Effective Communication: Five Principles to Perfect
Most good lawyers have perfected four basic skills and made them into an art form: listening, reading, writing, and talking. Business professionals refer to these four skills collectively as effective communication skills. For the most part, these are learned skills that are refined over time. After years of refining and perfecting my communication skills, I have come to realize that there is no one effective communication style.
Good communicators have a wide repertoire of skills and are able to adjust their communication style in response to the many variables they face at a given time. Here are a few principles to consider as you adjust and refine your communication skills.
- Understand yourself. Understanding who you are and what your natural tendencies are is the first step to being an effective and genuine communicator. Do you tend to be chatty, or do you like to listen? Are you assertive? Are you direct? Are you comfortable with ambiguities, uncertainties, and risks? Do you choose your words carefully, or, do you tend to use words more like a blunt instrument? Do you tend to unintentionally offend or miscommunicate with others? Do you tend to overreact, or do you tend to stay calm and collected? Another part of understanding yourself is to be clear about your values and goals, both in general and in the context of each communication. When you are clear on why you’re communicating, your genuine self will shine through and add credibility and vigor to your communication. After all, being “real” leads to more effective communication.
- Understand your audience. As important as it is to understand yourself, it is also important to understand your audience and their natural tendencies, motivations, goals, challenges, and opportunities. Does your audience want to be heard, enlightened, or get things done? How much time does your audience have? Is your audience patient and forgiving? Are you interacting with a competitor, collaborator, or superior party? What pains and opportunities – real or imaginary – does your audience perceive? Is there a third party that is not present whose interest must be addressed to help you communicate more effectively? Another part of understanding your audience is to be clear about their values and goals. For example, is your audience focused on maximizing profits or social good?
- Listen actively. Listening is usually an important part of most communications. It is not enough to merely listen, however. You also want to make sure that others feel heard. To that end, it is not enough to use your ears. Active listening that helps people feel heard involves eye contact, nodding, appropriate and timely responses, and overall high engagement. Asking good, relevant questions and then actively listening helps to build rapport and trust. Active listening also involves looking for more subtle, nonverbal cues; one’s body language will often tell you as much as, if not more than, the substantive message.
- Simplify.Simple, concise messages that can be delivered quickly and powerfully usually have the highest impact, especially when you address an audience that is overworked or overwhelmed with information. And these days, who isn’t overworked or overwhelmed with information? Distilling complex materials into digestible terms that your audience can understand and use is an art worth pursuing, because it often makes a difference between getting what you want and not. Cut out the technical jargon and business speak, reduce complexity, and cut right to the chase by saying exactly what you mean in as few words as possible. Also consider using graphics, stories, or analogies to drive your point home in a more powerful and memorable way.
- Find a perfect time. A good idea is only good when it comes at the right time. As an effective communicator, you need to be on the lookout for a window of opportunity that allows you to be the most effective. For example, offering a solution, product, or service just when your audience is looking for one is a perfect time to deliver your message. In fact, addressing the needs of others in a timely way is the most guaranteed (though not necessarily the quickest) way to get a desired outcome and be an effective communicator. Consider being more alert and flexible in order to more effectively influence the outcome and get what you want in the long run.
This Wednesday, November 18 I and my co-panelists from a variety of positions – from lawyers, to public speaking coaches, to Directors and VPs – will further discuss the art and science of effective communication at the Lean In Women of the 415 November Meeting.