What would life be life without communication? Communication is the fuel of life and relationship; it is vital to growth and efficiency.
I am yet to meet a successful person that does not know the importance of communication. Unfortunately, effective communication is not a natural born gift or talent; it is a skill that must be acquired.
Many businesses and relationships are stalled, delayed, or even destroyed because of poor communication skills.
Before I share with you four principles of effective communication, let us first define what communication is and what communication is not.
Communication is not just talking.
Communication is not shouting.
Communication is not one-way traffic.
If I speak to you in “Efik” and you don’t understand “Efik” and you reply me in “French” and I don’t understand “French”, we are only talking, we are not communicating, though the onlooker thinks we are. We are not communicating because there is no understanding.
Communication is understanding and being understood. If understanding is absent then communication has not taken place. How many times have we just spoken and yet communication did not take place, because the person we spoke to did not understand what was said. So, the focus of communication is not just making sounds but the exchange of understanding.
The principles of effective communication that I am about to share with you will not only affect your business life, but impact every area of your life because communication is vital to everything you do.
- Principle One – Think First
This might seem like a simple and obvious principle, but you will be shocked at how many of us are in too much rush to talk, that we don’t think through what we are about to say.
Slow down. Think before you speak
What do you want to say?
Beyond what you want to say, think what do I want to achieve by what I am about to say. Sometimes, when we crystallize what we want to achieve through our communication, it alters our communication. Our communication becomes clearer and more direct.
When we rush into talking before thinking it through, we often look stupid and might even find ourselves in an embarrassing situation, where we have to stop-mid-sentence, saying “what am I trying to say?” (Has it ever happened to you?)
Leaders particularly have to master this principle because they are saddled with the responsibility of motivating others, which is primarily done through communication.
- Principle Two – Listen To Understand
Communication is a two-way street not a one-way lane. So, if you are going to be an effective communicator, you have to learn 'principle two': “listen to understand”. You must be a good listener. There is a reason you have two ears and one mouth. You should listen at least twice as much as you speak.
There is a difference between listening and hearing. You might hear something without listening; it does not take effort to hear (except for the hearing impaired); but listening, takes effort, it means you are making the effort to hear and understand. So, you can hear without listening but you cannot listen without hearing. You must listen with the intent of understanding what is being said, so that your reply can be intelligent and on point!
How many times has someone began to speak, and once you heard the first sentence, you assume you know where he was going, so you stop listening and start preparing your response? Then when he pauses briefly, you interrupt and rant off many miles, he looks at you incredulously, and says, “Did you hear anything?”
When you listen, and the point the person is making is still not clear, use clarifying questions to make sure you understand. Questions like “Did you mean...?” “Are you saying...?” “Exactly what did you mean...?” “I don’t understand, can you explain...?”
Listen with more than your ears, use your eyes too! We will learn shortly that communication is not just in words; a person’s posture and gestures can add a lot to the words they are saying.
- Principle Three – Communicate to be understood
Communicate to be understood and not talk to be understood, because, communication is in more than just words. What do you want to communicate? (i.e. what is your message?). What do you want to achieve through this communication? (i.e. what do you want the other party to do?). How can you best communicate so that it is clearly understood? (i.e. what is the best and clearest way?). What tone, volume and posture will communicate the message clearly? How do I communicate without putting the recipient on the defensive (unless that is what you want)? Is this the best time and place to communicate this for the desired result? (i.e. will I have the attention I required?).
If you ask yourself these questions when communicating, your communication skills will improve.
- Principle Four – Deploy Other Means
There are other things that make communication effective; they include tone and volume of voice, eye contact, posture, and gestures.
Your tone of voice can greatly impact the message that is received. If the tone is wrong, the message may be wrong. You may say, "sorry," yet, it does not sound, nor feel like you really mean it.
Some people are just too loud. Loudness brings emphasis. If you shout everything you say, we may not know what you really want to emphasize. Ensure you use the right volume for your messages. It is not appropriate to use 'bedroom voice' in an office conference meeting, it WILL be misunderstood.
Learn to use eye contact. It is said that, "the eyes are the gateway to the soul." Learn to make and hold gentle eye contact when communicating, it shows confidence and transparency. If you are always avoiding eye contact out of a wrong sense of humility it can easily be misconstrued as having something to hide, or being untruthful. However, don’t stare lest you frighten your listener.
Use gestures moderately. The swinging of the hands and other gestures are meant to emphasize the point, not take from the point. If you don’t know what to do with your hands when communicating, it is better to put them loosely behind you, than to fold them across your chest. Folding your arms across your chest can look aggressive, and like you are resisting what is being communicated.
Finally, effective communication is a skill, not an art nor a talent. Like any other skill, you must work on it for you to get better and more proficient at it.
I am hoping you will apply yourself to these four principles of effective communication and see how it will accelerate your progress.
The deal maker or breaker is communication. It is the key most facets of life, especially relationships; work/business/personal relationships - including children! A major reason for failure in most ventures is lack of communication
– Toyin Wuraola Oke