How to become a better communicator (and why that’s important)

The Mentor List - First Year celebration

Have you listened to our three 1st year anniversary celebration episodes yet?

For those who haven’t (yet), these episodes are essentially a highlight reel from each of our Mentors over the previous 33 episodes. In each episode, each guest was asked to share the best pieces of advice they received or, better still, wish they received. All the responses were very thoughtful. They ranged from being grateful that they had wonderful mentors to help guide them to wishing they had learned how to manage the financial side of their business earlier.

Above all, we noticed that many of our mentors stressed the importance of good communication for success in life.

Several guests discussed the changing nature of our workplace and the importance of effective communication between individuals, teams, and management. Others spoke of the value of building strong networks around you. Some also wished that they had paid more attention to their family instead of focussing heavily on their work.

So, since communication is so important to us, why is it that we get it so wrong so often?

The power of the written word

Text messages, emails, and online comments have made the humble phone call almost redundant in many ways. It’s so easy for us to pull out our phones to send a message quickly that we don’t always stop and think about what we want to say first. If we’re just telling someone that we’re running late, then there’s no problem. But what about the times when we want to say something more meaningful?

When we communicate face-to face, we pick up messages and understanding from far more than just the words being spoken. We also notice facial expressions, body language, and variations in the tone of voice. These can tell us things like:

  • The person’s mood.
  • If they are in a hurry or happy to stop and talk.
  • If they are interested in what we have to say.
  • If they are being funny or sarcastic.
  • And much more.

Using the written word as our main mode of communication can be dangerous as it can lead to misunderstandings. We risk upsetting people unknowingly or having them completely misinterpret our intended meaning.

Another way that written communication can go awry is through poor spelling and grammar. Again, this can lead to misunderstandings. It can also make the writer (or business) seem less knowledgeable than they really are and they may get judged accordingly. For example, business emails and websites that are full of mistakes can lead the reader to think that the business does not pay attention to detail so their products and services might be substandard too.

What about verbal communication?

The art of listening

Being able to hear each other or, better still, see each other does make it much easier for us to interpret intended meanings more easily, but we can do better in this area as well.

“It is greed to do all the talking but not to want to listen at all.”

Democritus

How often do we find ourselves saying in frustration “My husband/wife/partner/boss/(insert noun here) just doesn’t listen to me!

Or, how often do you find yourself talking over people, interrupting them or even tuning out while they talk to/at you?

Sadly, these things happen all too often. We are so busy trying to get our own point across or thinking ahead to our next response that we don’t fully listen to what’s being said. Worse still, we completely miss the message in what’s not being said!

We really value others who are great listeners but many of us have yet to learn the value of being a great listener ourselves. It’s a skill that we can all constantly improve.

Communicating values

“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.”

Rollo May 

How we treat people who serve us in some way, how we talk to our children or parents, how we interact with those of a different culture are all influenced by our personal beliefs, values and upbringing. It also says a lot about how much value we place on different people.

It’s a good idea to spend time reflecting on the factors that have influenced you and decide if the communication approaches you use with different members of your community reflect your current values. For example, consider your parents attitude towards those of a different colour or religion. What about the expected roles of men and women in the home? Do these sit comfortably with you?

These factors can play a large role in the effectiveness of communication within groups, including in the workplace so it is important to understand them.

How to improve your communication skills

Communication skills can be learned at any age so it’s never too late to change or improve them. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Develop your people skills

As well as learning, how to be a good listener, we all need to get better at showing respect to others. We can do this in simple ways such as:

·      Being considerate of other people’s time. Not everyone wants to receive work emails or text messages from friends at one o’clock in the morning. Occasionally, it is appropriate but often it just makes the receiver annoyed or taken for granted. The same goes for dominating conversations at meetings and forcing them to run overtime. Let everyone have their say instead.

·      Putting your mobile phone away when you are in a social setting. It’s ok to check it occasionally if you’re expecting an important message. But surfing on Facebook or going in to a deep conversation with someone who’s just rung for a chat is just plain rude.

Keep your message clear.

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.”

Plato

Know what you want to say and why you want to say it. When you communicate with a purpose people are more likely to listen to you but when you ramble, people will tune out.

If you find it difficult to put your ideas into words, make the effort to do something about it. You could try joining a local Toastmasters group to help you with public speaking. A counsellor could help you learn to communicate better in your relationships. If it’s the written word you struggle with, why not see if your local library or council have adult literacy classes that would suit you?

Choose the best message platform

Know the best way to get your message across in different situations. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Is this message intended for one person or many?
  • Is it appropriate to share on social media?
  • Is an email or text ok? Would a phone or Skype call be better? Would a face-to-face conversation be better still?

So, considering the points we’ve raised above, how effective a communicator are you? Do you give other people the respect they deserve? Can you share your ideas easily in a team? Do your loved ones know how you feel about them?

If you’ve identified any areas where you struggle, remember that it’s ok to seek help. Other people struggle with communication in similar ways, too so you’re not alone. Look around you for support from your friends and family, your colleagues, your local community or your wider network. There are plenty of people and resources around to help you if you’re willing to reach out.

Call to action…

For more top tips on ways to improve your personal and work life, why not go back and listen to all the inspiring guest mentors interviewed on The Mentor List over the past year? Each episode is full of many nuggets of wisdom that just may be a catalyst for big changes in your life. What changes will you make?

If you haven’t listened to our three 1st year anniversary celebration episodes yet (or you’d like to listen to them again), you’ll find them here:

Episode 34

Episode 35

Episode 36

Kick start your personal journey to success from the conversations David has with his inspirational guests on The Mentor List. www.mentorlist.com.au

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