Three Secrets of Great Communicators
by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.
All human beings are born with a social need to connect and communicate. Whether we try or not, everything we do communicates something. The way you walk can telegraph your mood, energy and health. Facial expressions and tone of voice tell the observer, with hundreds of subtle cues, whether you are lying, disapproving, hostile or friendly. Many of us communicate effectively with friends, family and co-workers as long as things don’t get too heated or complicated. Once we feel fear, anger or shame, communication can break down. You can learn to manage those tricky situations better by studying the secrets of great communicators.
Great communicators inspire trust in the listener. When you converse with someone you trust, you can let your guard down and relax. It’s easy to share your true feelings and concerns with someone you trust. With no threat of hostility, ridicule or blame, you can converse freely, explore solutions to problems, admit your own fault and consider necessary changes. When you trust someone you feel safe enough to share more of your real self. You can inspire trust by:
- Demonstrating concern for others.
- Delivering on your promises.
- Showing honesty and consistency.
Personal warmth, politeness, kindness and attention, can foster a feeling of trust even with a stranger. Maintaining trustworthiness makes for healthier relationships and paves the way for skillful communication over time.
Great communicators notice their own emotional changes and needs. They pay attention to their own nonverbal behavior and observe the response of others. Exceptional communicators know that understanding breaks down when tempers ramp up. These folks can calm themselves down and respond to others respectfully, even during intense, high-stakes negotiations. You can improve your self-monitoring by:
- Paying attention to what you are doing.
- Notice the impact of your behavior on others.
- Alter your behavior as necessary to help others feel safe and understood.
When you practice self awareness and self control you will notice if someone pulls back from you because they feel crowded. When you take a step back, the other person may feel a bit safer. If you know that you tend to have a loud voice, bringing the volume down with more quiet people, makes the conversation more pleasant for the person with sensitive ears.
Speak Less/Listen More
Great communicators tend to say much with fewer words. They listen to others and ask open-ended questions to satisfy a natural curiosity about the other person. But they don’t just listen and make the other person carry the conversation. Instead they add, or build on the conversation, contributing something of value to the listener. Great communicators take a leadership role in moving a conversation forward, but they don’t dominate the conversation.
To improve your listening skills try noticing the other person’s feelings, and comment on them. “You seem excited about your new job.” Then expand on that by asking open-ended questions to allow the person to share more details. Asking sentences that begin with a who, what or where help the speaker feel that you’re interested in learning more. “So what will you be doing in your new position?” Why questions can leave someone feeling defensive and should usually be avoided. “Why did you take that job,” can sound as if you’re saying, “taking that job was a bad idea.” After you’ve explored what the person has to say, then add something new. “That’s great that you got a job in such a competitive field in this economy.”
Great communicators recognize that effectiveness in interpersonal relationships requires lifelong learning. Each person interprets the world with a different set of eyes and ears. Learning to communicate effectively demands an openness to new information and the flexibility to learn from others. To communicate better with your teenager, boss, spouse or friend, establish trust, monitor yourself, speak less and listen more. You might just become a great communicator.
Photos courtesy of Kevin Dooley and Hans Von Rijnberk.