Five Steps to Improve your Communication Skills

How to build effective communication

Last night I witnessed something that got me self-reflecting.  I saw a blatant case of today’s detached society in action.  Here is my actual post from FB/Twitter:

“Just witnessed another sad LA way of living: 3 people having dinner together, all talking on the cell to someone else.”

I think it is sad that we have to live in a society that promotes this way of being.  I know I have been guilty of this myself.  Checking emails on the phone while sitting with someone; or, simply thinking of what I need to do once I am back at the computer while trying to have a conversation with someone else.

Life is too fast and is getting more so.  We need to cope with a slew of sensory inputs and mental stimuli.   With so much going on externally and in your head, how can you improve your communication skills?  Here are some things that I focus on.

1. Communication skills start with clearing your head

Think about this: How many times are you with someone and not actually there?  I know that I catch myself a lot being with someone, but being somewhere else.  What I have learned from my readings of the GTD (Getting Things Done)methodology and from various other life lessons is that I have to get my head clear of distractions to truly focus.

Before you can be fully-there with someone, you need to make sure that all of the mental tasks are handled.  This does not mean that the tasks need to be complete, rather, you need to get all of the ideas bubbling around in your head down on paper, in a computer program, or added to a list somewhere.   David Allen, the founder of the GTD method, calls these “open loops”.   When you have open loops, your brain will continue to work on things, even subconsciously.  You need to clear your head by putting these open loops into something physically manifested, such as on a paper list, or in a software program that tracks tasks.

I myself use the second method.  I use a program called Nozbe to keep track of my open tasks.  I like it because I can group the tasks into projects and align them with contexts, such as things to do at the computer or errands to run.   I find that if I get as much as I can of what my mind is working on, down into this system, the more clear I am for conversations and actually doing things.

2. Check-in

Okay, so you have your mind clear, and you are out with someone.  You need to mentally check-in.  The tasks rattling around in your head may be gone, but your daydreaming still may exist.  So make a gargantuan effort here and actually focus on the person.  Look into their eyes.   Think about the words they are saying.

Learn something new about the person you are with.  Find out what makes them who they are.  You can only do this with focus.  If you are focused on your own thoughts, then you miss this opportunity to hear someone for who they really are.

3. Focus on listening

Put the cell phone away and put it on airplane mode.   Put away the Ipads, the Kindles, and any other distractions.  You are there to share a meal with someone or to have a meeting with someone.    Now is the time to listen.  It is so difficult to focus these days.  Make that little extra effort of focusing.

Shut your brain off for that few moments that they are speaking.   This seems like an impossible task – but do it!   I have for years had the bad habit of prepping an answer to their comment before they have finished the sentence.    Stop and think about what they are saying before answering.  Guess what, you might say something more intelligent than if you have just reacted to a mid-sentence thought.

I believe in cause and effect.  Causes are thoughts, words and actions.  If you are not careful with your thoughts, then your words will create a cause that may render and effect that is unpleasant.   So take a moment and listen.  This in itself is a cause and the effect is a better response.

4. Give feedback

After you have listened and formulated a thoughtful response in your mind, give a response that is worthy of the person you are with.   Why are you with them in the first place?  Obviously you have a shared interest or you have some reason for being there with them.  If so, you owe it to them to be responsive and provide a positive experience for them.

If they ask a question, give a thoughtful response.  Do not react.  Pause and think about what was said.  Then give a response.

5. Appreciate the other person

How important is that person you are with?  If you stop and appreciate (have gratitude) for that person in your heart, then you will see a shift in your lunch companion, or your friend with whom you are having a frappaccino or with your significant other.   It all boils down to gratitude and appreciation.   If you have gratitude in your heart for that person, then your conversation will change and you will see a response that reflects that appreciation.

Here is a question to ask yourself.  Do you give positive energy out or do you suck energy from others?   Criticism done wrong really sucks the life out of a person.   Negativity also sucks energy.   Think about how you can give energy to the other person.  A small – sincere – compliment or giving acknowledgement for what they mean to you works well.  Even, a passing comment on how proud you are of them for something or acknowleging something they did well provides the other person with a little boost.

I’m not talking about saying something to say it.  I’m saying that you need to be authentic and provide something positive and of value to the other person.  Remember it is not about you.  Get your ego out of the way of a real conversation.

I want to make it clear that I am guilty of not following these five steps, probably more than I would like to admit.  I have become aware of these things through reading, various courses I’ve attended, and through my own focus on developing myself.   I constantly have to remember to do these things, but after a while, you start to do these more and more without thinking about it.  It is a habit that must be built.  But in time you can build it and the effect is better relationships and improved communication.  I think its worth it.  What do you think?


One thought on “Five Steps to Improve your Communication Skills”

  1. I had the great honor to meet and speak with two of the most charismatic people of my generation. Dr Rev. Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy. When we spoke, we were the only two pople in the area/room. They did that with focus. Its a talent all great men have.All my life I have tried to emulate that focus in my conversations, with sometimes fantastic results. This is a great piece of work, Chris. Thank You.

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