Frank, a brilliant project manager, was demoted. His colleagues and clients thought he was abrupt, critical and aloof.
Effective communication nurtures relationships, increases career advancement opportunities, strengthens confidence and helps manage stress. When we communicate effectively and feel understood, life and work are satisfying. We feel in control, valued, trusted and respected. When communication breaks down, our interpersonal relationships and career advancement opportunities diminish.
Are you an effective communicator?
Answer Yes or No:
- I listen to what people say and value their opinions.
- I find it difficult to refuse requests or give opinions at community or work meetings.
- When I get upset at work, I often take a short break before addressing my concerns to others.
- I can be critical of others’ work when it’s not up to par.
- I let others know when I think their work is first rate.
- I often give my opinion before people are finished stating their views.
- I speak positively, briefly and clearly.
- I tend to engage in small talk about neighbors, co-workers and happenings.
- I usually keep an open mind when dealing with people or ideas.
- It’s difficult for me to let others know I understand how they’re feeling.
- I ask questions for clarification.
- I don’t always look at others when speaking to them.
- I welcome others’ ideas even though they differ from mine.
- I usually don’t let others know I appreciate their efforts.
- I summarize what I hear to correct misunderstanding
- If I can't meet a deadline, I forget to let relevant people know.
- I know how diversity influences communication.
Scoring and interpretation: One point for each Yes to odd numbered statements, and each No to even numbered ones.
12 or higher: You’re an effective communicator. A good listener, you understand people and feel they understand you. You may be assertive, and have many good friends. You probably think before speaking and can unravel mixed messages.
6-11: You have some effective communication skills, but are weak in others. Review your response and identify skills you would like to strengthen.
5 or lower: Your communication needs improving. With a little work, you can enhance your communication.
Review your responses to identify strengths and weaknesses. Then try the following.
Tips for enhancing communication
- Respect others and value their opinions. Respect is a key ingredient in nourishing relationships and creating a just society. It requires trust, equality and empathy. Recognize the dignity and worth in all people. Treat them as you wish to be treated.
- Listen attentively to what others are saying. Clarify by asking questions when you're unsure. To minimize misunderstanding, summarize what you hear.
- Reflect feelings. Let others know you hear and understand their thoughts. Consider what someone is feeling but not saying. Try empathy: "If that happened to me, I’d be angry."
- Think before responding. Don’t speak when you’re angry or upset. Instead, take time to prepare and rehearse before confronting a potentially difficult conversation.
- Avoid malicious gossip. Don’t engage in idle and nasty chat about co-workers or neighbors. What you say can come back to haunt you.
- Develop an appropriate speaking style. How you speak is just as important as what you say. Speak briskly in a level, modulated voice. Pronounce words clearly. Be positive and brief. Stick to the facts. Avoid words like "always" and "never." These seldom describe reality and often elicit defensive reactions. Make specific requests rather than complaints. If you want a clean refrigerator, say: "What can we do to keep the refrigerator clean?" This will initiate more constructive action than: "Look at the dirty, smelly refrigerator...”
- Be aware of body language. Maintain eye contact when speaking. This conveys honesty and confidence. Avoid grimaces, lip biting, rolling your eyes and fidgeting. Relax your arms and legs. Sit erect. Stand tall, shoulders back. Develop a powerful handshake.
- Be assertive. Establish appropriate limits for your personal and professional life. Separate the person from the task. Say no to the request without rejecting the requester. If the requester persists, say, "I understand your needs, but I can't take on any more right now."
- Recognize and respect differences. Gender, cultural background, birthplace, occupation and personality all influence communication. Recognizing and respecting differences can help reduce misunderstandings, frustration and resentment. For instance, extroverts often monopolize conversations. Introverts may find this rude and annoying while extroverts may perceive introverts aloof and detached. Both types could benefit from understanding how others perceive them and modify their communication to accommodate different styles.
- Give recognition and praise. Feedback, praise and support are necessary to evaluate performance, achieve feelings of accomplishment, confidence, self reliance, and productivity. Show appreciation for a job well done. Praise often and publicly. Link praise to a specific activity, quality or attribute.
- Offer constructive feedback. Separate the person from the product or task. Instead of criticizing, begin with a compliment. Make suggestions for ways to improve.
Try working on one communication tip a week. You'll note positive changes in your relationships and professional growth.