Thoughts on developing clear communication skills
I recently watched a video clip of two news anchors who got into a heated and confusing discussion. One said to the other: “I was watching an episode of You where measles came up”. The other anchor said she had never done a show on measles because she had never had measles.
The first anchor repeatedly tried to get her to understand that he was referring to a TV show titled “You” which featured an episode on measles. The other anchor, however, did not appear to understand this and kept on emphasising that she had never had measles and could thus not have featured on a show about measles. It was a hilarious exchange that ended with the first anchor getting intensely irritated and frustrated before he quickly ended the discussion.
Watching the interaction between both people reminded me of how often we all get into similar exchanges with people. Both were convinced that they had communicated yet, neither of them understood the other.
If there is one thing that every single person on earth does consistently, it would be communicating. We all express ourselves every day, sometimes even when we don’t intend to do so. We are constantly communicating our thoughts and intentions, overtly or covertly, whether we speak, write, or give nonverbal signals.
You could be attending an interview and aiming to convince the panel that you are the best person for the job or making a presentation before business leaders hoping to clinch that deal you have been working towards. You could be with your close friends chatting away about different things or maybe you could be giving a speech before a large audience. Perhaps it’s an email you have sent to request some information or a conversation you are having on a social message chat group. For every time you express yourself, getting people to understand you is critical.
I love observing people gathering and sharing their thoughts and opinions, and also watching how they comport themselves. I find that many people are often unaware of how poorly they communicate even when they think they have put their best foot forward. For example, they may be saying all the right things but they may not notice that they are speaking unclearly or too fast. They may not realise that their facial expressions are telling a contrary story and they may not notice that the person they are communicating with is no longer actively listening.
Communication, like many other skills, is not necessarily innate and can be learned. Improving your communication skills could make a world of difference in how people perceive you. Truth be told, many people could be fickle and judgemental, so it is very important for us to understand the various aspects of communication and how to make improvements where we are deficient.
What you say and how you say it is one of the most critical aspects of your communication profile. The words you use and your understanding of those words reveal a lot about you, whether you know it or not. How you speak and how you sound, whether you have an accent or not, speak too fast or too slow, and which words you choose to inflect can influence how your message is understood by your audience. Granted that some people have speech impediments but these could always be improved on with constant practice.
Many people do not understand how important body language is. Our facial expressions and gesticulations say a lot about our true feelings and opinions. I remember once telling a friend how he could never mask his true thoughts about any matter irrespective of whatever he was saying. People like this would probably struggle to tell lies because the truth would be splashed all over their faces! One of the best ways to come across as believable is ensuring that our facial expressions align with what we say and how we say it. After all, what is the point in saying how excited you are about something when your face shows how much misery you are in?
How we also project our body is key. Standing straight rather than slouching projects a confident outlook. Dressing the part for the occasion you are in also communicates professionalism, remember “dress the way you want to be addressed”. Why dress casually in an environment that calls for formal wear? It would be hard to convince anyone that one is there on serious business.
If there is one thing many people fail at, it would be paying proper attention to what others say to provide the appropriate response, where one is required. The beautiful thing about listening is that you can glean a lot about how the person you are listening to is thinking. On the other hand, the hard thing about listening is paying attention to what is not being said rather than just listening to what one hears. Very often, the meat of the matter is in what is left unsaid and discerning listeners know this too well.
Must one become a mindreader then? Not at all, you just have to learn to pay attention to all the communication signals (verbal and nonverbal) to understand the true message. And when in doubt, ask to clarify your understanding.
How many times have you had a conversation with someone and not quite understood what was said? Known you should have sought clarification and went ahead to do what you thought was required because you didn’t want to appear stupid, and then produced a contrary result? Many of us are guilty as charged! Seeking feedback ensures you don’t assume something else otherwise you would end up making an “ass” of “u” and “me”.
By requesting feedback, you demonstrate your understanding of what you have heard and by giving feedback, you provide clarification about what you have said. Think about many of your miscommunication mishaps; could they have just been solved by requesting or giving feedback?
This is probably one of the toughest means of expressing yourself as any errors could result in a total misunderstanding with no immediate chance of seeking clarification. One of the first things I learned with writing was to always keep it simple and short, and go straight to the point. Using flowery words may be appealing in a poem but when you want to get someone to take action, you might as well tell them exactly what you need them to do.
We spend so much time interacting with other people these days, especially through social media and various technology tools. And because we live in a time-poor world, it is important that we get our intentions clearly understood the first time or we may not have the opportunity to do so again. Many people have lost opportunities due to poor communication skills, so we should constantly work towards improving any deficiencies we may have. Most importantly, always say what you mean and mean what you say, this is the way I see things today.