressions like: "do you see what I mean ? This is perfectly clear to me. Let’s focus on this. He is really bright ! Let me clarify something. That looks good !”
Whereas a more auditory person would use more of the following: “You are not listening to me. Did you hear that ? It needs some fine tuning. We all have a voice. Wait until things get quiet. Let’s discuss this another day.”
When you pay attention and clearly see which sense people prefer. You know which words they are more likely to respond to. They will give you some key words and you want to make a mental note for later as you know they will respond well to them.
A good question to ask yourself when listening to someone is: What is their preferred representational system for communication and what are some of their key words ?
Listening to their words is powerful. Listening to their body is even better. It’s no secret that body language gives away a lot of informations. And I am not just talking about knowing when people lie to you or who stole the cookies. But also about how they feel, in which mental state they are and what kind of unspoken message they are passing on to you. Non-verbal communication is according to many studies much more important than we think and might represent two thirds of all our communication. (although nobody agrees on the numbers but you get the idea…)
Our body gives away a lot of information through our level of eye contact, our tone of voice, the speed of our speech, our body posture and gestures, just to name a few. The problem is that we usually don’t pay much attention to the body because we are so focused on the words or what we want to say next. A good way to build your awareness of body language is to start looking at it while you are listening. Just notice something about their body, their voice or their face that you haven’t seen before and more importantly imagine what it means or what they are trying to convey through this non-spoken communication.
A question you can ask yourself: What is their body communicating right now ?
Focusing on their message is probably the biggest thing you can do to improve your listening skills. Too often we wait for someone to stop talking so that we can answer. When we are focused on our thoughts or on how we will respond, we don’t fully grasp the communication presented to us. In fact, most people cannot even repeat what another person just stated. Especially if that person has been speaking for more than thirty seconds. Would you be able to summarise what a person just told you ? Or even repeat some of her sentences ? If not, it probably means that you have not been paying enough attention. Sometimes we nod, we agree, we say yes and then we move on to our comment. Being able to acknowledge what the person in front of us has just said, or to just explain what we understood from it is a powerful sign of our listening and people will love you for it. Make sure you remember what people tell you. Make a mental note of something interesting this person just told you. If it makes you think of something, keep your reaction for later and wait until they are done talking. It will help you discover what their message really is about.
The question that works well for me is : What do I understand from their overall communication ?
Great communicators create space for efficient communication
The second element of excellent communication is to create the conditions for it.
Rapport is another concept from NLP that is widely used and maybe abused. It’s defined as the ability to relate to others to create a climate of trust and understanding. Unfortunately, it has been reduced sometimes to mirroring people or repeating their words to get what you want from them. Even though it is true that having a certain level of coordination or mirroring with the people you encounter can help your communication, it is hardly a way to trick people into doing certain things. The key to rapport is in the definition: a climate of trust and understanding. You cannot have real rapport if you don’t build genuine trust and understanding. You cannot fake trust, not for long anyway. Some ways to build rapport is indeed to adjust your body language so that you make the other person comfortable. It does not mean mimicking them, but if they are sitting and you are standing. Sitting along them might be a good way to put them at ease. Looking in the same direction and using words they enjoy would also contribute to such a climate. Mutual attentiveness is part of rapport and this is why active listening is so important. If you actually listened, when it's your turn to speak you can show how well you have listened and people will notice !
Information cannot be pushed into a brain, it has to be pulled in. One of the three pillars of delivering a powerful speech you can find in "Talk like TED" is passion. If you want to create a human connection and make sure your message get across, you want to be passionate. If people does not feel any passion or captivating feeling coming from what you are saying, they will lose interest very quickly and move on to something more enticing. Whatever you are speaking about, make sure to choose a topic you really care about. Researcher Melissa Cardon who studied passion and its correlation with entrepreneurial success said that “People who are genuinely passionate about their topic make better speakers”. If the current theme does not suit you, then reorient the conversation on one that you enjoy. Only then, can you avoid the trap of falling in unending and boring discussions. If a conversation is not interesting, it is your responsibility to make it about something interesting. This means of course, knowing what interests you in the first place and sharing it. It does not matter which topic you choose and wether you are a hobby horse fan or a stamp collector. As long as you are passionate about your subject, people will relate. Sometimes they won’t and this is why you want to be able to calibrate to your audience if needed. People who are curious and can discuss any subject with enthusiasm are the ones that get the best press.
