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How can you harness communication skills to achieve a better life for yourself and your loved ones? Which aspects of your communication can make the biggest difference in your life? And how can you improve this most important of skills?
In early human life, the strongest, fastest, and most cunning were those who rose to the top of any community. As we became more and more civilised and eschewed violence at all other than the nation-to-nation level, communication skills have become progressively more important.
Now, there is a very strong correlation between a person’s communication skills and their standing in society. People who communicate well, do well.
Please do not assume that means that you need to speak your language perfectly, with flawless grammar. It means that if your communication is effective, you are more likely to succeed. Many highly successful communicators conduct linguistic genocide on their language every time they speak, yet people hear and act on their message. Communication is not about eloquence; it is about effectiveness.
Here are 15 techniques to improve your communication effectiveness:
Who, in your life, has the most influence on you? Perhaps it is those people who are closest to you; those with whom you have the best rapport. Whether you are married to that person, or not, you almost certainly have a marriage of minds, based on your excellent rapport.
People who can form effective rapport are more heard by others than those who cannot. Taking the time to better understand rapport formation skills is a wise investment of time for those who wish to voice their way to victory.
Listen, really listen
Once a person has indicated that they are willing to engage, it is wise to ensure a two-way flow in the conversation. People listen to people who listen to them; to people who are interested in them.
The more you can make your interactions with others feel like a two-way exchange, the more people will hear your voice. One of the factors that determine whether you will be heard, is the extent to which you listen. Really listen, not just to the words of others; but to their tone, body language, their mood, and their context.
Understand your audience
It is obvious that if you speak English, addressing an audience of Spanish speakers, in English, is unlikely to achieve the desired outcome. It is less obvious that to have your voice heard that you have to identify and speak to the beliefs of your audience. That technique, used ethically, has resulted in a vast number of improvements in human life that most of us take for granted.
The same technique used mendaciously has led to genocide on a massive scale (Rwanda, Syria, USSR, US, Germany, UK, Serbia, and China, to name only a few). People want to have their beliefs confirmed, and whomsoever tells them what they want to hear will be popular and influential.
Gandhi liberated India with his passive resistance voice, and Hitler killed millions. Yet both started out (correctly) persuading their people that they were the victims of injustice. The people believed that already, and supported the living manifestation of their own voices.
The same technique has created the NHS (free health care at the point of need, in the UK, and similar systems in many EU countries). It abolished slavery in most parts of the world. It created and spread democracy. It enabled the enlightenment, which made possible the industrial revolution. To have your voice heard, tune in to the beliefs of your audience.
Match your language and influence approach to the audience
What is the difference between knowledge and wisdom? This adage illustrates the distinction wonderfully well: “Awareness that a tomato is a fruit, is knowledge. Not putting a tomato in a fruit salad, is wisdom.” Speaking using engineering terms to engineers is wise. Using engineering terms with health carers is not. To increase the chances of being heard, it is useful to speak in the language style of the people you seek to influence.
Brevity and simplicity
People love short simple messages. As Einstein said: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it.” We all like to think we understand and enjoy the feeling of instant comprehension. If you can make your messages short and simple, your voice will be more heard.
In selling, the profession that accounts for 9% of all jobs worldwide, it is well-known that if a potential customer can’t understand the benefit of a service or product in one sentence, the chances of a sale are dramatically reduced. When the value to a person can be conveyed in just a few words, that person wants to know more. Here is a marketing headline example: “Seven days to a perfect memory.”
Headlines, when delivered in print, or elevator pitches, when delivered in person, are designed to stir intrigue; to have the recipient asking for more information.
Be calm, relaxed, and confident
From studies on persuasion, we know that when people are calm, relaxed and confident, they are much more influential. Confidence comes from knowing your subject, and being comfortable that if you make a mistake, you will see it as a learning experience to become even better. Being calm and relaxed comes from knowing how to manage your emotional state; how to deal with stress in a positive way.
