10 Ways to Improve Your Communication in Every Engagement

With so many of our interactions going digital these days, it’s easy to see both sides of the communication fence. Some say all the mobile technology makes it easier to connect, thus improving communication efforts overall. Others suggest that digital engagement is actually making our communication worse. And they’re both right.

Envision parenthood just a few decades ago, for example. You couldn’t track your kids’ whereabouts. You had no idea what they were doing and no way of reaching them in case of an emergency. Fast forward to today, parents can ping their kids’ precise locations, send texts, and reach them in an instant. In these scenarios, communication is far more advantageous because of technology.

On the other hand, sending shorthanded texts in lieu of the old-fashioned phone call or get-together kind of removes the engagement element, doesn’t it? Get your quick answer from a client without building the relationship. Sending grandma a text instead of stopping in to check on her. It just seems like more of a communication disadvantage.

So how can you improve your communication efforts? It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go off-grid, abandon your cell phone, or get off social media. But there are ways to make authentic connections, with and without technology, more meaningful. And the better you get at communicating, the more beneficial your personal and professional engagements will be.

1. Start By Being Aware of How You Communicate

You won’t be able to make changes to how you communicate with family, friends, colleagues, and business contacts until you first recognize your preferred methods and current engagement efforts. It’s mission-critical important to be aware of how you choose to communicate with others, whether it’s email, text, or in-person. What’s your default for engagement preferences? From there, you can start to make subtle changes to improve those connections.

You can start by critically thinking about the five types of communication and your preferences for each:

  • Verbal Communication
  • Non-Verbal Communication
  • Written Communication
  • Visual Communication
  • Active & Passive Listening

Maybe you’re great at verbal and in-person engagements but need to get better with your non-verbal skills. It could be you’re a visual person but are downright terrible in writing what you mean. And we all could use ongoing improvement in the listening department, for sure. The key is to choose to be mindful each time you communicate, regardless of the form, so you can spot better ways to convey definitions, feelings, and sentiments more authentically to others.

2. Improvements Over the Five C’s

There are business communication experts and psychological communication experts. There are communication techniques that carry more weight in children than adults. Women communicate differently than men. But one constant that carries over into every nuance involves the principle of the five c’s. It’s like a communication checklist you can use to make improvements in how you speak, write, and interact.

Make sure that whatever it is you have to say, it’s:

  • Clear: Your intended audience understands your meaning, sentiment, and purpose.
  • Cohesive: What you say aligns with past communication, current objectives, or core beliefs.
  • Complete: Don’t leave room for guesswork. Say everything you mean to say in a way that completes the idea.
  • Concise: Avoid taking roundabout talking point journeys when you could just get to the premise.
  • Concrete: Is what you’re communicating rooted in fact, fiction, belief, question, concern, or another category? And does your audience know the difference?

Think about it. How many times have you encountered a miscommunication because the message you sent wasn’t clear? Or maybe what you communicated was confusing because it contradicted something else you said. It could be you didn’t finish communicating your thought properly, leaving room for open interpretation. If you’re like me, you can spend so much time telling a story that the punchline doesn’t carry the weight you’d hoped it would. And finally, to hit that fifth c, have you ever had a miscommunication situation because someone misinterpreted what you said as fact when it was speculation? You can likely find the root of all miscommunications in one of those five c’s. And that’s where you can start to identify improvements.

3. Improve Your Listening Skills

No matter how effective you believe your communication efforts to be, there will always be room for improving your listening skills. This is a big one. And like a fine wine, it tends to improve with age, wisdom, and maturity. Unfortunately, in today’s digital world, communicating every instantaneous feeling, idea, or statement is so easy that people forget about listening. The “let me say what I think” culture is making for a noisy space. And the most effective communicators are absolute masters at staying quiet, listening, and reading the room (or online forum) before offering their thoughts.

Check yourself in your business and personal life to gauge how much of your time is spent actively listening to others. Are you really hearing them? Does what they say register with you in a way that could change what you say next? Be a passive listener, too. When speaking to a room of employees or business colleagues, for example, listen to their non-verbal cues. If they’re nodding off, changing position in their seats often, or doodling, it might be time to take a meeting break.

Here are some other listening skill improvement tips:

  • Don’t interrupt until they’re done communicating their idea.
  • Make eye contact to keep yourself engaged in the conversation.
  • In text communication, pay attention to emojis, questions, exclamation points, and nuance.
  • Don’t judge.
  • Wait for a natural pause in the dialogue before asking your clarifying questions.
  • Watch your non-verbal responses.
  • Practice empathy while you’re listening. If they’re smiling, smile back.
  • Visualize what they’re saying to help you retain information.
  • Paraphrase to demonstrate you’ve been listening.

