By developing your communication skills, you would also achieve all of the following:
- Develop a clarity of thought and voice as never before
- Enjoy more meaningful interpersonal relationships with your patients
- Move upwards with higher recognition at work
- Reap the benefits of energized self-esteem
- Conduct your daily activities with improved confidence
- Become a magnet for people seeking your counsel
- And yes, cast your net over a greater sphere of influence
As you can already tell, communication is not merely about speaking and listening, it is about engaging at the level of your emotions. If, for example, you’re an animal lover, you could tune in to a news program for half an hour and not hear a word, but when there is a 2-minute story about an animal shelter, you’re all ears, taking in every word and image. When the program started talking about pets, it connected with you at a deep level and, as you improve your communication skills and choose what you would like to opine on, you too would be able to communicate with others at more significant levels.
It is not hard to boost your communication skills, but you have to have that desire, and you have to make the effort. We’re therefore happy to lay out a path for you, the path to self-development as a skillful communicator.
- Fit for life
The first guideline impacts communication skills indirectly -it has to do with your lifestyle. Do yourself a favor and acquire a taste for “feeling on top of the world” with regular and strenuous exercise and healthy eating habits. All your aspirations are possible when you’re healthy and with an optimistic outlook, while you can only bring negativity into your life when you’re feeling down and bloated.
We’re not going to dwell too long on this because we all know what being and staying fit means. With a solid health and fitness routine, you can literally shake the anxiety –and the cobwebs- out of your brain. What we would like to emphasize though is another aspect of your lifestyle, namely that of the importance of socializing with extroverted friends as often as possible, people who know how to laugh out loud and frequently. Don’t isolate yourself, and don’t always keep to the same group of people. In addition, research studies have shown that laughter is one of the best tonics to mitigate the insidious effects of the high-speed, high-stress world that we live in these days.
We hear people all the time, but are we listening? When you embark on learning effective listening techniques, a good starting point is to ask yourself how you would like others to listen to you. For a start, you would want the person listening to you to look you in the face, with proper eye contact, and to project body language that says that they are paying attention to your words. You must also keep your mind focused on what is being said and not race ahead of the speaker in preparation of how you will want to respond. We frequently interrupt the speaker or start showing signs that “we get it”, which are highly disruptive. Similarly, we may rush to tell the other person that we too had similar experiences. This type of impatience is lacking in respect and often throws off the speaker.
The best listeners among us grasp what is not being said. They do that by intuitively recognizing the unspoken cues and by “reading” the speaker emotionally. Speakers know when they are being listened to silently and with empathy. This elevates the level of the communication no end.
Here is Sir Winston Churchill on the subject: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen”.
- Practice your opinions
People who wield considerable influence have a whole array of beliefs and opinions, and the difference between them and the rest of their peers is that they practice and refine those beliefs on a regular basis. In learning to boost your communication skills, you are encouraged to be outspoken and vocal –within reason. However, there is a difference between an intelligent interlocutor and one who is a “chatter box”.
Make yourself aware and mindful of what is going on around you in the world –by reading, going to lectures, and keeping up with the people for whom you have high regard. And when you form opinions, try to frame those succinctly and in small morsels at first, and in broader terms thereafter. If you’re going to some place where you know one or more topics will be under scrutiny, brush up on those subjects and learn how to voice your opinion so that it resonates.
- Nonverbal communication
Your tone of voice and body language –your nonverbal skills- say more than your actual words. The person talking or listening to you will “feel” you just as much as they will listen to you. Such nonverbal signals include tone of voice, eye contact, smile, posture, how you’re sitting, how you gesture with your arms, the tension that you exhibit and other physical traits.
You also want your nonverbal communication to portray you as being relaxed and spontaneous –rather than rigid and “over-prepared”. For proof, ask yourself if, when attending a lecture, you would rather have the lecturer read from a script or speak spontaneously. Without exception, accomplished public speakers hardly ever read from notes. They may glance at their notes to remain focused, but they usually deliver spontaneously. Accomplished public speakers also know how to modulate their mannerisms on stage for maximum effect.
- Harnessing your self-esteem
You have many great qualities, so start by making a full assessment, i.e. take a full inventory of your strengths. Identify and list down all your positive attributes, including what you do well in terms of skills, physical, work-related, talent, social skills, and everything else that you feel good about concerning yourself. This “reminder” exercise is usually sufficient to get you on the road to higher self-esteem. In particular, don’t dwell on a single virtue of yours, or virtues that you would like to embrace, but instead focus on yourself as a package. Apply self-compassion to yourself and accept that you have natural shortcomings that are compensated for by your other attributes. People see you as a whole, not as parts, and you ought to strive to view yourself in the same way. Visualize yourself at your best –how you look and talk, and what you typically do when you’re feeling on the up-and-up. If you like that visualization, then adopt it as the image of yourself.
Also, challenge yourself to new feats, things that you kept putting off in the past. New directions are always helpful in resolving frames of mind that are trapped in a negative context. Give yourself extra credit when what you set out to do required significant effort. Learn to be kind to yourself and to be able to pat yourself on the back with ease on occasion.
- Your courage
Courage and fear go hand-in-hand, and you ought not confuse the concept of courage with that of recklessness. Reckless people take unnecessary risks, or ill-calculated risks, whereas “people with spines of steel” know how to strike a balance between irrational fear and foolhardiness. Persons of courage know spontaneously what ought to be feared. They bear their fear with confidence, leaning on their sense of honor, nobility and other pillars of integrity.
Your shortcomings foster anxieties, and denial breeds fear. It therefore behooves you to learn to live with those shortcomings that you can do nothing about –physical issues for example, disorders and the like. The sooner you adopt an authentic lifestyle without self-inflicted obstacles, the faster you can be on our way, free of artificial anxieties.
More than any other trait of yours, if you possess it or get to acquire it, it will boost your self-development in many other areas, particularly in the ability to lead and influence others. Think for a moment of the people you look up to who are not in your immediate circle of family and friends, and chances are you will quickly note that you look up to those, in large part, because they are charismatic.
Charismatic persons are individuals who don’t live by people’s expectations of them. They are “free spirits”, free in particular of life’s complications, and free to pursue their dreams and have fun doing it. They are also transparent and authentic. They are also funny, building on humor to mitigate most of life’s difficulties. People will observe them and want in on the fun and action.
Good postures and walking gaits are good signs that you have everything under control. Practice those, occupying your space properly and with relish. Speak and listen with passion, for passion is your calling card. Be friendly to one and all, and always flash a big smile, one that welcomes people and tells them that you like them.
- Spread your influence
When you frequent only one group of people, comes a time when you’ve said everything there is to say and listened to everyone else’s opinions many times over. It is time to spread your wings –without necessarily dropping your base sphere of influence. Meeting new people is always enriching, and proving yourself across various groups will validate everything you’ve been working for.
In today’s age of communications, people spend hours upon hours in daily contact with one another, transmitting and receiving messages -in person, on the phone, texting, by email, reading and writing- and yet not many deem it worthwhile to spend a few hours to learn how to improve their communication skills. Be the exception, and relish the rewards.