In a previous post, I pointed out some common mistakes in verbal communication. Although thousands of books have been written on good communication skills, in this post, I want to give my own spin on Touro University’s 5 essential communication skills.
When I entered nursing school, I wondered why “communication skills” was on the agenda for the first week. I thought, “Oh, I can talk to people just fine.” True enough! But good communication skills go far beyond “talking.”
As we know from Epictetus, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
Listening to the other person is key. Also, it’s critical to listen to the other person’s response to what you’ve said. A former boss of mine often diffused what appeared to be a contentious situation by pointing out, “I think this is a matter of encoding and decoding.”
In other words, the intention behind your message was one thing; how the recipient of your message heard and interpreted it could be something entirely different.
Empathy involves seeing the situation from another person’s point of view. It’s not necessarily something you can identify with, or have had experience with, or agree with.
If someone is wrestling with a decision, encountering an obstacle to their goal, or going through a tough time, try to see the situation through their eyes.
Using open-ended questions like, “How do you see this playing out in your future?” Or, extend a simple invitation: “Tell me more about that,” which a blog reader recently reminded me of. It’s such an easy, elegant, non-threatening way to invite someone into a deeper conversation.
Being aware of others and their emotions
How, you ask, is this different from having empathy?
Empathy is more about seeing the other’s perspective (and might include exploring the facts.) Being aware of and giving emotional support focuses only on the feelings. Here, you’re using good communication skills to show that you recognize the emotions they are going through.
Here are examples of reflection of feelings:
“That must have been very frustrating.”
“I can’t imagine how intimidating that must have been”.
“Sometimes it’s just hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, huh?”
Beware: Reflections of content (focusing on the facts) aren’t the same as reflections of emotions (feelings.)
I took a communication course in graduate school, and we did several role-playing practice sessions. We students wanted to leap right into reflecting the “content” of the others’ words. Our wonderful professor urged us to first “listen them down.”
Hence, if someone is feeling strong emotions, first acknowledge their feelings. Later, when they’ve felt listened to, you can reflect content.That’s a huge part of developinggood communication skills.
Empowering and encouraging others
I recently interviewed life coach Becca Brown. She says that empowerment is becoming (or perhaps, helping others to become) “the best version of themselves.” You might do that in many ways, including:
- Giving information that others don’t have
- Applauding others, pointing out their successes, or cheering them on
- Helping them to recognize their own strengths
- Pointing out some options or alternatives they’ve overlooked
- Offering suggestions (not barking commands!) for improvement.
On giving suggestions: Aim to say, “Have you considered trying this?” That’s different than issuing a command: “Just do this.” (I talk much more about this and similar techniques in my 5-hour Communication Course.)
Offering suggestions is usually perceived as helpful; barking commands usually meets with listener resistance.
Using positive body language
Yes, good communication skills include more than just speaking with our mouths. Take some advice from Joe Navarro, author of What Every Body Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People.
He explains that people can decode our sentiments and behaviors just by watching our body language. People are acutely aware of the subtle signs that help them to trust you or believe you.
Developing good communication skills takes time
I’ll do a little better with these skills today, because I’ve written this post. But tomorrow, after these skills are not front and center in my mind, I will struggle a little harder.
We cannot expect ourselves to have stellar communication skills 100% of the time. But we can call ourselves to a little better each day.
How do you demonstrate good communication skills? What are some things that make you feel heard? Tell me in the comments below!