Being able to communicate effectively, I believe, is one of the best life skills you can develop. Think about it, colleagues who can masterfully communicate their thoughts, feelings, ideas, concerns and wishes are better equipped to manage or avoid conflict, negotiate win-win scenarios, and increase their ability to collaborate at a high level.
Yet effective communication isn't just about talking; it is also the ability to listen and understand the other side of the fence, to "read" and interpret body language, and to know how to approach another person so you can get your points across in a respectful manner.
10 Commandments of Effective Communication
It doesn't have to be rocket science, but it takes hard work, and a fair amount of self-awareness. Here's what I've observed are the do's and don'ts of the most successful communicators:
1. Be considerate.
Don't dominate the conversation by talking only about yourself. Ask questions to probe your colleague's feelings or opinions on the topic of conversation. And please....don't over talk a point. It may cause the other person to lose interest in the conversation, or shut down.
2. Stay focused on the conversation.
Doing something else while you are talking, such as texting or writing an email, sends the message that you don't value what the other person has to say. So eliminate distractions! If you find it hard to concentrate because of your surroundings, move to another area or ask to talk another time. What you don't want is for this habit to continue because it may be a stumbling block in how others will respond to you later.
3. Learn to "read" the listener.
Pick up non-verbal cues that show the other person seems inattentive, closed off or uncomfortable. It's probably not a good time to be carrying on a conversation. Recommend having the conversation at another time.
4. Practice reflective listening.
Repeat what you think your colleague said to ensure you heard him correctly. This is called "reflective listening" and it is identified by statements like "What I hear you saying is..." Reflective listening gives the other person a chance to clarify a point and ensures that both of you are on the same page.
5. Wait for the speaker to finish.
Don't interrupt, or try to finish sentences. How annoying is that? When you see that your colleague, or boss, is gathering her thoughts, be with her in that moment, and pay attention to what is or will be said. When she is talking, don't get into cross-examination mode and prepare your rebuttal. That just shows you're not listening, but only trying to make your case. Listen, keep eye contact, and show interest in what is being said. I guarantee you, the other person will sense your genuineness without the need to win an argument. Communication will flow much more freely this way.
6. Don't resort to name calling.
Lets be honest. Everyone gets into arguments, but good communicators know how to argue fairly. Never, ever call a colleague a hurtful name. Try the five-second rule. Because we sometimes say things without thinking of the consequences, wait five seconds before you comment on what is just been said. Use this time to exercise control and think about what you should say.
7. Stick to the issue at hand.
Talk only about the present point of disagreement. Bringing up ugly messes from the past only adds fuel to the fire. It may also trigger the "blame game" about the past problem. This is not productive, and nothing will get resolved in the present.
8. Manage your anger.
Anger is a natural emotion, especially when you are having a disagreement. But don't allow your anger to turn violent. If you feel your anger reaching that point, use the "time out" card and take a break immediately. Do something safe to calm yourself down, take a brisk walk outside or go for a quick workout.
9. Stay on track.
Let's say you both agree to sit and talk respectfully about strategy or hiring matters. Then suddenly, the conversation triggers an emotional response in one person about how performance is being mismanaged. Bickering soon follows and one of you is ready to bolt from the table! This is a violation of the agreement, and a sure way to cause further conflict. So stay on track: Show respect for your colleague by re-focusing the conversation back to the original topic. You can schedule another time to touch on why you had such an emotional response to the other topic. Remember to focus on one area at a time. It's much easier to create solutions and solve problems.
10. Start and end with the positive.
When bringing up sensitive topics, don't jump right into a difficult discussion, which will put the other person immediately on the defense. Open with the positive: Acknowledge what is already working, and what you appreciate about your colleague's strengths. Then ease into how you'd like to see the relationship or partnership improve in certain areas. Ending the conversation is also important. If you can't come up with a solution to your problem, at least end on a positive note with something like "I think it's good that we both got to this point. I know we're getting closer. Let's talk again and see if we can get this thing resolved."