Effective Communication and Listening Skills for Everyone

The dictionary definition of communication is the exchange of information by two people by writing, speaking or other means of communication. Communication between people should be a two-way communication, transferring the message from sender to receiver and back. It is not productive when the information flows in one direction. Part of the process of communicating with others either by face to face of by phone involves a series of  cues that often say as much as words in telling others what our message should be. There is the non-verbal cues (body language) and the tone  and inflection of voice that makes up more of the way we communicate than just  what is being said. So it is true that it is not WHAT you say but HOW you say it!  Body language ranks higher in the way we communicate. A calm, relax facial expression on the person talking can tell you that everything is cool, whereas avoiding eye contact may show a shy person or trying to avoid something. The tone of  voice also tells important cues about how the message is being delivered and it’s meaning. An agitated voice may show nervousness or that the person may be angry about something. A warm, controlled voice regards that person as welcoming and easy to understand. People are more readily understood when they speak in a positive way than negative. Choosing positive, active words helps the message to be carried out and easily understood from sender to receiver.  Here is an example on word choice between negative and positive: ” I can’t get the job done until Friday; versus, I can get the job done by Friday.” Simple yet easy to deviate to the negative because of stress and current circumstances when the conversation is taking place. However choosing positive words can get the message across more effective than using negative words.

  1. Choose words that are positive, action driven: I can do, I will say, I believe that…and avoid negative words like can’t, won’t, not, etc… See how you can change the negative in a conversation to a positive. Practice, practice, practice. Use eye contact to connect with your audience. Relax, just be yourself.
  2. Don’t interrupt people: it is impossible to listen and talk at the same time, yet we do this all the time. The problem is that we miss part of the message in the process and it turns people off when they do notice it. Think before you speak.
  3. The biggest mistake in communication is that people assume that the message sent is the message received. Check to me sure the receiver understood your message.
  4. Organize the message. To be effective all information should follow some kind of sequence: chronological, logical, topical, etc… This tends to be a problem when one tries to rush through talking without thinking what is being said similar to like spreading a rumor.
  5. Know your audience. People would rather be entertained than educated.  In order to get the message across, people sometimes tell stories, jokes use pictures or other means during a conversation to captivate the attention of their audience.  People will tend to remember a story within the message, remember a joke if it was funny and related and will paint a picture of what it’s being said if the sender uses any of these methods to get his/her message across.
  6. Keep the conversation simple and less complex. One thing at the time proves to be more effective than cramming too many points into the conversation.

Listening is the most important skill for effective communication and teamwork in any environment.  Most of our listening focuses on eye contact, facial expressions and body language of the person speaking. Some listening is spent on tone, pauses and inflection of voice  and little is spent on spoken words. When we listen to someone speaking we either ignore what’s being said, pretend that we are listening, listen to only what interest us or we are active listening, that is tuning in with heart and mind to understand person’s words, intent and feelings.

Positive listening habits include:

  1. Making eye contact. It doesn’t mean staring eye to eye, making the other person feel uncomfortable but rather focus your gaze to the nose or forehead and make eye contact now and then.
  2. Repeat the content: paraphrasing is repeating back to the speaker what you, the listener, heard them say (ideas and feelings) and checking out the accuracy of your listening. It’s putting the speaker’s message in your own words. It is not asking questions and it is not telling the speaker about similar experiences you’ve had. Some examples are: ” so, as I get it…, what I’m hearing is that…, you seem to be saying…”
  3. Allow the person to finish. Almost everyone wants the other person to finish so they can say what’s on their minds. This is a bad habit and it is not listening.
  4. Focus on content and feelings. Watch for body language, eye contact,  voice tone, etc…
  5. Good listeners will ask good questions. Some questions are open, that is  need more information and exploration of issues. Others are closed questions that require a yes or no answer or they’re used to get specific answers. Example of an open question is: “what are your ideas to improve your book?”  and for  closed questions: “did you improve your book?”

So, are you a good communicator?

Seek first to understand , then to be understood” Stephen Covey

Ref: Valencia  Community College, Continuing Professional Education Department.