Five Ways to Improve Your Conversation Skills in the Workplace
Conversations skills are essential for success in the workplace. It is in and through conversation that relationships with co-workers, supervisors, and clients are developed. The ability of a person to converse readily and easily often determines where they work, how much they are paid, and how they are treated. The five skills listed below are the basis for good conversation:
- Use eye contact
- Speak with an appropriate tone of voice
- Use "I" statements to express feelings or opinions
- State the source of facts
- Listen actively
Use eye contact
In most cultures, eye contact connects people in preparation for the exchange of information. If you need to get the attention of another person to establish eye contact with them, say their name. If you do not know their name, a simple "Excuse me" will suffice. If they are speaking with someone else, wait until they have finished and they turn their attention to you. Then establish eye contact before you speak.
During the conversation, continue with direct eye contact as much as possible. If the other person breaks eye contact with you, or appears to be distracted (i.e. looking at their watch, shuffling papers, or in some other way indicating that they are not listening) suggest another time for communicating with them when they are able to focus on what you have to say.
When you are approached by another person who appears to want a conversation with you, acknowledge their presence with eye contact. Show them respect by stopping what you are doing and listening to what they have to say. Acknowledge by summarizing or making comments that pertain to the information. If you want the conversation to continue, bring in information of your own that will contribute. If you want to end the conversation, tell the other person that you need to get back to what you are doing. Let them know that you appreciate them talking to you and that you are open to hearing from them again in the future.
Speak with an appropriate tone of voice
Vocal tone is determined by the amount of air allowed to pass through the vocal chords during speech. An airy tone means that too much air is escaping around the vocal chords during vibration, and should be reserved for more intimate settings where whispering is appropriate. Normal vocal tone is not too loud and not to soft, but is pleasant to the ear.
A good way to tell if you are using the appropriate vocal tone is to watch the facial expressions of the person to whom you are speaking. If your vocal tone is too loud, the person may think that you are angry or upset, and they will most likely become defensive. If the tone is too soft and airy, they may lean forward because they are not able to hear what you are saying.
Vocal tone determines whether a person sounds "bossy" or "wimpy" to the hearer. The person who is frequently loud and demanding is often avoided by co-workers. A person who acts embarrassed when spoken to will also be avoided. Confidence in conversation is shown when a normal tone of voice is used and words are said clearly so that they are easily understood.
Feelings of low self worth may get in the way of using proper vocal tone in conversation. In order to overcome these feelings, think of yourself as equal to those in your workplace. As fellow human beings, we all have infinite worth. There is no one better or worse. We all have different talents and abilities, and can learn from each other and our experiences together.
Use "I" statements to express feelings or opinions
When starting conversations, use "I" statements to express feelings and opinions. For example, "I appreciate you coming to my office so promptly" or "I believe that John already turned in his letter of resignation as I overheard him mention it to Jean."
Even if your feelings are the result of something the other person has done, be careful to state them in such a way that you indicate ownership of them. For example, "I became very angry when I realized that you had left the office door open after I had specifically requested that you close it." Indicating ownership of your feelings gives you permission to change them once they are resolved. There is no need to save face or hold a grudge. The slate is wiped clean, and your relationship can continue as before.
Taking the time to express yourself with "I" statements gives others permission to express themselves openly when they are in your presence. It allows them to speak freely about what they think and feel, and how things in their world affect them. You will find that you learn much about those you work with as you take ownership of your feelings and opinions.
State the source of facts and give details
Take the time to get your facts and figures straight and indicate where you got them. For example, "An article in the January issue of Time Magazine by John Brown showed that the S&P 500 dropped 2 points in December." You give credence to information passed on to others when you tell where you obtained it.
Professionalism shows when knowledge gained is used for the benefit of those in the workplace, as well as the company. If you find something to be true by your experience, find a source that substantiates it that you can use as a backup if you are questioned about where you obtained the information. The level of trust others have for you will increase, and you will be considered to be an expert in your field.
The person who brings up little known facts or details simply to show how smart they are is often avoided in conversation. The flaunting of knowledge by telling others what to do is also considered to be unprofessional. Rather use your knowledge and understand to increase your effectiveness in your current position As you show that you know what you are doing, others will ask for your help when they need information.
Take the time to listen actively
Conversations are best when they are reciprocal. Take turns speaking and listening. While the other person is speaking, retain eye contact, and listen to what the other person is saying. Avoid thinking ahead to your next statement, rather keep yourself actively focused on the other person.
Rephrase what they said to check for understanding. Whether you reflect back to the person the feelings you heard, or a summary of what was said, you are indicating that you understand the communication initiated. Simple statements such as "Oh," "Hm-mm," or "Wow!" also give indication that you are listening.
Non-verbal cues such as nodding the head and changing facial expressions according to the content also indicate that listening is taking place. If you find your mind wandering, perhaps you have allowed the other person to dominate the conversation too long, and it is time to recap and end it. Excuse yourself politely, and leave an open invitation to converse in the future, however, keep in mind that the next time, you will need to be more actively involved with the conversation by interjecting some information of your own.
If you find that there are certain people who tend to dominate the conversation whenever you talk to them, seek out times when you are the one on the initiating end, and be the one to set the pace for the flow of information. As you do so, you will be less likely to be on the receiving end when they decide they want to ramble.
Your conversation skills will improve as you keep eye contact, an appropriate tone of voice, use "I" statements when expressing feelings or opinions, state the source of facts and give details, and take the time to actively listen.
These skills will help you in becoming more proficient with people in the workplace, as well as in your own home and in the community. You will find that you are more able to obtain and keep friendships with others, as well as enjoying your relationships with others more.