Impactful communication happens when excellent communicators make a strong impression with the smallest amount of words. It is like using a hammer instead of your fists to hit the nail. Impactful communication is built around three main mechanisms. Pattern interrupts, curiosity arousal and powerful metaphors. I remember this great example of a textbook impactful communication. It was a radio show and the topic was regret. Guests were speaking and suddenly the host starts saying loudly: “three legged dogs ! three legged dogs !” And of course everyone stops talking and they start asking what about three legged dogs ? And to no surprise he starts explaining why three legged dogs are the perfect example of how to deal with regret and difficult events. He built some curiosity for a while and everyone just went completely silent and listened to his words religiously. Then he delivered this excellent metaphor of a dog that lost a leg after an accident. The dog does not spend one second complaining about it or regretting his lost leg. He starts running right away. Of course he struggles and falls pitifully. But he is still a dog ! He does not doubt for a second that he is a dog and keeps behaving as a dog. His mood is not affected at all by his lost leg and he starts learning right away how to run on three legs. Actually most of them seem they even run faster after a while with three legs than with four.
And here you have it laid it out for you: a strong pattern interrupt, “three legged dogs!”. A few words that catch people’s attention to stop the current flow of the discussion. Then the curiosity arousal part: you don’t get into your message right away ! You build it up, you explain why this is great stuff and why it is so interesting and where it’s coming from or how it impacted people so much. This will make people want to hear what you have to say even more. And they will actually listen, it makes certain that they really pay attention. The last point is: you have to deliver the goods ! You give now a powerful metaphor. We love stories and a good story speaks to us on many levels. It resonates with us much more than just raw data or logical arguments. Make sure this story or metaphor is indeed interesting, enjoyable and entertaining for the people listening to you. Deliver it correctly and it’s a home run.
Powerful communication benefits all
Mutual help is not only the way to get a better relationship with your neighbour. It is also key to almost all communication. Most people like to speak about themselves and themselves only. If you show interest in them and honestly try to help them or give them value, they will listen to you. And chances are, they will reciprocate. Try to find which values and needs they have so that you can find how you can help them best. You want to ask yourself what you can do for them, how you can give them useful or entertaining information. How can you leave them with the impression of increase for having met you ? When you start thinking less about your own agenda, and when you genuinely want to help, people feel it and it’s exhilarating both for you and them. Reciprocity is a powerful social rule and ensures that any act you carry out on someone will likely be repaid in some way. Even communication falls under this reciprocity norm. So make sure you are using your communication to give value to people. This is not just to make the world a better place, but also for you own sake.
A great way to communicate passionately is to inspire people through challenge. Wether it is through your enthusiasm or your dedication, a positive attitude is contagious. If you share your interests and make it so that other people want to follow your lead or associate themselves with what you are doing. You will make a big impact on them. This is not something we do very often, and we actually tend to avoid motivating or challenging other people. First because it feels awkward and it might even make us seem arrogant. And also because we tend to respect the status quo. I love it when people share their dreams and projects with me. But I also feel a bit out of place when I ask them : “When will your book be finished ?”. I know this is uncomfortable, and sometimes more for myself than for them. But I also know that at the end of such a conversation, their motivation is actually reinforced because I respect their word and I trust them for being able to carry out their project. I would not start asking people about it but I definitely am going to keep asking questions about the how and the when if they share their thoughts with me. Not only will I ask them to describe their challenge to me, I will also keep them accountable for it if they want to. A conversation which usually starts with surprise and a bit of fear at first, usually ends up with a big smile when they tell me when and how they will carry out their project and agree to send me an email when they are done. Just give people an opportunity to amaze you !
Make requests. We all have needs and in order to fulfil them we sometimes need to ask for help. If there is something you would like from someone, just ask. People who have the will to ask for what they want share a multitude of positive traits. One of them being humility: they know they need others to achieve more. Courage: they have the guts to ask for what they want and be told no. Vulnerability: they are ok with giving the power to someone else or to put themselves in an asking position. Openness and gratitude: because they value what others have or know and will put themselves in the position of being indebted to them. People who know how to ask also have strong social skills and are good at negotiating because they know that in order to receive, you first have to give. Asking people for help is also known to improve relationships as in the famous Benjamin Franklin effect. So next time you speak with someone, make sure to ask them for help or advice, it will improve your communication and your relationship both.
To summarise, here are a few practical ways to improve your communication:
Performance coach, world traveler, tribe builder, NLP enthusiast and mnemonist. I am passionate about self-development and life changing coaching tools.
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