I am a contributing writer for a monthly Career Experts Group newsletter, and here is my July 2023 submission:
There are many articles online that list the important aspects of communicating effectively with your customers, your co-workers and your supervisors. Some good ones are listed below. Before getting into the specifics, though, I think it is important to raise awareness on one's own communication style. Once you know how you come across to others, you can modify your style in order to communicate more effectively. Then you can begin to identify the communication styles of the people you interact with, in order to meet their needs.
Take a moment to reflect on your communication style. Do you over-explain? Do you go off on tangents? Do you miss what the person is saying because you are mentally drafting your response?
And speaking of mentally drafting, do you avoid voicing your opinions or suggestions or ideas in meetings? Do you begin your opinions or suggestions with tentative or weak language, such as "I think" and raise your voice pitch at the end, making your statement sound more like a question? Or are you likely to react impulsively and respond quickly when delaying a response would have been the better choice? If you are having difficulty identifying your style, ask three friends to describe it to you.
Here is a brief run-down of some communication problems and possible solutions:
Over-explain? Practice being concise. Answer the question in one sentence.
In your head drafting a response? Stop and give the speaker your full attention. Practice listening.
Use tentative language and/or a verbal question mark in your tone? Practice in front of a mirror, removing the words "I think," "Maybe if" or whatever tentative phrase you use and stating your opinion/suggestion assertively, with a hard stop at the end and no uptick in tone.
Go off on tangents? Write it down, cross out unnecessary information. Then stick to the script.
React impulsively? Mentally picture yourself sitting on your hands and/or go take a ten minute walk. Ask yourself, "Will this be important one month from now?"
Remain silent when you have something to say? Challenge yourself to speak up by gamifying it, setting a target time/date/venue, such as a team meeting, and then rewarding yourself when you do.
All of these communication inhibitors can be counteracted by becoming aware of them and practicing the opposite. Practice leads to competence. In the words of Gay Gaddis, author of the book, Cowgirl Power: How to Kick!Ass in Business & Life, "Competence breeds confidence, which breeds assertiveness, which breeds more personal power, which breeds more flexibility for a successful life."
Once you have identified your communication style, work on identifying the styles of others so that you can speak in a way that will be received well. Michael Watkins, author of The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, advises readers to ask their bosses how they like to communicate (in person, via text, phone call) and use their preferred method. If your boss likes you to get to the point quickly, practice being concise in your answers. If your co-worker likes to check in often on a project, schedule a daily check-in. If your customer wants to be included in the decision-making, be sure to ask for their input when making suggestions.
If you are speaking to a large audience, scan the room to see if they are paying attention or checking their phones. If it's the latter, change up your speech with a question to the audience, visually walking to a different part of the stage, or asking the audience to participate in some way, such as turning to their neighbor and sharing thoughts on a topic. You know what you want them to learn from you—try to figure out how best to deliver the message.
Doing a bit of reflection, introspection, and practice will improve your effectiveness.
P. S. There is an appropriate time to start a sentence with "I think," and that is when someone directly asks for your opinion. Just be sure to state it with assertion.
Good articles on Communicating Effectively
To read the full July 2023 Career Experts Group newsletter, click here.