Good Communication Skills - A Crash Course

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Good communicators can be honed as well as born. Below are some helpful tips to help you communicate more effectively.

  • Don't take another person's reaction personally, even if that person lashes out at you in what seems a personal manner. Another person's mood or response is more likely about fear or frustration than it is about you as an individual.
  • You don't have to have all the answers. It's OK to say, "I don't know." If you want to find out, say so, and then share your findings. Or you may decide to work on the problem together to find the answer.
  • Respond, don't react. For example, try statements like, "Tell me more about your concern," or "I understand your frustration," instead of "Hey, I'm just doing my job," or "It's not my job" (which is sure to cause more irritation). Share responsibility for any communication in which you're a participant, and realize that sometimes, maybe often, your own personal reactions may be causing your frustrations about communicating with others.
  • Understand that people want to feel heard more than they care about whether you agree with them. It's strange how many people complain about others not hearing them, yet they don't listen to others either! Here are a few ways to show you are listening by giving someone your complete attention and saying things like:
    1. "Tell me more about your concern."
    2. "What is it about this that concerns you?"
    3. "I'm interested in what you've just said. Can you share a little bit about what lead you to that belief?"
    4. "What would have to happen for you to be more comfortable with this situation?"
  • Remember that what someone says and what we hear can be amazingly different! Repeat back what you heard to ensure that you understand. Restate what you think you heard and ask, "Have I understood you correctly?" If you find yourself responding emotionally to what someone said, say so, and ask for more information: "I may not be understanding you correctly, and I find myself taking what you said personally. What I think you just said is XXX; is that what you meant?"
  • Acknowledge inconvenience or frustration and offer a timeline, particularly if you need someone else's cooperation or your if activities will affect someone else.
  • Don't offer advice unless asked. This can be tough, particularly if you have the experience that you think might benefit another person.
  • Look for common ground instead of focusing solely on differences. One way to begin discovering commonality is to share your underlying intention.
  • Remember that change is stressful for most people, particularly if your activities affect them in a way that they aren't scheduling or controlling. So if you're in someone's space or need someone to do something on your timeline, provide as much information as you can about what you'll need from the person and when. If you can, tell the person how he or she will benefit from what you're doing.
  • Work to keep a positive mental focus. Ask yourself, "What's great about this?" or "What can I learn from this?" to help maintain a positive state. Don't forget to adopt a variety of stress reduction practices that work best for you.
  • Understand that most people, including you, have a unique, often self-serving, agenda. This isn't necessarily bad, because it helps us achieve and protect ourselves. Just don't assume that someone will know or share your agenda. Talking about what's most important to you and asking what's most important to others can help build a solid foundation for conversation.
  • Improve your listening skills. Many people think they listen well when in truth they don't listen at all -- they just speak and then think about what they're going to say next. Good listening often means asking good questions and clearing your mind of distractions, including what you're going to say next, whom you're meeting with next, or what's going on outside.

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