Your ability to communicate impacts every area of your life.
Career, romance, friendships, family connection... all are shaped by the way you communicate with those around you. Breakdowns in communication can have far reaching consequences, while strong communication strategies, techniques, and skill can result in success, intimacy and self-improvement.
Great communication techniques come naturally to some people, but that's not the case for many others.
The bad news is that improving your communication skills isn't something you can do overnight. The good news is that improvement isn't a complex process. All you need are a set of effective communication strategies to follow in your day to day life.
In this guide, we will take you through 15 proven communication techniques that will help you better connect with those around you and better succeed at work and at life.
How Communication Works
Before we dive into strategy, let's establish a baseline for understanding communication.
Merriam-Webster defines communication as "a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior."
Essentially, it's the process by which we share information, ideas, and intentions with each other.
For the purposes of this article, we'll focus on the three most common types of communication:
- Verbal communication: The way we speak, whether in a formal setting or through a casual conversation.
- Written communication: Considering how frequently we use emails, text messages, and social media to communicate these days, being able to communicate well through writing is a vital skill.
- Behavioral communication: Sometimes going by the ambiguous moniker "non-verbal communication," this type of communication includes things like gestures, appearance and facial expressions.
Image from BusinessJargons.com
Today, we'll be looking at great communication strategies across each of these communication types. But before we do, let's take a quick look at some of the mistakes these strategies are designed to avoid.
5 Common Communication Mistakes
There are many nuanced ways bad communication can manifest, but here are a few of the most common:
1. Poor commitment to listening
Communication is a two-way street, which means being able to listen well is just as important as being able to express yourself effectively. A lack of listening is one of the most communication barriers, and you'll see it pops up frequently in the communication strategy examples below.
2. Notably weak writing skills
It's not easy to write well, and while you don't need to be a masterful storyteller, you do need to be able to use grammar and your vocabulary to successfully communicate via writing.
3. Allowing persistent distractions
Distractions play a huge part in our daily lives. Even if you ignore a phone call, think about how much a ringing phone can distract you when you're trying to listen to someone.
4. Making assumptions about information or intent
When you are trying to explain something you fully understand, it can be easy to omit vital information, because you assume the person or people listening to you are on the same page.
5. Practicing passive communication
This communication barrier also involves withholding information, though on a more emotional level. A person who practices passive communication will be reluctant to share things that might make them uncomfortable—such as fears, anger, sadness, or jealousy.
Now that we understand the common types of communication and the major barriers preventing effective communication, let's look at the techniques and strategies you can apply to everyday life to improve your communication with those around you.
Part I: Verbal Communication Strategies
Let's start with the most common type of communication for most people—verbal. Here are communication tips to help you in face-to-face (or phone) conversations.
1. Practice active listening
Have you ever been in a conversation where all you could think about was what you wanted to say next?
If that sounds familiar, then you may need to practice active listening. Instead of focusing on what you want to say in a conversation, try to simply listen to what your conversation partner is saying.
Not only will this help them feel appreciated and respected, but it will also make sure what you say next will be on point and help move the conversation forward.
2. Remove distractions (especially technology)
Mute your twitter account, put your phone on vibrate, or power down that SmartWatch—there's nothing more distracting in a conversation that the technology we wear on our person.
In fact, a 2016 study found that even just having your cell phone visible (like lying it face-down on the table) can disrupt intimacy in a conversation. If someone is trying to speak to you about something, give them your full attention if possible.
This means you shouldn't be checking your texts, playing a video game, or typing away on a computer. The few seconds you take to put away distractions can save you time later, when you have to recall what your conversation partner was saying.
3. Recognize and call out your emotions
If a conversation is likely to cause you to feel some difficult emotions, it's important to call them out verbally (even though it might be hard). Try to speaking with sentences that start with "I feel," to help convey your perspective.
For example, you might tell your partner, "I feel stressed out after work, and need some time to decompress."
This is a far better way to show your true feelings, rather than something like, "I hate talking to you when I get home from work." The latter doesn't do a good job of communicating why you don't want to talk, and it comes off as overly harsh and critical—not a good look for communicating with someone you care about.
4. Prepare for tricky conversations
If you know you have a tricky conversation coming up, it's good to practice it by yourself or with a friend in advance. (Pro tip: Try practicing a conversation in the shower—it works wonders.)
Try to think of what your conversation partner might say, and the best way to respond. When it comes time for the actual conversation, you'll feel much more confident.
