Have you ever done an improv show or session?
If you don’t know, improv generally involves an actor improvising their lines on the spot—no rehearsal, no script, nothing. Just on-the-spot acting.
That’s how life is—one big, fat improv show.
I’m sure life would have been so much easier if humans were born with a thick manual called, ‘Navigating Life for Dummies 101.’ But no, that’s not how things work unfortunately. No one has their lines given to them. There is no manual or rehearsal. You just have to make quick decisions and write your life’s script the same moment you’re acting it out.
The problem with this whole setup is that sometimes we let our emotions get the better of us. Rather than engaging in a conversation to accomplish a goal or resolve conflict, we do so only to win, prove a point, or feel vindicated.
This results in a rift in our communication processes. Sometimes, we become self-centered, overconfident and even disrespectful when trying to communicate our ideas and opinions to other people, especially when the other person disagrees or has differing beliefs. Bad communication is one of the leading causes of broken relationships—friendships, marriages, boss-employee relationships, and familial relationships, to name a few.
To become a better communicator is not very difficult. You just have to be conscious of yourself and implement some basic communicating tips.
Below are eight tips to become a better communicator.
Listen to others
It is very tempting to want to say something and express our opinions every time we have a conversation. This is totally normal. However, a conversation is a give-and-take process. Sometimes, you talk, and at other times, you listen.
In fact, active listening is the foundation of all good communication. To become a better communicator, you have to pay close attention to what other people are saying. If you don’t, you’ll not be able to respond correctly. Focus on what the other person is saying. If necessary, roll their words over in your mind. Repeat the info mentally to make sure you have a full understanding of what the other person is trying to communicate to you.
When you pay attention and listen, you gain knowledge. And like the saying, knowledge truly is power. You will be able to connect and engage better with other people when you listen to know more about how they think and perceive the world with all its beautiful complexities.
Pick your communication partner’s brain with sensible questions. This results in better communication skills and greater confidence for you. Don’t forget, asking questions is one of the best ways to win friends and influence people.
Be mindful of body language
This is especially helpful to an active speaker in a conversation. Studying your listener’s body language can help you gauge the direction of the conversation, and know if you should stop or continue. It can also help you gauge how honest your listener is with you.
If they’re frowning, they probably disagree with you or are angry about something on your behalf. If they’re smiling, they’re probably happy for you or agree with something you said. Their eyes may be wide; this means that they’re probably excited or shocked at something you said. If their face doesn’t move at all, they’re probably not interested or invested in the conversation.
That being said, you should pay attention to your own body language as a speaker too.
I remember when I started middle school at nine years old. I was this tiny kid with a very quiet voice. Throughout middle school and high school, I did a lot of debates. I had terrible stage fright—I couldn’t even speak to my whole class without my fingers shaking. This could negatively affect the strengths of my argument so I developed a coping mechanism—or a distracting mechanism, depending on how you look at it.
This defense mechanism involved me deliberately arguing in debates with a voice that was louder and sounded more confident than my actual voice. I spoke like this to distract the audience’s attention from the microphone shaking terribly in my hands. Unlucky—or lucky?—for me, I ended up permanently speaking loudly and confidently, but the stage fright has not gone away.
Why did I tell this story? Well, it’s because a conversation partner generally has the ability to separate your words from your actions. If your voice sounds confident, but your body language shows that you’re nervous or frightened, your listener will detect that. So although my debate method enabled the judges to hear my confident words, my shaking hands betrayed the fact that I was scared to be up on stage.
It’s important to read other people’s body language, and be careful of your own. This helps you become a better communicator. If you don’t know how to interpret body language cues, these books will teach you how to do that.
Don’t let your words be emotionally-charged
This communicating tip serves you mainly when you’re angry or sad. When people—including myself—are emotional, they tend to exaggerate. When someone does something we don’t like two or three times, we tend to say they do it always or they never do it. We tend to accuse other people—mostly unfairly.
Imagine this scenario.
After a hard day at work, your spouse doesn’t put their shoes in the rack one night. Instead, they leave it lying around. You are a compulsively neat person, so you get angry when you see their sand-covered shoes staining the carpet you took your precious time to wash earlier.
You might be tempted to say to your spouse, “You are NEVER orderly!”
And that statement is followed by your spouse rattling off all the times they actually put their shoes in the shoe rack.
A better way to handle this situation might be to gently explain to your spouse that you felt frustrated when you saw their shoes lying around. Then you and your try spouse talk about ways to fix the problem. That approach is much simpler than starting a debate.
Instead of focusing on winning an argument, you focus on getting solutions. Not only does this make you become a better communicator, it also improves your relationships.
Ask for help
I know I’m not the only one who HATES asking people for help. But this is a very wrong thing.
Many people have the warped mindset that asking for help from others automatically means you’re weak and/or unintelligent. Well, I hate to break it to you—you’re not a superhero. You can’t live without getting help from other people. Even Sherlock Holmes was helped by his brother, Mycroft, and his partner, John Watson.
