7 ways to easily boost your communication skills

This week I’m answering this question:

“I’m a manager of a team of 8 and although I think I’m doing a good job on the whole, I’d really like to improve my own personal communication skills. Any tips?”

Great question and music to my ears…having effective communication skills is fundamental to any leader – and to be honest something that can easily get pushed to the back burner when you’re really busy and trying to keep all of your plates spinning.

The thing is that, get this wrong and it can have awful effects. From your teams feeling de-motivated, undervalued, and dis-empowered, to having breakdowns of communication where you thought you’d explained something properly, but for some reason it wasn’t understood in the right way.

So, working to improve on your communication skills should be a daily habit – and here are my tips to get you started:

  1. Practice listening

Listening is something that I go on about all the time – probably because there are so many benefits. But here’s the thing. By getting really good at listening you will instantly sky rocket your communication skills in one move. It’s that effective. Most people don’t listen. They listen so they can respond and that’s it. But when someone really listens to you, all of a sudden you feel valued, special, and important and that you matter. Who doesn’t want to feel like that? And that’s something you can do for your team –and as an added bonus you get to learn things from what the other person is saying.

The beauty about listening is that you can practice it everywhere. Listen to your kids, your partner, your friends, your colleagues or a stranger on a train. You can literally listen anywhere. All you need to do is ask a good question and then listen. Focus on making eye contact; observe your own body language and facial expression – look interested – and lean forward. All of this will not only show the other person that you’re listening and encourage them to continue, but will really help you to listen and pay attention too.

  1. Be curious

A great way to improve your communication skills is to get curious and start asking questions. By doing this you’ll not only learn something new, but you’ll encourage conversation, discussion and questions also show other people that you’re genuinely interested.

Have a go at asking your team questions throughout the day and work on making these open questions (What; why; where; how; when) – or just remember TED: Tell me; Explain to me; Describe to me.

  1. Ditch E-mail

A contentious one I know, as e-mail seems to have become something we can’t live without. But it’s not completely reliable and can sometimes cause communication to back fire. Just like texting it can be misinterpreted – and depending upon how rushed you are that day you might not put as much thought into it as you need and consequently it can soon cause a communication block.

So, have a go at ditching e-mail and either pick up the phone or hop round to see the other person if you can. Chances are that what you need will only take a minute, and you’ll have had the chance to practice your communication skills as well (PLUS it’s one less email in your inbox!)

  1. Fix any leaks

The leaks I’m talking about here are body language leaks (nice term eh?!) But don’t worry we all have them. The little things we do that we don’t know we’re doing that are actually being ‘read’ by other people. For example – doodling in meetings; stroking your beard; rubbing your nose; pacing up and down; frowning. If we played poker these would be our ‘tells’.

Ask your friends and colleagues to give you some feedback – on how they can tell when you’re: thinking; frustrated; angry; pleased etc. and see what they come up with. Once you’ve found out your ‘leaks’ it’s time to get to work and fix them.

  1. Get to know your team

Believe it or not communication is not about you at all…it’s all about the other person. You have to communicate in a way that the other person will understand you – and that’s your responsibility – to help the other person understand you as easily as possible. Now, you might find yourself thinking ‘but why should I do that? Surely that’s up to them.’ But it isn’t really. It’s your message – so you need to make it as crystal clear as possible – and that’s not just using your words. It’s using your body language, your tone of voice and if necessary (and depending on the message and the person) a diagram on a piece of paper.

To make this easier really get to know your team and how they like to be communicated to. Do they need a drawing? Do they need to read it and have something to refer to? Do they need loads of detail? Do they need the opportunity to ask questions and clarify their understanding?

Once you’ve figured this out you’ll be able to tweak your style depending on who you’re talking to.

  1. Get feedback

Feedback is essential to improving your communication skills, because perception really is reality. So, spend some time asking your team, your friends and your family how they think you are at communicating. Ask a close colleague to give you feedback after a meeting for example to see how you came across  – as it’ll really help you improve so much faster.

  1. Smile

Finally, remember to smile. We all love being smiled at. It makes us feel all nice and warm inside so if nothing else start here.

I’d love to hear your tips for improving your communication skills so please let me know by leaving a comment.

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