5. Take a speech class/course
If you find that you have anxiety about public speaking (or even in one-on-one conversations), then taking a course could make a big difference. There are a lot of places online where you can get help with public speaking, or you could look for a local class if you prefer something in person.
Part II: Written Communication Techniques
Writing doesn't come easy to everyone, and even if you are a perfect grammarian, it still takes skill and thought to communicate effectively on the page. Here are some written communication strategies to help you:
6. Get your grammar and mechanics down pat
Don't worry—we aren't saying you have to have use perfect grammar in every text message you send. You just need to be sure that your language skills are up to snuff to effectively communicate. Sometimes, something as simple as a misplaced comma can make a big difference in a sentence's meaning.
Image from Fonts.com
Fortunately, it's pretty easy to get your spelling correct these days thanks to autocorrect and spell checker, but if you need some additional assistance, tools like Grammarly and Hemingway App can help you improve over time.
7. Organize and format information for your reader
When writing an email or text message, try to put yourself in the mind of the reader and determine what information they will need. If you need to convey a lot of info, use headers, numbered lists, bullet points, and bolded text to make it easier for people to quickly digest the information they need.
The more time you take to organize the info for your reader, the less time you'll have to spend repeating yourself later when people ask for details.
8. Edit, edit, and edit again
It's all too easy to write up a quick response to something and hit send without reading it again, but this is a surefire way to end up sending a messy, confusing bit of written communication. Particularly with longer forms of written comms, be sure to read over your text again, not only eliminating typos, but also trimming down wordy phrases.
9. Have an "inbox strategy"
There are two types of people on Earth: those who have thousands of unread emails, and those who rarely have more than a handful.
If you're part of the former group, then your disorganized inbox might be making communication a challenge. Going days or weeks without reading an email or text message means you could be missing out on important information, not to mention the sender will feel neglected.
The best place to start is by decluttering—unsubscribe from those ancient mailing lists you're on, and put some filters and labels into place to make things easier to track. If you need a break from your digital communication, put up an out of office or let people know ahead of time, so they expect a delay in your responses.
10. Ask questions and suggest action
Unless your written communication is just an FYI, you should try to close out with a question or a prompt for action. Don't expect that your reader will know what you want them to do—be politely explicit.
For example, let's say you've written an email inviting people to a get-together at your house. You've included the time, what will be on the menu, and the date, and you expect people to RSVP by responding. At the end of the email, include something like, "Can everyone please respond and let me know if you can make it and what you'll be bringing?" Otherwise, you'll end up chasing people for days to get the final head count.
Part III: Behavioral Communication Strategies
Image from CommunicationBlog06
There are many ways you can communicate without moving your mouth or a pen across a page. Let's look at some of the non-verbal communication strategies you can use to improve.
11. Consider your appearance
Whether or not it's intentional, the way you look says a lot about you. That's why people dress up for job interviews and dates—the clothing you wear shows that you care.
It's not just down to fashion either; personal grooming and hygiene are also forms of subtle communication. You certainly don't need to wear a crisp suit or ballroom gown to every event, but taking some time in the morning to select an appropriate (and wrinkle-free) outfit can go a long way, as can a shower, deodorant, and perhaps a bit of perfume or cologne.
12. Work on your eye contact
Maintaining eye contact during a conversation is a good way to show you are listening, which is a core part of effective communication. While it can be uncomfortable for some, the longer you can hold eye contact with someone you're talking to, the more they will feel like you are listening and engaging in an effective way.
13. Record a conversation with a friend
The gestures and body language you use during a conversation are important aspects of your nonverbal communication.
If you aren't sure whether yours is coming across as you intend, try recording a conversation with a friend (just make sure they know what you're doing first). Once you have it, watch your facial expressions, hand gestures, and body languages to look for patterns and areas to improve.
14. Improve your posture
Slouching in your chair or standing with slumped shoulders may be something you are doing subconsciously, but it can send signals to those around you that you might not want to communicate.
On the flip side, standing tall, with your shoulders pulled back, sends a different message: that you are alert, attentive, and confident.
15. Watch for nonverbal cues
By now, you should know that listening is a big part of effective communication strategies. This means you should be constantly watching the body language and facial expressions of those you are talking to.
By doing this, you'll better understand whether your own words and and actions are coming across as intended, and you can adjust your communication strategy as needed.
Continue Learning About Communication
In this guide, we covered 15 general communication strategies that anyone can use in any context to better communicate with those around them.
If you'd like to continue diving deeper into how communication impacts a business, click below to learn why the current model of business communication is wildly inefficient.