Author’s note: this is part of a long blog series on our ability to communicate effectively and efficiently. Feel free to look back on previous blogs and explore previous material on communicating and how you can communicate better.
Part 3 – Can You Communicate?
To be a good communicator you must practice. Even after building your skill, continued practice is important.
To be a good entrepreneur, you need to start businesses and learn from each business. To be a good financial manager, you have to read financial reports and hone your skills at analyzing and interpreting financial performance. To be a good negotiator, you need to continue to negotiate to understand what works best in every situation. The same is true to be a good communicator.
Practicing communication is not the same as visiting with your siblings. ‘Practice’ by definition is doing something over and over that you want to get better at. To practice communication, you need to enter into communication and work on all aspects including the verbal and non-verbal elements.
Here is a simple exercise to see how well you can communicate.
Put yourself in an unusual or interesting circumstance and see if you can maintain a conversation. Pick someone outside you comfort zone, walk up to them, and engage them in a conversation. See if you have the skills to put them at ease, talk about something, and end the conversation when you are ready.
In the past, before my awareness of my communication shortcomings, I tended to scare people off, get short, one-word answers, get negative responses (‘buzz-off’ was a memorable one), or they would simply ignore me and walk away. I had the right words, but my verbal and tonal skills were non-existent.
What makes people willing to talk? If you are in a situation where you don’t know anyone or how to strike up a successful conversation, here are six ideas that work for me – and they are ridiculously simple and easy.
- First is to smile. And look them in the face. Neither of these is my strong suit, but amazingly people smile back, and they relax.
- Ask a question. Not a general question but a specific question that they can answer. “That is a great tattoo, what made you pick it.” “I had a car like that when I was younger and loved it, how long have you owned it?” “That green color in your hair looks great, but I’ve got to ask, is it permanent?” Ask something that you know they want to talk about.
- Listen. And be obvious you are listening. You started this conversation so do not be looking off in the distance or nodding to others who walk by. Work hard on focusing on the person you are talking to and make them the most important person you know.
- Related to number three, interrupt. Now that sounds counterintuitive (and actually is a lost art), but is shows an interest and a focus. You cannot interrupt if you are only half listening. You are interrupting not to interject your opinion but to clarifying their story and demonstrate an interest in something they just said. The people you are communicating with will love the attention and the opportunity to give more details. “Did you say they call this hair color emerald green, it looks more fluorescent green to me.”
- Relate to them. We have all had hard times, and we have all had great times. Don’t show them up with a better story, but figure out some way you can show them you understand. Or, show them that their story really has opened your eyes to something new and thank them for the introduction to new ideas.
- Lastly, be yourself. We all have an innate ability to identify a faker, so be unwaveringly yourself. There is no harm in acknowledging a struggle, “I generally don’t talk to strangers and I’m trying to get over my fear of new people, this really has helped me.” You are being honest and they can easily see it, and oftentimes can even relate.
How does this help with your discussion at the office or factory floor? The same principles apply to both situations. It makes no difference if you have known someone for fifteen years or fifteen seconds.
If you want to open the lines to effective communications, you need to use all the tools at your disposal. Whoever you are talking to needs to know you care, you are listening, you are open to what they have to say, and you’re not the enemy.
I have discovered this entire lesson in how to communicate with people is biblical.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)
God is always about encouraging us and helping us to live healthy, happy lives. He reiterates over and over again the power of our words.
The Lord wants us to build each other up, speaking words of life and affirmation over one another. Our communication needs to fit the situation and be tailored for the hearer.
We should be a godly example to everyone around us and “give grace to those who hear.”