Make your message engaging
Across the world, the most brilliant teachers make their lessons engaging, and achieve better outcomes, because of that. There are many techniques that we can learn from great teachers to improve communication effectiveness.
To have your voice heard, make your message, and the way it is delivered, as engaging as possible.
Most of us love to laugh. Even if we don’t break out into a full-bodied “corpsing” (laughter to the point of the inability to stop laughing), we all enjoy a smile at funny observations and jokes. To increase your ability to speak your way to success, pepper your communications with humour. It may take some practice, and a little understanding of how to make humour would be useful.
Happiness is infectiously influential
Almost everyone likes to be around happy people. We tend to listen more to and be attracted to people who are upbeat and happy. The stereotype of the upbeat salesperson has become a trope for a good reason: we are more likely to act on the message from positive, cheerful people.
Posture and body language
People who appear confident and authoritative without being aggressive are more credible and influential. They are better heard because they avoid behaviours that reduce the willingness of others to listen.
To be heard better, avoid slouching, lowering your head, or speaking too quietly. Keep good eye contact without staring. Be clean and dress appropriately to the context.
Improve your public speaking
You don’t have to become a Churchill, Gandhi or Martin Luther King to be heard. Mastering the basic skills of speaking in public is enough. If you can do that, you will be heard above almost everyone else; around 75% of the population is nervous or terrified of speaking in public.
As with all other skills, learning to speak in public is a matter of practice. The more you do, the better you become. For many people, just getting started is the biggest barrier. This is the reason why people seek help from professional TED speaker coaches that are working in companies such as Thought-Leader and who know the ins and outs of improving public speaking skills.
People who can craft a narrative around the case they are trying to make are much more likely to be successful in being heard. Former US President Bill Clinton said: “…telling purposeful stories is the best way to persuade, motivate and convince…”
If you understand how to craft a simple, brief, and compelling story, your voice will be heard more than those who do not have that knowledge.
Storytelling is as influential with others as it is with ourselves. The story you tell yourself about your ability to speak your way to success will determine whether… you speak your way to success. Choose to tell yourself a positive story about your communication skills.
Eyes on the prize
When people set a goal, and feel a sense of certainty that they can achieve that goal, even if they don’t know how they will achieve it, somehow, their brain is more likely to find a way. Quite how that works inside the brain, we don’t know. In whichever way it works, you can harness it by keeping your eyes on the prize.
When you are communicating to achieve any objective, keep that objective in mind, and be open to alternative routes. Among the many tools used by some of the most successful salespeople I have coached, is the holding in their mind of an image with the customer benefiting from the solution they are selling.
Harness the best in yourself
You can better speak your way to success if you harness the best in yourself. The techniques to become a high achiever in any field are very similar. The more you know about and apply those techniques to your communication improvement journey, the more likely you are to succeed. Understanding the psychology of achievement will help you voice your way to victory.
When people voice their authentic selves, others instinctively feel it. Having said that, some people are so good at acting, that when they voice, everyone, including themselves believes what is said.
Indeed, the entertainment industry regularly gives people awards for convincing people and believing, that the actor or actress is someone else.
The phrase “fake it until you make it” has had some bad press. When we start learning a new skill or trying to adopt better versions of an existing skill, we are far from authentic as we make the change.
It can feel as though we are “faking it”. Eventually, as the new skill moves from conscious incompetence through conscious competence to unconscious competence, the skill feels part of us, and we part of the skill.
In conclusion, learning the techniques to voice your way to victory will take time and practice, which will pay for itself over and over again, in all sorts of ways.
Every interaction you will ever have with another human being, for the rest of your life, can be made more successful and more enjoyable if you resolve to go on a life-long journey to improve your communication effectiveness.
Soon, being a communication improver will feel completely authentic, and people will feel that, and respond, as they usually do, to your authenticity.
To voice your way to victory, which techniques will you start with?
Professor Nigel MacLennan runs the performance coaching practice PsyPerform.
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