Importance of Effective Communication
Communication has many faces; in fact, everything we say and we do is an attempt to communicate something to someone. In the story of Mahabharata, Abhimanyu listens and understands the Chakravyuha while he was still in his mother’s womb. Expectant mothers sing, talk, or play music for the babies in the womb. Scientists are baffled by the fact that newborns’ babble and gurgle is different from that of another depending on the language of the parents they are born to. Scientists believe that it is because the child picks up the first few aspects of language while they are in the womb. This communication that begins even before the individual is born, connects him/her to the external world in many ways.
For many of us, “Effective Communication” is just a heading in curriculum vitae. So till we start looking for employment, the word “communication” really does not mean much to us. In the meanwhile, we have grown up fighting with siblings, friends, and family without even an iota of understanding as to how we could have avoided those arguments and fights which burnt some bridges.
So what exactly is communication? For many people, it means conveying a message either by speaking or writing. However, communication is not complete till the message conveyed is received by the receiver (for whom it is intended) in a way it was intended. So the involvement of the listener is equally important in the process of communication. The other important aspect of communication is that it can be both verbal and non-verbal. Let’s take a look at what we need to bear in mind for effective/ good communication, from the point of view of the speaker, as well as from that of the listener.
Tips for Effective Communication for Speakers
In this context, I am referring to a speaker, a writer, or anyone who is conveying a message. Speaking or writing is one of the toughest things to do. The ideas, images, thoughts, emotions, or information needs to take the form of a language, a sentence, and a few words. This is a very subtle process and usually, we do not pay much attention to this. For most of us articulating our thoughts is a huge challenge because words do not always match our thoughts. This sometimes leads to misunderstandings. So how do we overcome this? What can we do to improve our speaking skills?
Stop and listen!!! Yes, you heard it right. Speaking is a skill that can be improved by hearing what others have to say, This requires a lot of patience and focus, however, it’s a skill that can be developed. Think before you say something, but first listen to the other side before thinking. If you are not sure that you understood what was said, ask them to repeat politely. Eg: Sorry, I did not quite follow what you said, or Correct me if I am wrong.. but is this what you said (Use paraphrasing). Make sure you understand the intent of what is being said. Having a wide vocabulary always comes handy. Try and improve vocabulary by reading and using new words in your communication.
Use body language correctly. Unspoken words/ expressions are as important as the spoken word in a conversation. Make sure you are sending out the right message through your gestures. Imagine someone saying “I am happy” with a straight face and a look of scorn on their face. What would you make of it? Body language speaks volumes of what is going in the speakers’ mind that is not said in words.
Intonation/pitch carry concealed messages, which we often do not intend to give or realize we are giving. “It is not what you say, but how you say” is a familiar statement. Recent research by the University of Southern California has confirmed that different voice tones have an impact on our relationships. The tone we use can affect our relationship positively or negatively. As an experiment, try and focus on the tone of your voice when you are speaking, and also the tone of someone close to you when they are speaking; see how the tone acts on your emotions.
Try and use positive language as much as possible. Language is a very powerful tool and if used correctly can inspire, motivate, give solace, give strength and comfort, and can work magic on a relationship. The use of positive language can improve communication and reduce conflict. Next time when someone asks you how you are, try saying I am well/I am good/ I am fantastic, versus “not too bad”. Try and avoid negative words as much as possible. You can soften the blow of bad news by using positive language. Eg: “This statement is wrong” can be rephrased as “please recheck the statement”. Say, “I don’t think it is a good idea”, instead of “It’s a bad idea”.
People react better to positive-sounding words. The use of “modifiers” can reduce the impact and thereby the reaction of the listener. Instead of saying “there is a problem” you may add a modifier “slight/ small” to reduce the impact. Instead of giving a suggestion, use negative questioning to get alternatives from the listener. Eg: “we should do this” is a suggestion; instead, try “Couldn’t we do this?”
Tips for Effective Communication for Listener/Audience
The listener or the audience is the other end of the spectrum of communication. Listening is the ability to receive and interpret the information/ message. While hearing is a physical ability, listening is a skill. We often mistake listening to be a “passive activity”, however, on the contrary listening requires the active participation of the listener. So how would the speaker know that you are listening? Here are some suggestions.
Face the speaker and maintain eye contact so the speaker can see you. This is not relevant where the speaker is not in front of you or when the conversation is over the phone. However, if you are in a face-to-face conversation, ensure that your body language can give cues to the speaker. Keep your facial expressions relevant to the conversation. Show that you are paying attention by nodding your head appropriately. Keep distractions away. Avoid important conversations while watching TV, at the dining table, or while reading your messages on the phone, etc.
Wait till the speaker finishes their sentence to ask any questions or expressing your opinion. Many a time, in close relationships we assume what the other person is going to say; we form opinions from previous experiences. This stops us from listening as we are already preparing for a reply without paying attention to what the speaker is saying. Have patience; do not allow past experiences crowd your judgment. Let every conversation be a fresh one. This will enhance your relationships.
Listen to the intent, watch for subtleties of body language; perhaps what the speaker was not able to express in words were told by way of expressions. We so often hear people say “I didn’t mean that”. Try not to hold on to words, intentions matter more than words.
Be present; avoid distractions. Paraphrase to make sure you understood what the speaker intended to convey. Depending on the situation and conversation, you may need to be a critical, evaluative, appreciate, sympathetic or empathetic listener. Clear and continuous communication is a foundation pillar for healthy relationships. The good news is that effective communication is a skill that can be learned and practiced.