4. Improving Your Body Language

Because we’re often communicating from behind a device or a screen, we might lose touch with monitoring our non-verbal communication. When you get a snarky email from your boss, you’ll make all kinds of faces at your laptop screen. Of course, if you are engaging in an in-person conversation, you’ll want to keep those faces to yourself. And facial expressions are the only cues we give subtly.

Your voice, pitch and tone included, can carry so much more weight when you’re trying to convey something important. Comedians are great at building up a dialogue, pausing, and delivering the punch line. Your fluctuations can enflame or diffuse a conversation, too. Learn to recognize how you say things in conversation and in writing. And if you’re not sure how others perceive your “voice,” ask around. You might be surprised or downright shocked to learn that you’re sharper tongued or more casual than you want to be.

Folding your arms, rolling your eyes, and sighing are all ways to communicate that you’re not happy. Try to make yourself aware of when your body language is communicating on your behalf and check it if it’s not helpful to a productive engagement. The more open you are during a dialogue, the more receptive both parties will be as a result.

5. Write Things Down & Take Notes

We retain information better sometimes when we write things down. To help improve your communication strategy with every engagement, don’t be afraid to jot down a few notes. It will help you remember important details. It can be a smart and more effective way to get your first impression responses off your chest, too, before you overstep and react in a way you don’t mean. And if you’re engaging in a problem-solving conversation, taking notes can help you visualize new ideas or solutions. Of course, not all communications will permit notetaking. But doing so when you can, will always help you improve.

6. Proofread Everything Aloud

How many times have you sent a text message to the wrong person? Or maybe you’ve been that person who accidentally hit “reply all” on an email response intended for one. It’s so easy to get into rapid response communication that you make mistakes. Improve your communication by proofreading everything before you hit send. Read your text or email out loud to see if it makes sense or implies something you don’t mean. Review those “reply to” recipients, too, before you end up inviting the entire office to lunch at Bernie’s with you.

7. Pick Up the Phone

There are some communication efforts that just make more sense to do in an email or with a text. But sometimes, it’s just more efficient to pick up the phone and have a conversation. If your subject is somewhat complex or hard to explain in an email, call. If it’s been a while since you’ve had an actual conversation with the other person, give them a jingle. And if you find yourself getting sent to voicemail, leave a message indicating a conversation might be best suited to knock out this topic of discussion.

8. Words & Details Matter

When you communicate, whether it’s with your three-year-old or your company’s senior VP of sales, the words you use matter. The details matter. And getting your message across requires deliberate thought and consideration. If you’re looking to make significant improvements in your communication, pay attention to the details.

  • Make sure your words are used correctly and in the right context.
  • Know the words you use before you use them. (Don’t sling big words if you’re unsure)
  • Be specific about the points you’re trying to make.
  • Passive-aggressive is never a good idea.
  • Know your audience and adjust your vocabulary accordingly.
  • Manage your emotions when you don’t want them to “seep through” into your conversation.
  • Change your filter. Locker room talk with pals requires a different language than the vocabulary you use to coerce your daughter to eat her peas.
  • Mimic your audience.
  • Steer clear of the really bad words or polarizing terms that could be offensive to others.

9. Improving Your Emotional Intelligence

Harvard says communication is “built on a foundation of emotional intelligence.” If you really want to improve your communication skills, it’s a great idea to start with emotional intelligence. You can’t gauge the feelings or responses of others until you’re confident in understanding your own. It’s about developing an awareness of your own sensibilities, triggers, and beliefs and learning to control them based on the audience with which you’re communicating. Have you tried to communicate with someone who was enraged? No matter what you said, their “understander” wouldn’t work, and your message, no matter how valid, never landed as you intended. Similarly, you wouldn’t brag about your awesome family vacation with someone who just lost a family member because your emotional intelligence allows you to recognize the situation and adapt accordingly. But you can improve those skills and refine them with every engagement. Build your empathy muscles and learn how to better deliver messages to each audience based on their positioning to receive them.

10. Why Continued Communication Improvements Are Important

Look, communicating with others might be easier with all the social platforms, mobile messaging, and remote connectivity innovations. But it doesn’t mean it’s better. Effective communication will always be important on the job, at home, among friends, and with strangers. And while the methods with which we communicate might vary, the core skills are still rooted in the aforementioned tips and suggestions. You won’t be able to avoid every instance of hurt feelings or miscommunication. But you can always be looking to improve how you deliver and receive messages, over any medium and with every engagement.

Whether you’re interested in improving your communication skills as a company leader or just want to get better with how you engage socially, keep these suggestions in mind. It starts with an awareness of how you default. From there, you can develop your strategy with small changes over time that significantly improve how you communicate with every engagement.

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