By Susan Steinbrecher
Basic communication skills have deteriorated in the last decade, particularly in the workplace. Face-to-face meetings are sidelined in favor of email chains and conference calls that make it challenging to connect on a personal level. Technology is a double-edged sword; we love to hate it and complain that it’s taking over our lives, yet our mobile devices offer much more autonomy than working from an office cubicle, eight hours a day.
However, we are paying the price for that freedom. Leaders and employees alike often struggle with interpersonal communication and instigating meaningful conversations. The pervasive use of smartphones is partly to blame for this, particularly heavy reliance on texting — even when the recipient is just down the hall. As a result, the information communicated is typically light on personal substance and can be subject to miscommunication. Difficult and time-sensitive conversations are often avoided, and when discussions do occur, the heart of the matter is rarely addressed.
Not everyone is a gifted communicator; you have to work at it. The adage, “use it or lose it” comes into play, making it critical to prioritize basic communication skills as well as to develop emotional intelligence and resilience. This means expanding your capacity to perceive, use, understand, and manage your emotions, as well as the emotions of others. Without mindful communication and the skill to handle difficult conversations, our social-cultural problems such as extreme political division, high divorce rates, intolerance of disagreement, lack of trust, rising mental health issues and employee disengagement will continue to prevail.
Challenge yourself to make improvements in your interactions with others, and find ways to refine your communication habits. You’ll experience fewer misunderstandings, improved relationships, and more peace and joy in your life.
Here are some valuable considerations to help you change your habits and enrich your communication:
1. Check your attitude.
Are you quick to judge people and situations? Step back and truthfully assess your beliefs when interacting with others. Perhaps there is negativity or a false belief system holding you back — try keeping an open mind and watch your communication improve. Solid relationships and in-person conversations impact health and well-being, and face-to-face communication has even been proven to increase your lifespan.
2. Step out of your comfort zone.
Take on a new project or task that will force you to communicate with others, more often. Start small by offering your input during meetings. Make a concerted effort to text and email less — and opt to pick up the phone. You might be pleasantly surprised at how productive a phone call is. Plan ahead and make notes to remind you what you need to cover, and if you are currently struggling with one-on-one communication, write down some points on what you want to say.
3. Fake it until you make it.
Any professional speaker will tell you that if you “get up there and do it, regardless” you can break through fear and anxiety. Easier said than done, but it can be accomplished if you commit to changing your communication habits one step at a time. Make the call; offer your opinion; ask someone to discuss a project over coffee. Be brave and bold — you just might enjoy it.
4. Practice active listening.
Most people tend to think about what they want to say next while someone else is speaking, thereby breaking the chain of meaningful conversation. When you listen actively and mindfully, communication is more authentic and productive.
5. Ask thoughtful questions.
One way to keep a conversation flowing is to ask more questions. It also takes the pressure off you when trying to gather your thoughts. Be more inquisitive and watch the magic happen.
6. Decrease your screen time.
Minimize the amount of time you spend behind a screen and pursue more “real time” communication. There is a wealth of information outlining the health benefits of unplugging. So keep your phone away from your bed. You may be surprised by how much time and clarity you preserve when you stop scrolling before turning out the lights — and first thing in the morning.
7. Body language reveals.
Never under-estimate the power of non-verbal signals. Be aware of the messages your body language might be conveying, without you being cognizant. Avoiding eye contact and crossing your arms are “no-no’s” that can distract, and dampen the flow of dialogue. Consider your facial expressions, hand gestures, posture and tone of your voice, as well. Also, keep in mind that checking your phone during a conversation is just plain rude. Sometimes work or personal issues necessitate rare exceptions to this rule. If you are expecting a call that cannot be rescheduled, be sure to inform the person ahead of time that you may have to take it.
8. Slow down; you move to fast.
Thoroughly vet your electronic communication before hitting “send.” Pay more attention to the outgoing — and incoming communication in your life by skimming emails and texts more thoroughly. Typos and missed words can lead to miscommunication and wasted time for the sender, and the receiver. Read over your messages mindfully. When answering an email, ask yourself the following questions: “Did I answer their question? Did I make myself clear in my answer?” Texts are a little trickier, but if you take an extra beat to answer, you will save time in the long run. Be sure to read your response before answering — auto-correct can dismantle your meaning in seconds if you’re not careful.
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