As an executive coach one of the questions I repeatedly get is how can I improve my communication skills? How can I convey my message in the best possible way as not to incur backlash from the other party?
Being an effective communicator is challenging yet it’s something that if practiced and honed can differentiate you from being a great leader to an extremely successful one.
So what do we need to learn in order to communicate well?
1: Learn to listen: As Stephen Covey said: “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.” It’s reported that only two percent of the population listens properly – meaning that they listen without inserting themselves into the conversation. People want to be seen and they want to be heard and acknowledged and the best way to do that is by letting them speak and letting them know that you hear them. We often think that in order to be of value we need to offer a solution, yet a person is much more likely to walk away from a conversation feeling empowered and special, if you just tell them that you hear what they’re saying and understand ‘where they’re at’.
2: Learn to have uncomfortable conversations: One of the most common things I hear people say when it comes time to having a hard conversation, is that they don’t want to have a confrontation. I always ask them: ‘Why does it have to be a confrontation? Why can’t it just be a discussion?’ Start looking at challenging interactions differently. You don’t need to put the boxing gloves on and suit up in body armor in order to have a tough talk with someone. Uncomfortable conversations don’t automatically mean they’ll turn into arguments. It’s about learning to control not only the discussion, but your demeanor during the discussion. There’s a fabulous book called, Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott and in it she outlines seven points to address within the first 60 seconds of any hard conversation. She says the key is to make it sharp, succinct and to cut to the chase within the opening line.
The seven points to address include:
- Name the Issue
- Give a concrete example of the issue
- Explain how this makes you feel
- What will the consequences be if this issue isn’t resolved?
- State your role in the situation
- Express your desire to resolve it
- Invite the other person in and get their thoughts
Remember this all needs to be packaged tightly and said within 60 seconds or less.
3: Learn to practice positive communication: Have you ever walked into a conversation with the best of intentions and left feeling like it went horribly wrong? (if not then I want to know your secret). We often don’t realize how we can come off to others. We don’t realize how using one word over another can greatly shape our message and how we’re perceived. Try to get in the habit of practicing positive communication.
1: Try switching your ‘BUTS’ for ‘ANDS’ when speaking or writing. As humans we’re hard-wired to forget everything that comes before the word BUT. However if you change that BUT to an AND, your entire sentence – and therefore message- will have a stronger chance at being remembered, instead of only the last part.
2: Don’t start a conversation with YOU. We’ve all heard this before AND nothing could be more effective than switching out that ‘you’ for a ‘we’ or an ‘I’. The second you say ‘you’, people get defensive – even if that wasn’t your intention. Sentences such as: “You make me feel bad when we argue” can be changed for, “I feel bad when this happens, when we’re like this, when we don’t get along etc…”
At the Happy Melly Global Business network, they’re taking positive communication to another level. For the week of September 8th-15th, they’re challenging their community and partners in the happiness, startup and entrepreneurial space, like Barcinno, Cyberclick, Mobile Jazz, Full Glass and the Happy Startup School (amongst many others) to #gopositive in all social media communication. Exercises and challenges like these are a great way to get in the habit of practicing continued use of positive language – and even emojis – in your daily life.
4: Learn to take your space: There’s nothing worse than a knee-jerk reaction that you wish you could take back. This is one of the most challenging lessons to learn as it involves self-awareness and self-control. However it’s a skill, that if you are able to master, will be extremely advantageous in your personal and professional life. Next time you’re upset, or uneasy about something and want to ‘say your piece’, close the computer, turn off the phone, put everything aside and remove yourself from the situation. Go for a walk, sleep on it, do what you need to create that head space and give you perspective. What I sometimes do if I’m unsure about whether to say something or not, is I write a draft email and then let it sit for a day or two. If I go back and re-read it and still want to send it, then I do. What happens is that half the time I end up trashing the email and realizing that it wasn’t such a big deal in the first place.
Professional Life and Executive Coach and certified Learning in Action Emotional Intelligence Facilitator, working one-on-one with fortune 500 companies, medium sized organizations and individuals focusing on leadership skills, communication, transitions, public speaking and lifestyle design. Hosts Barcelona’s first English speaking coaching radio show, also available on iTunes.