Six Strategies to Communicate Effectively
Read Time: 10 minutes, 30 seconds
Worst case: you try to communicate with someone who is dismissive of your ideas, unfamiliar with your area of expertise, distracted by stress and constant interruptions, and intolerant of obstacles. Best case: this person is open-minded, respects your knowledge, gives you full attention, and agrees wholeheartedly with your solution.
In either case, your own stress level will benefit from following these six strategies.
Getting time to communicate with someone in a clear and concise manner is not always easy to come by. If you do gain some of that precious time to talk, being clear and direct is crucial. The clearer you are upfront, the faster the conversation will go, and the easier it will be to understand one another.
Start by clearly stating the what, who, when, where, why, and how of your topic. This will give all the pertinent information to the receiver and if they need clarification or have any questions, they can ask for them. A person who feels you are wasting their precious time with too many details will lose interest and maybe even forget the conversation.
TIP: Listen when a question is asked and answer the question first. Details and embellishments may wait until they are requested.
Concentrate on Ideas, Not Facts
Many studies have concluded that people remember only 50% of the facts they hear regardless of their concentration, focus, and attention span. And they only remember those facts for less than 8 hours; after that, another 25% disappears.
Moreover, our brains think faster than most people speak (an average of 125 words per minute), so anyone listening to you has time for distracting thoughts to intervene. The slower you talk, the more intervening thoughts crop in. But talk too fast and no one can understand you.
Finally, speaking to someone while considering their perspective and opinions can make all the difference. Some people may know you well and share very similar opinions with you. Others can be quite the opposite and could you clash on several topics. Regardless of opinion, speak with the intention of communicating your idea, not persuading or convincing them. It’s more effective to share an idea in open conversation rather than force it upon someone.
Determining a precise problem and solution before you communicate can result in a quicker conversation, but not always an open discussion. If there is a specific problem that you know the solution to, by all means, be very clear about these requirements. However, if you aren’t sure how a problem could be fixed or what the best solution would be for both of you, prompt an open discussion and come up with a precise solution together.
Do you need to ask for a meeting? It sounds silly, but having a precise time to discuss certain topics in private can lead to a better conversation overall. Suggest date(s) and time(s) so that you both can feel comfortable with how and when the conversation happens.
By being precise when you are communicating with someone, you will be able to gauge whether you have actually received the go-ahead or the commitment that you requested. If you ramble or are vague in your requirements, how can you tell if they have been met and agreed to? Summarize your understanding of what was agreed upon before you leave or in a follow-up conversation.
Guessing what is on your mind is no one’s strong suit, and communication is a two-way street. The more precise you are in stating your needs, the more likely you will get what you ask for.
TIP: The more you hedge—”approximately in the range of more or less maybe”—the less knowledgeable and confident you sound.
Pay Attention to Emotional Content
Paying attention is difficult for someone who is stressed and upset. Some key words prompt emotional reactions way more attention-commanding than any follow-up you can offer. That’s why saying, “We’re evacuating the building” is more reliable to get a reasonable response than “Fire!”
Addressing solutions first gives you more of the listener’s attention both in spoken and written word. Instead of them becoming distracted by words like “We’ve both felt disconnected lately” or “My car was broken into,” for example, you start with: “We should see a couples therapist because we’ve both felt disconnected lately.” or “I am safe and already called the police but my car was broken into last night.”
Pay attention to your own stress also. If you are tense, you will communicate that tension and your focus will be split. Practice SMaRT mindfulness strategies before the meeting to relax and improve your deal with your fears.
Know Your Audience
Keep in mind who you’re speaking to before you decide how you’ll address the conversation. Someone who works 60 hours per week while raising two kids as a single parent is going to be a lot harder to have a sit-down conversation with than someone with no children and works normal business hours. Consider the other parties’ needs as well as you’re own and be patient with when the conversation can occur.
Don’t forget that not everything has to be a full-blown conversation. For example, if a friend hurt your feelings in a small and unintentional way, a mere, “Hey that bothered me a little the other day” can often result in simple but effective resolutions.
Lastly, a wonderful conversation that beats around the bush gives you no further connection with that individual. Having a direct, precise, and openly emotional conversation will deepen your connection with whom you’re speaking.
TIP: Be prepared for a difficult conversation and handle it gracefully. You might ask for the listener’s perspective as well as listening for clues about what you might need to change their opinion or decision.
Believe in Yourself
Believe in yourself. If you plan to give up at the first hurdle, do not approach the other person. Having a backup plan is good; retreating to “never mind” is a waste of everyone’s time.
Your self-confidence is an important factor in whether other people decide if you are worth listening to. Make sure you are prepared. Setting a stack of data in front of the listener is counterproductive but you do want to be confident about your ability to access that data if it becomes useful. That ability requires organizing your thoughts and your feelings.
Learning how to communicate effectively with others may take a while, but if you begin with respect for them and their time and confidence in yourself, you should be well on the way.
Effective communication is a skill that is learned over time. The more difficult or uncomfortable conversations you have, the more confident and capable you are of communicating effectly. Communicating effectively requires being direct, being precise, paying attention to emotions, keeping your audience in mind, and believing in yourself.