25 Ways to Communicate Better Today

by Julie Rains on 17 November 2011 1 comment
Photo: Cherrina Yoon

Communicating effectively is not always easy. You have to make sure that your message is received as you intended and work to understand the messages that others are sending you. As a literal thinker and introvert, I have often missed social cues or simply failed to speak up in order to correct misperceptions, leading to misunderstandings. But I have learned from my mistakes and gotten better at adjusting my style to various scenarios. (See also: How to Learn From Your Mistakes)

Have you ever struggled to express your thoughts or grasp what others are trying to tell you? Use these techniques to communicate better today.

Interacting with People Who Don't Know You Well

Misunderstandings can happen easily when you are talking with someone who doesn't know you well. There are many possible causes of confusion. For example, the listener may work in a field in which specific words carry meanings different from common usage or may be hypersensitive to certain topics. Or you may forget to give background information that is pertinent to your conversation. Pay attention to what is happening and clear up any potential misunderstandings.

1. Speak Up

Even when you use the right words, tones, and inflections, someone else may not receive the message you intended. If you see an inappropriate reaction, identify the source of the misunderstanding and restate your message in a way that makes sense to the other person.

2. Clarify

Be attentive to clues that you need to clarify your statements. Questions often stimulate thoughts that allow you to see the discrepancy between your intentions and the listener's perceptions. Elaborate to address any apparent inconsistencies.

3. Issue a Correction When You Know You've Misspoken

Occasionally, you may make a statement that you immediately realize has mischaracterized your thoughts. Rather than ignore your mistake, acknowledge and correct the error as soon as possible.

Navigating New Territory

When you find yourself in foreign situations, you may need to adjust your communication tactics to make sure you are understood. Decision makers are more apt to listen intently and respond favorably when you act like you know what you are talking about.

4. Learn the Lingo

Discover keywords that are meaningful in new contexts. For example, when my oldest son, a high school senior, broke his right arm just days before the SAT, I quickly learned about testing "accommodations," which helped me communicate with College Board officials and guidance counselors at his school about his need for a computer at the testing site.

5. Write Down What You Want to Say

Before making an important phone call, outline key points on paper. Adjust your message to fit the flow of conversation. Keep your notes nearby so that you can verify that you have covered pertinent details.

6. Stick With the Facts

New situations warrant presenting facts and asking reasonable questions rather than talking excessively about your emotional concerns. So resist being dramatic, especially around those who you don't know well. If your listeners are reasonable people, they will understand and respond appropriately.

7. Research Before Complaining

Learn more about an organization's policies and procedures before lodging a complaint. When explaining why you are dissatisfied, get attention by explaining how the company failed to comply with its own standards rather than how employees' actions fell short of your expectations.

8. Be Poised

Uncertainty and fear can cause you to share too much irrelevant information. Act as relaxed as possible in new situations, even if you have concerns that make you anxious; as a result, listeners will more readily grasp your message and focus on offering guidance rather than calming fears.

While Working

Workplace communications can be tricky as acceptable styles vary depending on the company culture. However, techniques that involve modifying your message and its delivery to the unique needs of your audience are useful in nearly any situation.

9. Adjust the Volume of Your Voice as Necessary

Speaking softly is fine in face-to-face conversations with close friends in quiet homes, but it doesn’t work well when making a presentation in noisy workplaces. Likewise, those who speak to large crowds on a regular basis may need to turn down the volume when chatting with a small group.

10. Speak Slowly

If you are new to public speaking or have limited experience in this area, slow down. Conversational pace does not translate well to speeches to large groups, who may not be familiar with your manner of speaking. Pause at the end of key points so that listeners can process your content easily.

11. Get the Full Attention of Your Audience

If your listener is involved in a high-priority assignment, battling a deadline, or getting ready for a business trip, pick a better time to talk.

12. Research Before Asking Questions

To elicit useful responses from an expert (whether a thought leader in the industry you are pursuing or the technical services rep of a vendor you are evaluating), do some research. Find out what is considered common knowledge and determine the various schools of thought on certain issues. As a result, your conversation moves beyond the basics to more substantial and significant issues.

13. Be Clear About Deadlines

When you make a request or extend an offer of assistance, talk about timelines. Whether you are asking for a report from a colleague or preparing content for a presentation for your boss, confirm the deadline to make sure you stay on schedule.

Communicating in Writing, Online or Offline

Whether you use a casual style for emails, posts, etc. or a formal style for printed letters, research papers, and so on, understand that readers will see your words only and may miss subtle meaning that could otherwise be conveyed easily in a face-to-face conversation. So be as precise as possible.

14. Re-Read Your Message

Re-reading an email (or any written communication, such as a personal note, professional bio, or research paper) brings typos to light. Revise and read again.

15. Use Correct Grammar

Many people are genuinely confused by misplaced commas and dangling participles. Rework awkwardly worded sentences.

16. Use the Right Word or Phrase

If you have even the slightest doubt about the meaning of a word, look up its definition. Discover a word's original meaning as well as its present-day connotation.

17. Use Formatting Tools in Emails

To highlight key points and deadlines, bold and underline text to emphasize important content. Place certain items, like names of program participants or event schedules, in bulleted form for easy scanning.

18. Avoid Using Humor

Your family and close friends, or those who are familiar with your style, may appreciate your humor. But those outside of your inner circle may misconstrue your words. Sarcasm especially does not translate well in writing.

Listening

Listening is often overlooked as a tool in effective communication. One of the easiest ways to improve communication is to pay more attention to those who are speaking and sending messages to you.

19. Slow Down

Comprehend what the speaker is saying, rather than trying to move quickly through a conversation. Avoid predicting what the other person will say and focus instead on what is being said. And, rather than interrupting with your thoughts, wait for a pause before responding.

20. Confirm Your Understanding

If you are interacting with someone for the first time, there is a strong possibility of a failed communication. If you are unsure about what happens next (what action you should take or what the other person will do), ask questions. Even if you think you are sure, rephrase statements to confirm mutual understanding.

21. Remember

The more you can recall about the content of previous conversations, the better you can communicate in subsequent conversations.

22. Archive Your Emails

Store emails so that you can re-read them if necessary. Verify key points as well as details such as meeting dates and assignments.

Adapting Your Message to Your Audience

Another commonly overlooked but simple way to improve communication is to adapt your message to the needs, preferences, backgrounds, values, etc. of those who are listening to you speak or reading your written messages. Avoid hot buttons and try to convey ideas in ways that resonate with members of your audience.

23. Assess the Knowledge of Your Listeners

Rather than underestimating or overestimating someone else’s background in a certain subject, ask what they know about your topic. (Keep in mind that audience members' lack of knowledge in your field does not mean that they are ill-informed or poorly educated in general.) Check for understanding during your conversation and make adjustments as appropriate.

24. Show Respect for the Values of Your Audience

Do some basic research by reviewing individual or company websites, statements of purpose, operating principles, etc. to gain an understanding of others' perspective of the world. Make sure that your business proposals, idea pitches, etc. are compatible with their values.

25. Use Familiar References

Learn about the professional backgrounds, hobbies, lifestyles, families, etc. of audience members. Tell stories and use metaphors that relate concepts to their life experiences.

What techniques have you used to improve communication?

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Meg Favreau's picture

As a fellow introvert, I like the idea of the phone script. I avoid calling people when I don't have to, but I also recognize that sometimes, it's very much the best way to get things done.