Many of us don’t realize how important proper communication skills are. Developing a good set of communication skills takes work, but it’s one of the most important and powerful skills to have. If we don’t have the proper communication skills, we will encounter problems not only at work, but also in our personal relationships. Improving our communication skills then, is not something that will help us temporarily, it is permanent.
What does it really take to become a good communicator?. Well there are six pillars or foundations which are the essential components for effective communication.
1. Assertiveness. When we try to communicate with someone, usually it is our goal to want something to happen; we tend to use our words to convey whatever it is we want to happen. A lot of people will use a lot of words to try to convey a message, however due to lack of assertiveness on their part, the message seems to get lost. Being assertive means you have to believe on what you are trying to express. Your communication should be one by which others will take you and your ideas seriously. You have to know how to be confident on how you convey your message, and that starts by believing on whatever it is you are trying to “sell”. At the same time it is important when developing assertiveness to be consistent and persistent. If you lack believe in yourself and on whatever you are trying to convey, then your message will be meek, which only means you will get others to not take you seriously. Learning assertiveness takes work, which at times may mean stepping out of your comfort zone.
2. Authenticity. Authenticity is critical. Most people hold back, trying just about anything to make sure their verbal transaction does not upset anyone. They will got to such extent as to deny themselves for the sake of not upsetting the apple cart; denying their own opinions, which really is the denying of one self. To be authentic you have to be very clear about what your own values are. Over time some of our values may vary, however if your values are something that keeps changing according to whatever is convenient for you at the moment, then you have no values, hence no authenticity. So first learn what your true values are; you have to know what is true for you and what isn’t, what your boundaries are and then you will need to have the courage to stand by them. Being authentic is not something which comes naturally to most people. Most people are too dependent of the approval of others, so learning to be authentic can take work and effort, but it starts with learning to love yourself and accept that “your” opinion should be the one that matters the most to you, not what someone else may say or think about you or whatever your actions/beliefs are. We have always been taught to be polite and to put a smile on our face in order not to upset anyone; being polite however should not mean being fake, because in the long run it does not work. In the long run, specially in relationships; others will be able to tell your lack of authenticity. Lack of authenticity on your beliefs (which means you don’t live what you preach) usually points to a person who is unfulfilled with him or herself. The only people who they may fool are those who like them are trying very hard not to look at their own selves, avoiding the work of self development.
3. Open-Mindedness. Open mindedness means you are willing to consider other’s perspectives, values, ideas, and ways of life. Don’t close your mind to other’s points of view, because in life you will meet many different types of people and who they are and their personal history will have shaped them to see the world differently. A lot of the time when we are challenged by beliefs different than ours, we tend to right away judge and criticize; when doing this, all we are doing is building an instantaneous wall. Where there is a wall no effective communication can happen, because you are closing yourself to your dogmatic ideas, as a result others will not want to communicate with you, because no one wants to be lectured on how you think they should live their life, and see the world. Open communication is expressing your views, and listening to the other’s views. Open communication is not one sided, for example: If you meet with a friend to discuss a personal topic, and your friend gives you the time to express yourself, but then when your friend tries to do the same, because his/her ideas are different than how you think things should be/or things should be handled, you become dogmatic, critical, cynical. Well if you do that, why in the world will anyone want to talk with you?!. You don’t have the right to tell someone else how to live their life, or not to respect the boundaries they set when communicating. Lack of showing respect for other’s boundaries is a sign of ignorance. The ability to show courtesy to want to hear someone else’s opinion is a sign of intelligence, and open mindedness, intelligent people are more likely to want to hold a proper conversation with an intelligent person than with someone who is ignorant and closed on their ways. Listening to different ideas, values, experiences, perspectives doesn’t mean you have to adopt their views, it means you have the mental maturity to respect others the way you expect to be respected. Failure to do so, only shows that you are stuck in your own beliefs and ideas in a way that will only limit your grow as a human being.
4. Empathy. Empathy is empirical for communication. Neuroscientists have studied how our brain works,and have discovered we have what is called mirror neurons.
Mirror neurons are specialized neurons which help us have empathy for others.
That is the reason when we see others who are getting hurt, we tend to feel their pain (Not literally).
What mirror neurons do is allow us to experience a “similar” feeling of what the other person is going through, giving us the opportunity to relate to the other person’s experience.
Empathy creates a common ground where the other person feels heard and understood, therefore creating a cooperative dynamic. If you have no empathy, authentic people will sense that about you and they will choose not to want to communicate with you. Empathy is going to get you a long way in your communication skills, specially when it comes to your personal relationships.
5. Clarity. Communication needs to be clear. Clear communication is not what you meant to say but what the other person received. A lot of times we can say something and the other person will hear our message and do or believe something else than what was intended. So the bottom line when it comes to effective communication is: Whatever the other person hears or understands is what was communicated (this does not mean you will not encounter people who will twist your words due to a preconceived notion of who you are or to make themselves the victim of you words).
Clarity is all about getting your intention in line with what the other person actually perceives. The best type of communication is clear, direct and accurate. Is not unclear, hidden or abstract. Clarity is important, otherwise others will not follow the instructions you intended, or will believe that your intentions are different than what you wanted to convey.
6.Listening. In effective communication; just talking and talking doesn’t work unless you also hear back from the other person. People want to feel they are being listened to, not just talked at. Listening is not just about opening you ears, but is about making sure the other person knows they were heard. You have to be an active listener, meaning you need to learn to focus on the person who is trying to communicate with you, not interrupting, nodding your head every now and then so they know you are listening, making little comments like “I see”, “Interesting point”, making mental notes of anything you found unclear so you may ask a question when your turn comes. Those things are very critical when you are communicating with someone else, specially if the situation is serious. You have to actually want to listen, because faking it won’t work. It is disrespectful and you will be found out
Now that you know which are the 6 pillars of communication, try to go over them again, and focus on the ones that you feel you need to work on. Identify which are the ones that hold you back, and start working on those. Devote the next 30 days to improve on those. Think about what it is you need to work on them, maybe you need to take notes, read books, get feedback, expand your vocabulary, or simplify your vocabulary. Think about the many ways that you can use to work on your communication skills. While you are learning, practice, practice practice, the more you practice, the more you master your craft, or in this case your communication skills.
Remember that a lot of people think communication skills is something that comes naturally, for very few it does, for most of us is a learned behavior. Just like you learn to ride a bike, you can learn to properly and effectively communicate. Keep in mind that words are powerful!