7 Top Tips to Improve Your Communication Skills

A recent survey published by Deloitte reveals that we value communication above all else in business leadership, with 71 percent of respondents prioritizing communication skills.

As well as being a key component in executive leadership, communication skills benefit individuals at all organizational levels. While not all of us are born with excellent communication skills, we can improve our communication skills by keeping in mind a few things, including the following:

1. Eye Contact

Whether you are speaking to just one person or addressing a crowd, eye contact is very important. Confident eye contact builds credibility, showing that you care about your audience.

Gaze avoidance typically manifests itself in people with social anxiety. Some individuals use gaze avoidance as a safety behavior to reduce their nervousness. Unfortunately, gaze avoidance can send out negative social signals; it can make you appear cold, aloof, or disinterested. As well as being a symptom of social anxiety, gaze avoidance is also associated with other disorders including autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and depression.

For individuals with gaze avoidance issues, practicing maintaining eye contact for a little longer than they are comfortable with, even when it makes them feel awkward, can go a long way toward breaking down barriers and helping them to improve their social skills.

Staring is also to be avoided. Excessive eye contact may be perceived by the recipient as hostility or even aggression. So, how do effective communicators achieve the right balance?

Humans typically break eye contact every 5 seconds. When an individual is listening, they will make eye contact 70 percent of the time, dropping to 50 percent when they are talking. As a general rule of thumb, mirroring a person, or maintaining a similar level of eye contact as they are with you, is often the key to striking a healthy balance. Maintaining a friendly facial expression to make the other person feel comfortable is also important.

2. Body Language

According to scientists, 65 percent of all communication that takes place between humans is non-verbal. Eye contact and facial expression are both important, but people give—and receive—a plethora of other non-verbal signals.

It is important to face the person you are in a conversation with, retaining an open posture and showing that you are listening and receptive to their opinions. Smiling is an effective way of putting others at ease, but again, too much can have the opposite effect.

Facial expressions are important cues. As the American psychologist Paul Watzlawick points out, “One cannot not communicate.” Nonverbal communication gives off all kinds of information to the people around us. It can also provide vital insights into how we are being received by the other person too.

3. Active Listening

The ability to listen is an integral part of great communication. To actively listen, you must pay attention to what the other person is saying, ask them questions, and request clarification on anything they have said that seems ambiguous. Paraphrasing what they have said and repeating it back shows you are listening, and it ensures you understand them completely.

Active listening is a powerful tool in terms of establishing and building trust and rapport.

4. Brain-Mouth Filter

A great communicator always thinks before they speak. Getting into the habit of pausing to reflect before speaking helps people to avoid significant miscommunication problems—at work, at home, and everywhere else.

It is always worth hitting the internal pause button and using the THINK acronym, asking yourself whether what you are about to say is:

  1. True
  2. Helpful
  3. Inspiring
  4. Necessary
  5. Kind

Pausing and speaking more slowly also enables you to filter out those irksome “ums” and “uhs.”

5. Self-Awareness

Individuals with great communication skills know how and when to rein in their emotions. They keep their cool even when they feel anxious or upset, and they don’t allow their personal feelings to take over the situation or cause unnecessary drama, especially during tough conversations.

6. Engage the Audience

It is important to be succinct. A great communicator cuts to the chase, avoiding unnecessary preamble and using simple, straightforward language to draw listeners in.

Telling a story or describing a scene or character promotes engagement, making conversations much more interesting. Great communicators use language that is “clear to the ear,” which reduces the risk of misunderstandings. They summarize and stay focused to maintain audience interest.

7. Never Assume

According to George Bernard Shaw, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

It is easy to assume that we can accurately guess what someone else means or wants. Nevertheless, misunderstandings can create significant problems, with misconceptions potentially escalating into conflict in some situations. Here we return to the active listening model, underlining the importance of asking questions rather than making assumptions.

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