(Hint: Much More Than Just Persuasion)
Whether you’re busy navigating the choppy, roiling tides of the vast corporate sea or simply wanting to have things go your way a little bit more often than they presently do, the ability to communicate effectively will be one of the most important arrows in your quiver.
The important thing to remember, though, is that communication isn’t only about making sure you’re understood — it’s equally as much about understanding what’s being said. Nobody’s going to listen to you if they don’t think you’re listening to them.
Let’s break down some of the most important aspects of both hearing and being heard.
Latch onto core ideas and concepts straight away. If you’re the kind of person who is prone to easy distraction, this is a good exercise. Grab the main idea and stay focused on it the entire time.
Do your best to limit distractions. If you’re at work, stop what you’re doing and zero in on the conversation that’s happening presently. Put everything out of your mind for a bit and be in the moment of your conversation.
When you respond directly, it helps both keep you actively engaged and communicate your engagement to your conversational partner. Don’t just listen quietly and passively — be an active participant in the conversation. Do it when it’s appropriate, of course. Don’t just blurt out something positive for the sake of being agreeable, as that’s just off-putting.
Ask open-ended questions to learn more about what’s being said and to give your talking buddy more of an explicit invitation to explain themselves. It’s always encouraging to feel like the other person is definitely interested in what you have to say.
Keep an eye on your body language, because we pick it up even if we don’t realize we do. We also broadcast it way more than we realize, so it’s best to learn how to interact with your natural body language. Maintain things like posture and facial expression — keep things open and interested. Try not to cross your arms or sit in ways that are shielded or closed off.
Finally, the clarifying summarization is huge. Again, this is a technique not only to help you actively listen better, but to also make your friends know that you’re listening and feel listened to. Wrapping things up for yourself verbally at the end of a conversational point is a great way to make sure you’ve got everything right, and then give yourself a chance to mentally prepare your response.
Make Yourself Inescapably Clear
While it might seem interesting that the above paragraph invites you to give yourself time to come up with a response simply by repeating the main points of the information you’ve just been given, the logic behind it is completely sound. During conversations — especially important ones — your brain is processing information and responding to it at crazy speeds. Even practices like repeating ideas back to others gives your mind the few extra seconds it needs to come up with something that’ll be remembered. Here are a few more techniques that can help along those lines.
Get rid of filler. We’ve all got that friend who’s notorious for saying “like” or “y’know” way too frequently in conversation. While it’s laughable when you’re talking with buddies and such, these kinds of verbal tics can be indicators that the speaker is in trouble, so to speak. Not a great thing to be communicating in a high-stakes environment. Cutting the “ah” and “um” out of your speech goes a long way towards communicating a subtle, yet important kind of confidence.
It helps for listening, and it helps for speaking, too. Clear your mind and limit distractions to make sure you don’t lose your point or train of thought while you’re having an important discussion.
When you’re talking, keep your hands out of your pockets. Use them for gesturing if you have to, but don’t stuff them in your pockets. It’s untoward and doesn’t communicate confidence.
If the conversation is one you’re able to know about in advance, preparation obviously goes a long way. This might seem like an obvious one, but all too often people forget the importance of thinking over core ideas, mentally listing points you’d like to make, and generally doing things to limit what you wish you’d said later on down the line.
Use a story to get your point across. No need to go all wedding-drunk grandpa…keep it short, simple, and to the point. But when used properly, stories are something to which humans naturally connect. Using a story helps your audience relate to your points.
And finally, relax. Take a few deep breaths if you’re particularly nervous, and do your best to maintain a calm presence of mind. Getting worked up and stressed out doesn’t do your quick thinking any favors. Keeping yourself relaxed helps you communicate more effectively and clearly — nothing looks worse than someone getting flustered and stumbling over their words.
Communicating well has as much to do with being a good listener as it does a powerful speaker. Your audience or conversational partner will be all the more inclined to hear and internalize your speaking points if they feel like you’ve respected and considered theirs. Remembering and implementing the techniques we’ve just talked about can be the key to parting the red seas of employment like the conversational Moses you always knew yourself to be.