UPDATED 16. 02. 2017.
Importance of Communication Skills: The Basics
In past generations, educated people developed stronger communication skills than are commonly used today as essential talents for surviving in a world where all social and business interactions were highly personal. Letters took days or weeks to arrive, and newspapers and magazines discussed events that were often days or weeks behind what was happening in the world in real-time. Importance of communication skills was highly prized and considered a source of news, education and entertainment.
In today’s world of instant communications, we often don’t bother asking why is communication important or with learning strong communication techniques and substitute emoticons, slang, abbreviations, short texts and sound bites instead of developing the skills to express what we really mean to say. We can say we don’t value importance of communication skills that much.
Highly effective people – in business, social and personal relationships – inherently understand the importance of communication skills, which is why some people enjoy success while others continually encounter difficulties expressing themselves and understanding others without generating conflict, misunderstandings and mistrust. Today’s digital devices capture too much of our attention and cause us to shortchange personal conversations while worrying about our virtual relationships.
Fortunately, we can all learn how to improve communication skills in our personal relationships, social interactions and workplace activities.
What Is Effective Communication?
What is communication? We often talk endlessly about our own interests and points-of-view without considering what other people hear. If the person shows signs of disinterest, confusion or frustration, it’s time to change our communications approach. This might involve managing our stress to hear what other people are saying or defusing other people’s emotional baggage to foster more effective communication.
Clear Expression Is Critical
When trying to talk and listen effectively, it’s critical to develop empathy with each person whom we engage in conversation. If you’re an engineer, don’t use technical terms and jargon when talking to someone who doesn’t understand the lingo. Instead of getting the message, this person is likely to tune out or consider the speaker to be pretentious or boring.
It’s also important to consider another person’s emotional and mental state when talking to him or her. Someone who’s preoccupied at work won’t appreciate being told about last night’s social escapades but might respond well to time-saving suggestions. Someone who just received unsettling news is unlikely to absorb complex instructions at work from a supervisor.
A better way to convey essential information is to take time to commiserate and ask the person to talk later or access written instructions to complete the work on time. This technique will often help the person who received bad news recover quickly to focus on work-related essentials.
- Stress and even ebullient emotions can compromise our communication skills by causing us to exaggerate problems or not give them due consideration.
- Multitasking makes it impossible to listen actively and respond appropriately.
- Nonverbal cues can be misinterpreted as disinterest, suggest what we’re saying isn’t true or imply tacit approval of disregarding the message.
- Nonverbal cues change what other people say to us, so it’s critical to focus on them and not on daydreaming, composing text messages or thinking about other things when conversing.
- Using negative signals, such as tapping feet, crossing arms, avoiding eye contact and shaking the head, makes other people react defensively.
- Even when we don’t agree and need to tell other people, it’s important to listen actively and take time to consider what was said before expressing our opposition.
- Clarifying Messages and Reflecting on Meaning
The importance of communication skills affects everything we do, so it’s essential that what we say and interpret doesn’t get lost in translation. It’s not only language that affects understanding but also emotional states, concentration and our determination to understand others and express ourselves clearly. Effective listening is the first step to increasing verbal communication skills. Subtle intonations, nonverbal cues and vocal tone can change the meanings of words, which might be straightforward, sarcastic or simply confused. Avoid interrupting others until they’re finished talking, and try repeating what was said in different words to clarify any confusing terms. Effective ways of recapping someone’s words include, “Let me see if I understand” or “What I’m hearing is that…” Don’t repeat the words verbatim but express the concept in different terms to clarify the message.
- Ask open-ended questions to further clarify the information.
- Encourage other people in group discussions to express their opinions.
- Ask follow-up questions to increase understanding.
- Try to encourage converging views when possible such as accepting part of a proposal.
- Summarize what was discussed and what actions will be taken.
- Develop the middle ear muscles by listening to music like violin concertos, which can strengthen our abilities to detect the high-pitched tones that indicate extreme emotion.
- Be aware of possible cultural differences among people of different ages, ethnic backgrounds, genders, religions and national origins because these speakers often express different nonverbal cues to reflect their emotional states.
This approach of clarifying communications and reacting to their meaning can be used in personal, social and business situations with some minor fine-tuning in the language used and adjusting the techniques for formal and informal settings.
Why is Communication Important: Everyday Life
Effective communication affects every conversation in the workplace, at home and in social one-on-one and group situations. Learning verbal communication skills can’t help but to improve our written and digital communications because we develop better understanding of what people are trying to convey even in short messages.
Workplace Benefits of Verbal Skills
In today’s workplaces, communications occur between people of diverse ethnic backgrounds and nationalities in an increasingly global business environment. Learning how to understand and speak with diverse people will improve leadership skills, get more work accomplished, prevent conflicts and help to advance career prospects.
Personal Benefits of Communicating Effectively
Personal conflicts often begin because of simple misunderstandings. Sometimes, conflict is inevitable, but good communication prevents many disagreements and helps to repair relationships when something goes wrong.
Social Benefits of Better Communications
Learning to speak effectively and listen actively can help even shy people function more effectively in group and social situations. When in doubt, listening, asking questions and finding common ground are the fastest ways to become socially adept.
How to Develop and Improve Communication Skills
Learning how to improve communication skills is an ongoing process that should grow and develop continuously instead of remaining static throughout our lives. We’ve all encountered people who are “set in their ways” and not open to new ideas, but even these people can be influenced by consensus-building techniques, active listening and clear, assertive communication techniques.
Effective communicators invariably enjoy better relationships, more fulfilling lives and greater financial success than those of us who never bother learning how to improve verbal skills.
Best practices for developing communications skills include:
Open Two-Way Dialog
Learn to focus on greeting people enthusiastically with a warm handshake, hug or personal greeting. Put aside the electronic devices, and focus on the person and his or her words instead of appearing distracted.
Keep an open mind, and don’t let personal emotions and time constraints compromise active listening. Keep body language neutral or supportive instead of letting physical habits indicated impatience. Encourage speakers to express what’s on their minds, and don’t cut them off or make assumptions.
Remain Calm and Focused
Even when disagreeing, show the speaker respect. Try to remain calm and focused on the conversation instead of thinking about other things. Consider the speaker’s emotional state, background, relationship and motive in speaking. Look for nonverbal cues and vocal tones that can change the meaning of words.
Summarize what’s heard, ask questions and show interest and respect in what other people say. These techniques will make it easier to seek consensus, draw other people into the discussion and allay fears and shyness. Seeking feedback also lessens the impact when it’s necessary to say no or recommend a different approach.
Leaving room for doubt invariably creates more problems than assertively expressing our opinions in clear terms. Sometimes, opposition is unavoidable, but when we understand our own emotions and those of others, we can express our opinions clearly with no room for misinterpretations. This approach makes it easier to express difficult messages and negative judgments without damaging trust or personal relationships.
Effective speaking and listening depend on many factors such as body language, empathy, choice of language terms that the listener can understand and other nonverbal signals. However, the single most important skill for us to cultivate is active listening, which often means surrendering our devices and focusing all our attention on the people with whom we’re communicating.
Regardless of personal turmoil, financial worries or social concerns, we should always pay attention to importance of communication skills. We should always try to show basic etiquette when communicating such as making eye contact, listening actively, responding appropriately, asking relevant questions when we don’t understand and remembering not to send mixed signals such as turning away, looking at our watches or cell phones, folding our arms and showing negative expressions. When we try to understand what people are really saying, we can communicate more effectively and never end up in exaggerated misinterpretation scenarios such as the classic comedy sketch “Who’s on First” by Abbott and Costello.
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