The most effective communicators use a style that can change on each occasion and be adapted for each individual. This brings out the best in everyone, especially if you are a manager or team leader. These skills need continual practice and fine-tuning until they become a natural response which is seen by others as appropriate across a wide range of situations. So here are the top ten tips to help you:
- Be aware of your thinking – your inner dialogue. We talk to ourselves all the time, but it tends to be negative or bossy. Learn to talk to yourself positively and objectively. Remind yourself of what you want to achieve from the conversation, not what might go wrong!
- Be aware of your presence – behave assertively. For example, make eye contact; sit/stand/walk upright; be conscious of your hand gestures; use a facial expression that conveys acceptance, congruence, competence. Remember you are also a role model for others.
- Speak for yourself. Own what you say and start with “I” instead of “you” when talking about yourself, your needs, your likes, your wishes. Avoid blaming someone else in an effort to make yourself seem less needy or demanding.
- Invite disclosure from the other person by using open, not closed, questions. Open questions are more productive and usually start with “how”, “where”, “what”, “when”, “in what way”. These questions encourage the other person to think about a response and to open up a conversation with you.
- Avoid asking “why” questions, as they are often interpreted as blaming or indicating that you disagree with what a person has previously said. “Why” questions can also lead to long-winded explanations.
- Use silence and pausing more. Sometimes just by your being silent, the other person will open up more. And if you pause, it gives the other person a chance to absorb what you have said. It also gives you time to think about where you want the conversation to go.
- Ensure mutual understanding by recapping or using reflecting statements, for example, “Let’s see if I’ve got it right” or “Do you mean …?”
- Prompt the other person if they seem stuck for words or have lost their way, for example, “You were talking about …”.
- Watch for stresses on words. Sometimes you may notice a particular word or phrase has been used or accented and this may seem significant. Explore this further and repeat the word or phrase, with a question mark in your tone.
- Don’t worry about making mistakes – nobody’s perfect. Even the best communicators have made mistakes. That way, they can correct them for the future.
Des Whitehorn is the Training Principal of Zee Associates (www.zee-associates.co.uk). She can be contacted on 01825 733621 or firstname.lastname@example.org