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8 Ways to Improve Your Communication Right Now

Everyone wants to communicate clearly, but little things can create big problems. Try these 8 tips today and you'll see immediate improvement.
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No one is a perfect communicator. Throughout our lives, we all develop little habits and patterns. Some of these habits are helpful, while some create challenges when working with others. We don't usually intend to cloud our objectives or make others feel like they weren't heard. In most cases, it's just these little habits that get in the way of solid teamwork and accountability.

Here are 8 simple tips that will solve most communication issues in the workplace.

1. Have One Conversation at a Time

Multitasking may be fine for some, but people rarely want your divided attention. If too many things are going on, you're likely to miss important details that might make the difference between success and failure. Whether you are having a conversation in person or on the phone, give the other person focused time. You'll make them feel important and worthy. Plus your conversations will actually be shorter, allowing you to go back and add that important mustache to your Instagram photo.

2. Look People in the Eye

Many people feel odd about looking intensely into others' eyes. I personally find myself naturally focusing on lips in conversations, which can help in a noisy environment. But I have worked hard the last few years to consciously make eye contact. Studies show that doing this conveys truth and honor. It's still a bit awkward. A few people even divert their eyes when I do it. But with most people I feel a stronger connection and find that it's easier to read emotions.

3.  Ask Two Questions

Important conversations are generally for the purpose of transferring information and gaining clarity. If people simply blurt out facts and orders, the information transfer or clarification may not occur. Make it a point in every meaningful conversation to identify a couple of provocative, relevant questions and ask them before you finish talking. The process will make you think harder about what is being said and will ensure both parties were fully engaged.

4.  Write Things Down

I don't understand why people pride themselves on being able to keep stuff in their heads. I like to use my brain space for creative and progressive thinking, not my to-do list. Lord knows we have enough tools to write things down. Please, please, please send a follow up email, or use Evernote, or text yourself, or dare I say it ... use pen and paper. However you do it, record takeaways from the conversation so you don't have to have it again. Oh, and I do find the act of actually writing with pen and paper helps me remember better.

5. Read and Respond to the Entire Email

I find people who only read the first line of their email incredibly frustrating. This forces their colleagues to send additional emails just to get issues addressed. Nobody saves any time this way. It just creates angst and extra work. Slow down, read the whole email, and respond to all items. When sending emails, keep them short and to the point or you deserve to be ignored. Use numbered lists and bullet points to make your ideas clear and simple to address. If you have tons to discuss, pick up the phone.

6.  Create a Response Schedule

Setting a routine for communication can help both with your productivity and with managing expectations of the people with whom you interact. It's frustrating to spend time chasing other, not knowing when you will get a response. I solve this problem with a simple rule of thumb. Generally, when available, I respond to texts within 20 minutes, phone messages within an hour, and e-mails within 24 hours. You can set your own appropriate timeframe, but once you have a schedule you can better manage your time. You can also let people know what to expect. Those who work with you regularly will soon recognize and respect your habits.

7.  Assume Best Intentions

With the increase in texting and short e-mails, it's often hard to know the intended tone of communication. I regularly hear people complain about someone's attitude from a perfectly innocuous email. People end up reading in the emotion that supports their own point of view. If any animosity exists between the parties, the perceived tone goes south, fast. With any short communication, always start with the assumption that the intentions are good on the other side. If there's any doubt, pick up the phone and give them a chance to insult you directly--just so you can be sure.

8.  Close the Loop

For detailed communicators like me, I need confirmation to know that a conversation is finished. If I send you an email or text giving you requested information, I have no way of knowing that you received it and it was acceptable unless you tell me. If I don't hear from you, I worry that the email went to spam, or you weren't satisfied. My brain will keep wondering and I will start following up with more texts or emails, which waste your time and fill your inbox. Solve the problem for both of us by replying with a simple "Got it" or "Thanks." You can even set this up in your mail program as a signature to save keystrokes. Not doing this is the electronic equivalent of rudely walking away from a conversation while we are still talking.

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Last updated: Aug 16, 2013

KEVIN DAUM | Columnist

An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies and the executive producer of Amilya! on 77WABC New York. Sign up here and never miss out on Kevin's thoughts and humor.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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