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Great Communication Skills
What is communication?
Communication is passing a message to another person and ensuring that the message they believe they received is the message you actually meant to send. This is a two-way process; there can be no communication without understanding. The communication can be in one of many forms - written, by letter, email or text, a thank-you card, a birthday card, spoken, face to face, by telephone, by video link and there are many other ways too - semaphore, Morse code, a bunch of flowers, a hug, etc.
A little story
A little boy was having a birthday and he wanted a party. His mother agreed and they decided on a time. The little boy wanted to help write the invitations for his party but he made a mistake on one of the invitations that he wrote and he put the finish time down in place of the start time. His mother didn't check the invite and one of the invited children turned up at the end of the party, instead of the beginning!
The message had been written clearly, the receiver had understood what was written but the writer had not written what they meant to write - there was poor communication, even though everything seemed clear. This can happen with other forms of communication too - a hug may be seen as threatening, a text message may seem totally unreadable, an email message may be sent out to the wrong people!
What are communication skills?
If you have good communication skills, then you have the ability to let others know clearly what you want to let them know. You can't always be responsible for the other person RECEIVING that message clearly - after all, they may not want to hear it, or they may be unable to understand. But provided they are willing to hear and have the ability to understand, then there is nothing magic about the ability, it is called communication skills because this ability is made up of SKILLS - something you can DO and something you can LEARN.
What are good communication skills?
There are several and the most important one is LISTENING!
Yes, the most important communication skill is not how you speak, nor is it articulating, or focusing on your message but the most important skill of all is listening to the other person. You may ask how this can be. How can a salesperson, a teacher, a parent, a boss, be expected to get their message across by listening to the other person? It's because nobody wants to listen to what you have to say UNLESS they believe that you will also listen to them. And to do that, you may have to listen first - before trying to get your message across. (Unless of course, it's an urgent message like, "Fire - run quickly, right now!") Don't just take my word for it - try it (listening, not escaping from a fire)!
Listening is not just staying silent! Staying silent can come across as "not listening", "being sulky", ignoring the speaker", "disinterested". To really count as listening to someone, you have to:
*look at them - really look and concentrate on what they are saying
* smile or at least LOOK interested in what they have to say
* don't interrupt (this can be very hard!)
There are some even more advanced skills you can also practise when trying to show someone that you are listening to them. These include having a "listening attitude", this means that you are facing the person (not turned away), nodding as they are speaking, using little "nonsense" or "filler" sounds, such as "mmhh hmm", "yes", "I see" etc., while they are speaking and occasionally repeating back to them what they have said, in different words. This is not just parroting what they said, but putting it in a slightly different way, while still keeping the meaning.
But I Don't Want to Listen!
I want them to listen to what I have to say, I don't want to spend time listening to what they have to say! (Sub text - "What they have to say is not important but what I have to say IS important")
It's a hard lesson to learn. I used to think that what I had to say was the most important thing in the world. I knew it all, had all the solutions, if only "they" would listen to me! "They" being anyone around me - my brothers and sisters, children, colleagues, bosses, friends, etc. That was, until I learned that MOST people think that what they have to say is the most important thing in the world and that NO, I didn't know it all. In fact, most people knew what they needed to do and they didn't actually need my advice, they maybe just needed a little help to work it out for themselves. That was devastating! They didn't need my input - well, at least not verbally. But they DID need me to listen. And that was a hard lesson to learn.
And, no - communicating does NOT mean just shouting louder than the other person, to try to force them to hear you.
How can you improve communication skills?
Practice listening. This is the MOST IMPORTANT communication skill. No one will listen to what you want to say unless you are also a good listener.
- Don't interrupt.
If you can already do that, then practice the advanced listening skills, of nodding, using "filler" sounds and paraphrasing (saying it in different words) what they just said.
Once you can do this, you will be in a position to use good selling skills, good parenting skills and good leadership skills to communicate YOUR wants and needs.
What are examples of good communication skills?
Person 1 says: "I had a really bad night last night."
Person 2 says: "oh"?
This is an invitation for them to go on talking.
Person 1 says, "So then, the next thing I saw was this car hurtling towards me..." They pause.
Person 2 says, "That must have been very frightening."
This is an example of empathy. Person 2 has recognised that the situation Person 1 described must have been very scary and shows Person 1 that they recognise this. This allows Person 1 to keep on talking and to accept and admit that it was a scary situation.
Person 1 says, ".......... And finally, we reached our destination."
Person 2 says, "You felt you had a much longer journey than necessary?"
Person 2 is "paraphrasing" what Person 1 has said (including any earlier speech not recorded here). That means that they have tried to understand what Person 1 said, and concentrated its meaning into a few words. They will know if they were right if Person 1 says "Yes" or "That's right", or nods and keeps on talking. If they didn't quite get it right, then Person 2 is likely to say something like, "Well, not exactly, ..." or "No, not really, it ..." But Person 1 should still be able to keep on talking and will still feel they have been listened to.
What are examples of poor communication skills?
Person 1 says "I had a really awful night last night."
Person 2 says, "That's nothing, you should hear how bad MY night was!"
This is very poor communication. Person 2 did not listen, other than to use Person 1's remark as their excuse to start talking themselves. They also are trying to "go one better" than person 1, by saying that their night was worse, without even knowing what was so bad about person 1's night.
Person 1 says, " So then, the next thing I saw was this car hurtling towards me..." They pause.
Person 2 says, "Yes, I was in a car accident once. This is how it happened..."
Person 2 has again found a phrase that they can use to bring the conversation around to themselves, rather than listening.
Person 1 says, ".......... And finally, we reached our destination."
Person 2 says, "That reminds me of a long journey I took last year ...... We went to ......" or they might say, "I see. How about a cup of tea?" Again, they have either turned the conversation to themselves, or they are showing that they have tired of the discussion and changed the subject.
Have a go at picking the best "listening" option
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You don't always have to Listen
You don't have to listen all the time. You need to talk too - everyone does. See if you can find someone who will listen to you, without judging what you are saying. And then do them the same favour.
Some books that include Listening
From the UK
- I'm Ok, You're Ok: Amazon.co.uk: Thomas Harris: Books
I'm Ok, You're Ok: Amazon.co.uk: Thomas Harris: Books