We live in an amazingly connected world, which is why it is so weird and shocking that communication skills are slowly breaking down, generation by generation.
1: Always open and close
Something which has become very common since the dawn of instant messaging is the message out of the blue. How many times a day do you talk to someone, send an email, or text, and it’s basically a quick sentence about what you have seen or heard, or what you want, maybe ended with a “thanks”?
How often do people walk up to you or call you and start talking, or drop you an email or a message that just dives straight to the heart of the matter?
This may be common practice, especially in the day and age of instant messaging. But it is rude, it operates on the assumption that people are always available and ready. Instead, make sure to always open and close conversations.
Always open the first interaction of the day with a greeting, and by asking how they are. Always close the last interaction of the day by wishing them well and saying goodbye.
Always open a conversation with a greeting and asking for their time. Always close it with a goodbye of some description.
Always begin a request with “please”. Always end it with “thank you”.
Doing this will make your interactions fuller and more polite, and make people more likely to want to help you.
2: Listen until the very end and repeat back.
Again, in this fast paced world we do not usually take the time to really listen to people and take in what they are saying. This is so common that even when we are listening, the speaker may be suspicious of us and believe we are just waiting to get our own say in the conversation.
For this reason, we need to practice the art of listening. This isn’t just about paying attention to the other person, but also about letting them know we are listening. Take in the words, nod, do not interrupt or speak until they are done, and when they are done, repeat back a summary of what they said. Not always, or in too much depth, but a simple acknowledgment
For example, they may say, “My father has been too busy to talk much lately.” and you would reply acknowledging their words (“Your father has been too busy?”) or their emotions (“That must hurt. Why is he so busy?”).
This lets people feel valued, but also helps you to remember what they said.
3: Always aim to talk as intimately as possible.
Another effect of communicating via social media is that we talk as far apart as possible. What once used to be a convenient way of staying in touch over long distances has become the norm.
But there is a reason nobody wants to break up or get fired by text, and a reason we feel so much more excited about a call than an email. There is a hierarchy of intimacy to how we communicate, and we actually prefer the more intimate forms. Look at the following scale.
Face to face > video call > phone call > email > text > letter. (Note: Although letters traditionally are considered intimate, the inherent delay between sending and receiving one can come across as that the receiver does not matter to you, and are therefore not a safe bet.)
That is the scale on which we measure intimacy, and we want to be as close to the left as possible. So when starting an interaction, ask yourself “Could I be doing this more intimately?” and make the effort to connect with people a bit more.
4: Point, Explanation, Example, Summary.
This concept was introduced to most of us during English Literature classes in high school, and is more than an acronym we can giggle at. This is the most concise, clear way of passing on information to other people. And the most important part of communicating is still passing your information to others. If you follow this structure, you will pass information much more efficiently.
Point: The basic overview of what you need to say.
Explain: An in-depth analysis of the situation. How in-depth depends on the situation you’re in.
Example: Use a metaphor, an everyday example, or a suggested course of action to illustrate your point.
Summary: In one or two short sentences, repeat your explanation, to drive the message home.
If you do all four of these when communicating, and practice these habits every day, you will become a much better communicator.
Not only is effective communication an amazingly interesting topic, but also one of the most important skills that we can ever learn.