10 steps to improve your communication skills

Everything we do and say ‘communicates’ a message to our colleagues, friends and loved ones. Effective communication is the number one business skill – if we cannot communicate effectively we cannot do a good job.  Research has shown that managers spend 75% of their working day communicating face-to-face, in meetings, through writing or over the telephone.

We communicate our thoughts, our feelings, our desires and how much we like, respect and trust each other. We communicate happiness, uncertainty, delight, confidence and – yes – even displeasure!  What we say and how we say it is critical to our success.

Here are ten simple steps any manager can follow to improve their communications:

  1. Think before you speak. What message do you want to send? Make sure you have a clear objective in mind and that your words and body language agree with each other. What is important to this person and how can you connect with it? How much or how little information does this person normally want? All the details or just the big picture?
  2. Consider the other person’s position. Listen. Ask questions. Test your assumptions. What does she need? What does he want to avoid? What are their chief concerns? Seeing things from the other person’s point of view will help you to put your own point of view across for greater acceptance. Emphasise what matters most to the other person.
  3. Choose your words thoughtfully.  How can you make your message most agreeable or palatable to the person on the receiving end? How can you grab their attention and put them in a positive, receptive frame of mind?  If you have to convey something negative, try to at least use neutral words that don’t offend.
  4. Look for common ground.  We have goals in common with even our staunchest opponents. Identifying what these are and stating them openly will help you work together better to achieve your aims. Focussing on differences will only serve to separate you further.
  5. Tell them what you want to happen. (Not what you don’t want). Use positive words and images. Negative ones send people running! They put them in a negative frame of mind. If you don’t know yourself, say so! E.g. “I’m not quite sure how the report should be set out but I find this layout confusing and hard to read. Perhaps more headings and smaller paragraphs would help.”
  6. Use praise liberally. Praise makes both the giver and the receiver feel good, so you both benefit!  To be effective, praise should be both specific and sincere. What gets praised, gets repeated. Praise is a powerful, and sadly under-used, management communication tool.
  7. Separate facts from opinions. While both are important, treating an opinion as a fact can lead to trouble. After all our opinion might be wrong or only partially correct! Masquerading opinions as facts sounds arrogant and can rub people up the wrong way.
  8. Don’t TELL, ASK. There are many ways to show respect for others and this is one of them. Respect builds strong, co-operative work relationships.  Could you…would you please…would it be possible… are much more likely to get positive, co-operative responses than: Get this done… bring me that… etc.
  9. Build self-esteem.  Build the self-esteem of everyone around you. Only people who are proud of themselves and proud of what they do can perform at their best.
  10. Share your vision. Help others achieve their goals. Share your vision. What is the goal or result you are after? How can everyone play their part in achieving it?

Being a success in business, and particularly as a manager, depends on people doing a good job. Communicating effectively is at the core of this success.