How to be an effective communicator
Communicating with someone else doesn’t seem like a hard concept…until something goes wrong and a ‘misunderstanding’ happens.
“Did you get more milk?”
“Uh, no. Was I supposed to? I thought you were picking it up”
“No, I asked you to get it!”
I’m sure we’ve all found ourselves in a situation like the one above at least once, if not more.
When a misunderstanding happens, it’s easy to point the finger and blame the other person for not listening. However, we need to understand that WE could be partially to blame for the mix up. If we’re not communicating effectively, then it’s easy for things to go south quickly.
Intuitively, we know we need to be strong communicators to get what we want. Ironically though, we don’t usually do what we need to do to strengthen those skills.
This article is designed to help you start thinking about your own communication level and what you can do to be more effective.
If you have no idea where you’re starting from, then it’s going to be hard to know where you need to improve. That’s why we’re going to start laying the groundwork for discovering who you are and what your message is.
Sound good? Great! Let’s get started.
We’ll start really simple and then build our way up to the complex stuff.
COMMUNICATION- SIMPLY SPEAKING
For starters, communicating is simply interacting with others.
However, just because you are physically communicating with someone/something else doesn’t mean you’re doing a good job at it. I communicate with my dog on a daily basis, but when she fails to sit when I say ‘sit’, I’m obviously not doing it well. I also communicate with my husband on a daily basis, and when I’m too tired to really pay attention to what he’s saying, I’m also not doing it well.
Just because you’re speaking the same language and physically ‘hearing’ one another, doesn’t mean you’re communicating well. You’re just communicating.
In order for communication to happen (good or bad), there needs to be at least two parties. Although technically, I guess talking to yourself or self-reflection time could be considered communication- but we’re not going to go there today. For the sake of staying focused, we’re going to say communication happens when at least two parties are present.
The two parties are (obviously): YOU and THEM.
‘You’ are, well, you, and ‘them’ is whomever you’re trying to communicate with. Since you have the most power over yourself, we’ll start with you.
The great news is that you have pretty much full control over yourself. What you say. What messages you send. How you act. Most of us realize this, yet we never do anything to harness that power.
A lot of what I’m about to say may sound really obvious. That’s because it is. However, before you write me off, ask yourself if you are doing these simple things every time you communicate. The kicker here is that they are SIMPLE, but not always EASY. Keep that in mind.
In order to be an effective communicator, you need to know who you are and what you want. Simple, right?…but definitely not easy. Here’s why each matters:
- Know who you are. The reason you are communicating, depends on your needs. Are you talking to a group of people because you need social interaction or a job completed? There’s a big difference. The more self aware you are, the better you will be able to get what you want (because you’ll know what you need and how you are conveying yourself).
- Know what you want. The end goal of communication is to get something out of it. Right? You talk to the cashier because you want to buy something. You leave a note for a co-worker because you want them to know something. You talk to your spouse because you want a higher level of intimacy. If we didn’t need anything from anyone else, we probably wouldn’t see a need to communicate.
So, who are you and what do you want? Imagine you just walked into a tv show and have no idea who the characters are or what’s happening. You ask your friend to explain and they say, “Jerry is trying to break up with Shannon because she cheated on him”. Just from that, we know that Jerry is a guy in a relationship who wants to break up with his girlfriend. Now, imagine instead of a tv show, it’s your life. If you write a note or speak to someone, how could that be summarized? Here are some examples:
- (Networking event) Leslie is a professional Image Consultant who wants to seek out new clients.
- (Writing an Email) Leslie is the leader of a giveaway collaboration among several blogs and is writing to make sure all the bloggers understand the rules of the sweepstakes.
- (Standing in line at CVS) Leslie is an entrepreneur who wants to be seen as friendly in the community, so she smiles and makes small talk with people in line.
Every time you communicate, you are saying something about yourself and what you want. If you have no idea who you are (or how you wish to be perceived) and/or what you want, then it’s very likely that you’ll fail communicating.
TL;DR version: Make sure you know how you want to be perceived and what you want out of every exchange you make.
There are two main ways that we communicate: tangible and intangible.
