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 is a valuable asset.
What does it really take to become a good communicator? 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 and we use our words to convey it. 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 belief in yourself or on whatever you are trying to convey, then your message will be meek and others will 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 go to such extent as to deny themselves for the sake of not upsetting the apple cart; denying their own opinions, which really is disrespecting 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 keep changing according to whatever is convenient for you at the moment, then you need to question if they are values or whether you are just trying to manipulate others into doing what you want; for values do not lack authenticity nor genuineness. First learn what your true values are; you have to know what is true for you and what isn’t. Learn 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 vs. what someone else may say or think about you.
We have been taught to be polite and to put a smile on, 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, people will be able to see your lack of authenticity. If you choose that path, the only people you will fool, are those whom likewise are trying very hard not to look within– 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 point of view, for in life you will meet many different types of people whose lives and 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 swiftly judge and maliciously criticize; in doing so, we are building an instantaneous wall and indirectly or directly behaving like bullies. Where there is a wall, no effective communication can happen because we are rigidly closing ourselves, as a result effective communication cannot take place. No one wants to be lectured on how you think they should live their lives and how to see the world (guiding when one has been asked for an opinion or sharing a point of view without expecting others to do as you say, is different than telling someone else what to do).
Open communication is expressing your views and listening to the view’s of others. 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 when your friend tries to do the same–because his/her ideas are different than how you think things should be–you become dogmatic, critical and cynical; that’s when “communication” is being one sided. We don’t have the right to try to force our opinion on someone else, for it is in learning to respect boundaries where we can practice healthy communication. The only time we should raise our voice adamantly, is when one is trying to stop real physical or emotional abuse.
Lack of showing respect for other’s boundaries is a sign of ignorance; on the other hand, the ability to show genuine courtesy to hearing 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 or closed minded.
Listening to different ideas, values, experiences, perspectives, doesn’t mean you have to adopt different views, it means you have the mental maturity to respect others the way you expect to be respected; failure to do so only shows you are stuck in your own beliefs and ideas, in a way which will only limit your growth 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.
They are the reason when we see others who are getting hurt, we tend to feel their pain (not literally). Unlike sympathy, empathy is the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
What mirror neurons do, are allow us to experience a “similar” feeling to 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 say something and the other person will hear something else than what was intended. The bottom line when it comes to effective communication is: Whatever the other person hears or understands is what was communicated (with the exception of those who may like to twist your words due to preconceived notions or who may like to make themselves the victim of you words–that is manipulation not communication).
Clarity is all about getting your intention in line with what the other person actually perceives. The best type of communication is direct and accurate; not hidden or abstract. Clarity is important, otherwise others will not follow the instructions you intended or will believe your intentions are different than what you wanted to convey.
6. Listening. When it comes to 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, 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 questions 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 you feel you could improve on; identify which are the ones that hold you back and start working on those, devoting the next 30 days to improving on them.
Think about what it is you need to work on, maybe you need to take notes, read books, get feedback, expand your vocabulary or simplify your vocabulary. Personally for me, it’s been learning and tuning to write in English; for I speak more than one language. Sometimes speaking in other languages is easier than writing them down. As much as I have faced ridiculed from some people, pushing myself past it has helped me tremendously. Although, I still have lots of room to grow and improve; when it comes to English, as with other languages I practice; I can see I have come a long way. Like anything worth achieving, it takes commitment to learning and improving.
Think about the many ways you can work on your communication skills and practice, practice, practice; the more you practice, the more you master your craft or in this case your communication skills.
A lot of people think communication skills are something that comes naturally; for very few it does yet for most of us, they are a learned behavior. Just like you learn to ride a bike, you can learn to properly and effectively communicate.