Effective communication is an essential skill for achieving success in all areas of life, whether personal or professional. Communication skills breed confidence and optimism, two character traits that enable you to accomplish your goals. Some people find that communication comes naturally; for others, it’s more difficult. But if you fall into the latter category, you don’t need a communication degree to make yourself heard—or to get what you want and need. The challenge of how to be an effective communicator gets far easier when you follow these seven steps:
Identify Your Objectives
What do you hope to accomplish, either immediately or long term? What action or response from your audience will show that you have communicated successfully? Understanding your objectives will help shape your communication style and make you more effective.
Communication isn’t just about what you say. If you want people to listen to you, you need to listen to them. Don’t get so focused on what you’re saying that you miss their important comments, emotions, and reactions. Likewise, when others are speaking, listen and process what they’re trying to communicate instead of planning your response. When everyone is actively involved, communication is far more effective.
Note Your Body Language
Communication involves not just the words you speak, but what your body is saying. Without realizing it, your body language can send a stronger message than your words. If you sit or stand with your shoulders hunched and your arms folded across your chest, you show that your guard is up and you’re unwilling to have productive, two-way discussions. Alternatively, when you sit or stand up straight with your arms at your sides, or relax into a more casual pose, you project openness and a willingness to communicate—before you’ve said a single word.
Know Your Audience
The same speech, conversation, or sales pitch won’t succeed with every audience. Modify your language for each group so that you’re not being condescending or speaking in a way in which your audience can’t understand. Adjusting how and what you say to match your audience will improve your communication skills.
Pay attention to how quickly you’re speaking and whether your audience appears to be processing what you’re saying. Slow down if necessary, and vary the volume and rhythm of your speech to hold their attention. It’s important to deliberately repeat important points a few times to make sure your listeners hear what you have to say.
Choose the Right Time
If you’re planning to ask your boss for a raise, make sure he or she is in a receptive mood. If there’s a big problem on the production line or your company has lost a big account, it’s not the best time to bring up the subject. So, in general—whether you’re planning to deliver good or bad news or simply presenting a new idea that requires energy and focus—be aware of your audience’s mind-set. Timing is a big factor in successful communication.
Don’t spend too much time setting up your idea or request. Communicate your needs and desires clearly. You’ll not only avoid misunderstandings, you’ll earn respect through your honesty and clarity and have a greater chance of accomplishing your goal.
By applying these tips and practicing often, you can master the skills and learn how to be an effective communicator. Great communicators choose their words well, understand their audience, and connect with them at the right time and place.
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