- Tangible. This is our physical presence and our non-verbal communication. If I want to seem friendly to the people in the checkout line at CVS, I don’t really have to talk to them. I could smile and nod, show open body language, and/or show respect by waiting patiently and not constantly checking my phone or watch. All of these things would make me appear more friendly, without me having to say or write a single thing. Likewise, if I wanted to seek out new clients at a networking event, I could dress appropriately for the event while still looking stylish. People with judge your appearance before your words or actions, so it’s important to set the stage correctly with your non-verbal language!
- Intangible. This is what we most often think of when it comes to communication. Here are few sub-categories of intangible communication:
- Verbal- What are you saying? Does is clearly indicate what you want (or help you to get what you want)?
- Written- What’s the point of the email you just sent out? Does the note you wrote for your spouse/co-worker/child accomplish your end goal (getting what you want)?
We’ve all received that email or talked to that person and then thought, “what are they trying to say?” or “what do they want?” When time is precious, there’s nothing more annoying than reading a super long email to only reach the end and not be sure what they author was trying to say. Additionally, it’s important for your intangible forms of communication to be aligned with your tangible forms (this will happen naturally if you know who you are what you want). If you wear really promiscuous clothing to a networking event, yet want to gain to new clients for your law practice- you’re going to fail at communicating. Likewise, if you act really sweet to your son and then leave a harsh note about his grades, your bad communication will confuse him.
**A brief note about why consistency in tangible and intangible forms of communication is important: because it builds trust. Consistency builds trust while inconsistency breaks trust. If you want someone to trust you, you need to be consistent.**
TL;DR version: Understand how you communicate both in tangible and intangible forms and make sure the two are consistent!
Like I said before, this is really great because you have so much power!! You can wake up in the morning and decide who you are and how you want others to see you. You can decide exactly what you want from someone else and then change your approach to raise your chances of achieving your goal!
Here’s the side you can’t control…as much.
Why do I say as much? Because you do have some control over how the recipient of your communication reacts. It’s just not complete control (for the record- that would be weird and if you do have complete control you’re probably in a cult).
The way you present yourself and your message has a direct effect on whomever is on the receiving side.
Example: I have a great new idea for a company. I want to pitch this idea to someone I know has the capital to back it at the next networking meeting. Here are several ways I could do that:
- Put on a power suit, come into the meeting confidently, and chat with the person of interest, and then pitch my idea (or make another personal meeting to pitch my idea) or
- Wear jeans and a t-shirt, come into the meeting, and avoid the person of interest until I have enough courage to go pitch my “maybe it’s a good idea, I don’t know, but what do you think” idea.
Here are the likely effects of each:
- The person may or may not fund your idea, BUT they will most likely respect you and would be open to doing business in the future.
- The person may or may not fund your idea, BUT they will most likely not take you seriously and not have much respect for you or your idea.
These were extreme examples, but it illustrates that we really do have more power than we think over other people. While ultimately, the end choice is theirs, we can influence their decision of us.
IN THE END
Influential people (whether that’s a celebrity or the mover and shaker of your local town) all have something in common: they are great communicators. They know exactly who they are, what they want, and how they can use different channels of communication to get a desired outcome. You can think of it as a trifecta of effective communication, and (the best part) it works pretty much every where. Here is a range of examples. See if you can guess the person each is describing.
|Who they are:||What they want:||Methods:|
|Celebrity entertainer||Empower women to ‘slay’||Singing and songwriting|
|Technology entrepreneur||Elite technology for the masses||Creating solar cars and exploring space travel for everyday people|
|Mom-blogger of 3 kids||To raise well-behaved children that positively influence the world||Lots of daily love, encouragement, and family volunteering|
If you guessed: Beyonce, Elon Musk, and….(if you weren’t sure about the last one, that’s okay because I made it up)- then you’d be correct. I wasn’t thinking about anyone in particular, but it could be almost any mom. The point is that you don’t have to do something on a huge grand scale to be an effective communicator. A mom who nurtures her kids to be good people is just as effective as a communicator as Beyonce is- as long as they are fulfilling their goals and getting what they want.
Remember the milk misunderstanding from the beginning of the article? It didn’t have anything to do with providing technology for the masses or empowering a certain sex. It was literally a matter of keeping the household running smoothly.
Everyone is different and leads different lives. Because of that, we will all be different people who want different things and employ different methods to achieve them.
So, here’s my question to you: Who are you, what do you want, and what methods are you using to reach your goals? Please share in the comments below!