Be an Effective Communicator
Humans are not the only species to have some form of communication. Yet we do have the most complex forms of communication extant. Hundreds of differing spoken languages and dialects, several visual languages, and several different alphabets, not to mention the various codes based on tones, beats etc, exist all of which are there for the purpose of communicating with other people. Human beings are social creatures – communication amongst ourselves is part and parcel of everyday life. Yet many people have “poor communication skills”. Why is this so, when we seem to have developed an extraordinarily complex system able to convey a multitude of different purposes?
The Purpose of each Communication – Differences in Style
All communication has a purpose, be that talking to clients over the phone, chatting with friends or presenting a report. What are the purposes here? In all cases there are a variety at work: maintaining or building relationships, answering specific questions, giving an expert opinion, reframing events in light of previous experience to make them seem more normal, exchanging news to satisfy curiosity, teaching others by grouping seemingly separate pieces of information into a cohesive whole, the list could go on for a very long time from just three different situations in which communication is the main part. The important thing to realise here is the differing variables of communication depending on the situation. The main variables are: amount and mode of information received (voice, body language etc), role being played, number of people being communicated with at once (and thus the amount of differing sets of information being received), vocabulary set being used.
This all seems very complicated: so how are we meant to learn this so subtle skill of communicating effectively? In actuality there are a few separate skills, all of which can improve your communication abilities and that are relevant to all situations you can possibly face. It is not some strange and unintelligible science that is out of reach of most people, but rather it is accepting that to be an effective communicator you must change your communicating style to match that of the person you are communicating with: it is no use expecting them to change for you.
Communication Part 1: Listening/Observing
Communication can be separated into two parts: the first part is being able to listen and observe. People speak at 100 to 175 words per minute (wpm), but they can listen intelligently at 600 to 800 wpm. Since only a part of the mind is paying attention, it is easy to let the mind drift. The cure for this is active and effective listening – which involves listening with a purpose such as to gain information, obtain directions, understand others, solve problems, share interest, show support, etc. By defining your purpose in listening you can moderate your responses to accomplish your purpose.
Active & Effective Listening
So how do you listen actively? First of all, you must be able to yank your mind back from wherever it might drift during a conversation: being able to concentrate exclusively on someone else can be quite difficult for any length of time. With practice you can listen to others without having random thoughts intrude – many people find that meditation helps with this skill as it trains the mind in exactly this fashion. The second way people are distracted during a conversation is by thinking up the reply while the other person is still speaking – a really easy way to miss the point of what another person is saying! Thirdly, you can focus on many different things to make this more interesting so as to prevent your mind from wandering. Concentrating on body language can do this: see how your correspondent is sitting/standing – is it closed or open (closed is turned away or blocked by another part of the body, such as crossing the arms, open is facing you and arms and legs not blocking the body). Are they looking at you or are they avoiding eye contact? If it is the latter, they may not be interested in the conversation, they may be lying, and they may be uncomfortable. Are they acting nervously by tapping, twitching or fiddling with something? Are they appearing happy/sad/emotionless? Are their facial behaviours matching or contradicting their bodily behaviours (e.g. nervous tapping of the foot yet open body language and happy appearance)?
Build Rapport through Mirroring
Building rapport is vital in ensuring effective communication and while you are listening you are able to do this by mirroring or matching what your correspondent is doing. For example you cross your legs in the same way as them, and put your arms in a similar way, this puts you on the same wavelength as your correspondent and will make them be more receptive to what you have to say when you do get around to saying it. Mirroring can also be done through the use of the specific NLP type vocabulary. Notice any clues for NLP type, for later use in responding. An abbreviated explanation of NLP types: the visual type uses the words “I see what you mean” and similar, while the auditory type uses the words “I hear what you’re saying”, and the kinaesthetic will use the words “I feel I understand this”. If you note down what kind of vocabulary is being used, and then use this with them you are more likely to be understood, as well as being more able to be in rapport with them. Try noting down what types your colleagues or your family are: then try deliberately using the wrong type of vocabulary in what you are saying and seeing (visual vocab) what the difference can be to when you use the correct type for the person you are talking to, it flows (kinaesthetic vocab) very differently and you can hear (auditory vocab) the discord.
Communication Part 2: Responding
The first thing to learn in this part is that you will find communication much easier if you are speaking in the same way (tone, tempo and rhythm) as your correspondent: if you usually speak fast, find someone who speaks slowly (or vice versa) and match their tempo when you are talking with them, and then measure how successful that conversation was in comparison to a conversation with them which was entirely on your natural tempo. Be sure you are matching all three (tone, tempo and rhythm) though as most people who say that this doesn’t work are not matching all three correctly! Usually this sort of thing is natural: if you’ve ever been to the US, you may have noticed that you started ending sentences on an upward inflection automatically: not a typically British way of speaking. You just picked it up from others and naturally matched it. But if you are to be a highly successful communicator you need to be aware of what actually works rather than just stabbing in the dark and going with what comes out of your mouth without you thinking about it.
Use Positive Directions
The second thing that is most important to learn about responding to others is to use positive sentences – I don’t mean being nice to people, although that is all to the good, but by expressing your purpose in a specific way: “do this” rather than “do not do this”. The brain works extra hard to create the representation of the thing not to be done and superimposes some kind of negative – and in all the brain processing that happens afterwards the negative frequently gets lost so leaving an extra strong impression of the thing not to be done – without its negative. For example: if I were to say, “Do NOT think of a bright red cat”, what are you thinking of? Most of you will honestly admit to having had some kind of representation of a red cat flash across the mind, furthermore this representation of a red cat will be something you remember more readily than something I say in the positive sense. Also, there is the whole contrary nature of the mind to contend with: there is always the fascination and compulsion with what we are told not to do, why else does negative psychology work so well with teenagers?
Take a Meta-View
The last important thing to learn about communication skills is the goal of the communication: you must keep this in mind when entering into any communication for you to be able to measure it’s success and thus moderate your future attempts to achieve your goals through communication. If your goal is to cheer up a friend, you will be able to tell if you have been successful by comparing the tone of the friend at the beginning and at the end of the conversation. Or if your goal is to build a relationship more solidly, then you can compare your correspondent’s mood before and after each communication: and the attitude with which they receive you. If they are happy to see you all the better, but you can tell something is wrong if they are consistently displeased to see you. For positive proof you need several communications to base your conclusion on: there are other factors at work as well, such as your correspondent’s internal mood state – which frequently has very little to do with you – take a “meta-view” stance and see what the overall picture is before coming to any conclusions about your communication skills.