Getting help is especially great when there is a conflict between people. Not every conflict can be solved by the parties involved. Sometimes, help is needed from an unbiased third party. This third party could be a mental health professional, a police officer, a trusted mentor, a professional mediator, or even an HR representative.
These people are trained in navigating emotionally-charged discussions and quarrels. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it is better to acknowledge conflict and take responsibility than avoiding the problem.
Start taking notes every time you have a difficult conversation with someone. Think about the instances in which you let your emotions, rather than facts, fuel the things you said. Note the times you exaggerate a fact just so you could win an argument.
The more attention to pay to your speech, the more likely you are to find a solution to your lapses. This will help you earn the respect of others, reduce your overall anxiety level and become a better communicator.
Find common ground
This tip works well when you’re communicating with someone you don’t like or someone you don’t agree with. It’s a great communication strategy to find what you and this other unlikable/disagreeable person have in common—or what interests you both. This makes the conversation a whole lot more enjoyable and less conflicting. It also hones your conversing skills and makes you become a better communicator.
If you disagree with a person, try to identify a related point that you both agree with. It will help the other person realize that you’re trying to look at things from and understand their point of view. If you continue arguing over a matter without finding common ground, it can send off the message that you’re more interested in winning an argument, rather than diffusing the situation.
Be assertive, not aggressive or passive
Being aggressive is a tactic that works wonderfully for sports teams, boxers, and martial arts performers, to mention a few. But it doesn’t work well when you’re communicating with someone. Being aggressive in a conversation will likely get you kicked squarely in the face rather than patted on the back.
Instead of aggression and passiveness, try assertiveness. Know the difference between these three states of mind.
Aggressive people don’t get their point across because they provoke others to be reactive and defensive towards them.
Assertiveness, on the other hand, is a great communication skill because it lets you express your views and desires without bullying or looking down on other people. An assertive person is the opposite of a passive person.
Assertive people are remarkably less stressed than passive people. This is because assertive people generally feel empowered to say ‘no’ to things and situations that are unnecessary. When they don’t have the time or energy to do something, they don’t agree to do it.
Passive people are generally people pleasers. So they usually say ‘yes’ to unfavorable conditions because they want to satisfy and live up to the standards other people have set for them.
Mark Manson’s book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, explain in great detail how to be assertive and, well, not give an eff. If there’s a book that teaches how being assertive can help you become a better communicator, it’s this one!
Know what you’re talking about
Nothing makes me cringe more than hearing someone speak absolute nonsense with a tremendous amount of confidence. I get second-hand embarrassment, seriously.
It is very important to participate in a conversation ONLY when you’re knowledgeable about the subject matter. If you don’t know much about the topic of discussion, it is best to stay quiet and listen intently so that you can learn.
Knowing your topic of discussion will make it easier to communicate your ideas and opinions to others. For example, if you want to apply for a job at a firm, it is imperative that you make sure you’re familiar with the job position and the company. It’s preferable if you’ve worked in that capacity previously. If you haven’t, read up about it. If you’re to do a presentation, do extensive research and know the topic in and out. This will give you the ability to easily tackle any questions you may be asked about the topic.
This rule also applies when you’re making small talk. Being knowledgeable about anything you want to talk about can absolutely help you become a better communicator.
To change the subject, find a verbal bridge
Listen, we’ve all been in a conversation that has taken a different turn midway. It happens. Sometimes, this turn might be in a direction that we don’t like, and we try our best possible to steer the conversation back onto the right course. This can prove to be a herculean task, though.
To become a better communicator, try to find a verbal bridge to help you politely change the subject. Finding a verbal bridge involves identifying a topic related to both the current one and the one you’re interested in.
For example, you are telling your friend about an open casting call you saw on your way from work. You think they should audition for the part. Suddenly, your friend draws your attention to that one audition you did that fell through. This topic is a sensitive one for you, and you want to change the subject. Instead of bringing up something unrelated, you could say something like, “The resulting movie/play [of that audition you lost] was really good though. You could implement the acting style of X for this present audition. I think it fits really well.”
And just like that, you’ve turned the conversation back to its origins without making it too obvious that it was intentional. If you cannot find a verbal bridge, try using a more general phrase that will help you subtly shift the focus of the discussion.
These phrases include but are not limited to:
- Yes, but…
- The most important thing about X is …
- What I can tell you is…
These phrases help to shift the topic of discussion onto a more favorable track.
The journey to become a better communicator isn’t really as hard as it might look. If you follow these eight steps, you’d be just fine.
- Listen to others
- Be mindful of body language
- Don’t let your words be emotionally-charged
- Ask for help
- Find common ground
- Be assertive, not aggressive or passive
- Know what you’re talking about
- To change the subject, find a verbal bridge