Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Communicating Effectively - Up close and personal

Communication is vital to our everyday life. It is how we express ourselves, understand others and interact as human beings. Many people have heard the old adage that only 7% of effective communication is verbal (i.e what you actually say), the other 93% is non-verbal (i.e your body language, tone, vocal variety etc).

Over the next couple of weeks I will be writing a few short blog posts on ‘communicating effectively’. Today’s post will focus in on face-to-face communication and I will provide my five top tips that I hope will help you to avoid the common mistakes that people make time and time again. You may be talking to your boss at work, giving a presentation, going for a job interview or perhaps just meeting people for the first time, but every time you communicate you are giving off an impression (and sometimes it is not always the one that you were hoping for!)

Top Five Tips

1.   Take your time. You know that awkward moment when someone asks you a question you weren’t expecting and words leap out of your mouth before you have actually thought of a proper response? Don’t let yourself do it. There is nothing wrong with a considered pause, in fact it often helps you to formulate a sensible and intelligent response to the question and you will look far more confident taking your time than just letting your words fall out of your mouth.

2.    Make yourself understood. Now that you have given yourself a pause to think about what you want to say, don’t ruin your point by slurring your words or speaking at 100mph! Enunciate your words clearly and be careful not to mumble. You may have an intelligent and important thing to say, but if you are not clear you will lose your audience quickly.

3.   Vary your tone and pace. No-one likes the person with the dull and monotone voice; it makes whatever you are talking about sound boring. Make sure you change the pitch of your voice to enhance the meaning of what you are saying and slow down when you are trying to emphasise the point you are making. Be careful not to overuse this technique though, a chaotic use of tone and pace with constant variation will only make you sound insincere and will be difficult to understand. Try reading this blog out loud and vary your pitch and tone to see how changing your voice can change the emphasis of the words you are saying.

4.   Maintain eye contact. It can be nerve wracking to look someone in the eye whilst having a conversation, particularly if it is at a job interview or in a pressured situation. However, acting as if the person you are talking to is a basilisk, that will cause you immediate death if you look them in the eye, is not helpful either. Shifty eye contact can be perceived as untrustworthy and can arouse a subconscious feeling of mistrust and suspicion within the person you are speaking to. Similarly, staring at someone directly in the eyes for a sustained period of time would make anyone feel uncomfortable. If you are feeling nervous, try looking just above someone’s eyes when you are speaking. This will appear to them as if you are giving good eye contact without you feeling as if you are staring directly into their eyes.

5.    It’s not all about you! Less speaking, more listening. This is a key point that people often forget. A conversation is a two-way or multi-way interaction between two or more people (except when you are muttering to yourself angrily when you have forgotten your umbrella in the rain). This means that it is vitally important for you to listen to what others have to say. Even more importantly you should be understanding, interpreting and evaluating what you have heard. Being a good active listener is often an uncommon skill. Think about the number of times when someone has been speaking to you and you have already begun formulating what you are going to say in response before they finish rather than actually taking the time to understand their point – go on, admit it, we have all done it! Try to get a better grasp of someone’s opinion or point by asking questions and repeating the main points of what they have said to ensure clarification.

I hope these tips have given you some ideas about how you could communicate more effectively in your day-to-day life. Over the next few weeks I will be writing about the following topics:
·         Presentations – How to keep your audience awake
·         Why style is just as important in your writing as it is in fashion
·         The written word – Making yourself understood

Please do comment if you would like me to cover any other topics specifically.

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