5 steps to building strong communication skills
Each day, we communicate with other people, whether it be verbally or through gestures and facial expressions. We are always communicating with someone, our families, friends, employers and colleagues, customers and even the postman - on a good day. Sometimes these interactions take place in person, or via social media, over emails or letters, and for many individuals reading this, they may even find themselves communicating to multiple people at once, like in a meeting or presentation.
Communication is a way for you to express yourself - your feelings and ideas. It is your way of influencing the world around you, but it is also more than just you, it is also about allowing another person to express their feelings and ideas. It involves using the incredible skills you were born with to exchange information on a give and take basis.
Communication skills involve a variety of important factors - listening, speaking, observing and empathising. Oftentimes, poor communication skills can lead to misunderstandings and frustration which is unhelpful and exhausting for all involved.
When should we be looking to improve communication skills?
If you are finding yourself in a place where you are struggling to get your point across in a healthy way or perhaps you get a sense that those around you are not ‘hearing you’ or you are unable to understand them, then it could be time for you to brush up on your communication skills.
Communicating effectively in the workplace
Effective communication happens when a message or idea is sent and received accurately. This could be between colleagues, with your boss or employees or with customers and suppliers. These positive communications help to develop trust and a supportive culture. They build engaging and reassuring relationships across the organisation's network and beyond, which ultimately leads to higher productivity and shared happiness and success. Wouldn’t it be a relief to feel like you can confidently communicate within your professional sphere?
Connecting and communicating with friends and family
Sometimes we can find it difficult to express ourselves to our friends and family - at times it can feel like you want to speak your truth but you don’t out of fear of it being received in the wrong way, perhaps causing upset or agitation. On the same footing, you could also have loved ones who feel unable to open up to you for fear of the same unwanted result. There is strength and power within our communities, so developing your communication skills will help to thrive within your circles and positively lift one another up.
Communicating with your children
As a parent, who deeply loves and respects their children, from a communication perspective, you have likely nailed the art of giving instructions or providing information to your children, but communication relies on much more than a steady stream of facts and safety precautions. A healthy relationship with your children also requires your time - for you to listen with your whole self and try to understand what they may be feeling and why. Sometimes you may find you need a little extra support in developing these skills, which is perfectly normal, in fact, many people opt to work with a family coach to really strengthen those communication skills!
Improving your communication skills within your relationship
Connecting and communicating effectively with your partner is just as important as any other area of your life. Our partners can sometimes trigger us emotionally, or us them and we can end up reacting to their words or behaviours and before you know it you are both lost at sea with a broken compass, desperately trying to find safe and mutual lands. If you are having trouble getting through to your partner or you are finding that you talk about the same issue over and over without reaching a resolution then why not try working on your communication skills, someone has to be the first to start, why not be you?
When it comes to speaking in public, be it a presentation at work, delivering an update in a meeting with your boss and colleagues in attendance or a keynote speech at a big event, the thought alone can be enough to bring about feelings of nerves and apprehension, and for some, panic attacks and anxiety.
There are various factors involved in delivering a clear and engaging message like your vocal tone, body language, your facial expressions and body movements, and of course, timing. It can feel like a lot to take on but again, these are skills that you can build on and strengthen. Prior to delivering my TEDx talk back in 2019, I worked closely with a life coach and a hypnotherapist, because I was so nervous, but I wanted to take the opportunity and do it well. We can all become better with the right help and tools!
How to improve your communication skills
You can get professional help from a coach or a variety of other professionals, but there are also a few things you can practice at home too! Below are five steps you can take to build strong communication in all areas of your life.
The ability to listen is one of the most important skills you can have in your repertoire of life tools. To listen is more than to simply hear. By listening with all of our senses we are able to obtain information and direction. It allows us to understand and learn - all valuable factors involved in personal success. In order to listen to another person, you will need to concentrate on them and what they are saying. If you find that you struggle to stay engaged with another person when they speak, then it would help for you to understand why you are distracted. Bring yourself into the present moment and as the person speaks, repeat each word, quietly in your mind to help keep yourself focused.
- Look at the person who is talking directly.
- Focus your attention on what they are saying.
- Occasionally nod or smile to assure the person that they have your attention.
- Be encouraging by using small comments like yes and uh-huh.
- Try not to interrupt.
- Don’t think of listening as waiting for your turn to speak, your time will come.
Of course, there will be times when the conversation may be dominated by another person and it can feel like you are waiting for a chance to be included in the discussion. It is useful to remember that some people find it difficult to recognise responses in the person listening, responses which tell us that the other person may be becoming bored or frustrated, or even excluded from the conversation. When this happens, try to remain calm and remember that you have the right to protect your own energy with healthy boundaries, so be sure to set them in advance with those around you.
2. Be authentic
Embrace vulnerability and express your true self. It is not uncommon for us to wear masks and in some cases, we have a different mask for different people. For a long time now, there has been a huge societal pressure, demanding that we fit into specific boxes, which doesn’t work and honestly, who would even want that? The truth is, you are a beautiful, incredibly unique individual who does not belong in a box and the world has a right to see and hear the essence of you. So, when you communicate with others, do so in an authentic voice.
3. Be aware of body language
Non-verbal communication plays a big part in how we communicate. Sometimes the subtlety of a gesture or reassuring smile can create a warm and trusting interaction where all involved feel safe and heard. Other ways to express yourself during communicating with others are hand movements, eye contact, the tone of your voice and even the way you breathe. Synchronising your breath with another person helps to create a calm and unguarded connection.
Our attitudes can be expressed through our body language so if you are feeling agitated or uninterested, your body may well just give you away. The best way to practice non-verbal communication skills is to be mindful of your body, your voice and your facial expressions when interacting with others and when you communicate with another person, be sure to watch their body language too!
4. Stress management
You may be wondering what stress has to do with communication and the answer is, if left unchecked, stress can negatively impact your interactions with other people on multiple levels, including communication. When your stress levels are high, you are more likely to misunderstand other people or unintentionally send confusing nonverbal signals. Have you ever been overwhelmed or stressed out and reacted to something someone has said and immediately regretted it?
Here are a few ways that you can manage stress at home:
- Try to incorporate some exercise into your daily routine and when you feel like your stress levels are up, take a walk in the fresh air to reestablish your emotions.
- Deep breaths. It is so simple, yet so powerful. Take a few moments to sit and focus on your breathing. Breathe in deeply through the nose and exhale slowly through the mouth. Repeat this a few times or until you feel more grounded.
- Be mindful of your feelings and your surroundings.
- Keep a journal. Getting your thoughts out of your mind and onto paper really helps you to process them in a healthy way.
- Eat well, sleep well and drink plenty of water. We all know this works, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves to actually do it.
- Find time to connect with people who love and support you. A good laugh with friends or a deep conversation with a loved one can sometimes be just the remedy to relieve stress.
5. Take control of your emotions
Being in control of emotions gives you the tools to help you to understand yourself, other people and the messages you send and receive. Humans are equally emotional as they are logical and many of us struggle to find a healthy balance between the two.
It really is the greatest lesson we have to learn throughout our life and you should never feel bad for juggling the two. If you feel yourself reacting from a place of emotion, then try to bring attention to this by asking yourself, why am I feeling this way? Is this really how I want to react or is there another way that I would like to resolve this?
In truth, we all have the ability to communicate on so many levels and some of our current ways of communicating are just bad habits that we have developed. But, as with everything in life, practice makes perfect and the more you become aware the stronger your skills will become.
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