Written by: Lindsey Marx | Best Company Editorial Team
Last Updated: February 24th, 2020
There have been so many books, seminars, and information sessions on how to communicate more effectively. But how does this take place in your work place, in your home, and in your life? Communication boils down to these 12 key aspects:
- Maintain eye contact
- Have a sit down chat
- Be honest
- Understand context
- Use the sandwich technique
- Be direct
- Know your audience
- Ask questions
- Don't assume
1. Maintain eye contact
Eye contact shows you are actively listening and engaging. With eye contact, you are taken more seriously and you can tell that the person you are discussing things with is also actively listening. Eye contact is vital for communication because it shows you are not distracted. Do not be on your phone, because you cannot focus on two things at once and maintain eye contact.
"Good body language enhance the voice and supports the content. Your facial expressions, hand gestures, and overall body must be aligned with your words or message you are delivering. For example: Will it be adequate to say 'Be happy' to the person standing next to me, with a sad face? No! Moreover, make eye contact with people. It shows you are trustworthy.
If you are talking one-to-one, make eye contact for 9–10 seconds and then break away. Repeat this pattern during the whole conversation.
If you are addressing a larger group of people, follow 'Z' formation. It means, make eye contact with people sitting in the back at left and right corners, then with a person sitting in the front left corner, and finally to someone at the front right. Just like we write, 'Z.' It is one way of covering larger groups that do not practice this method all the time."
— Martin Luenendonk, Cofounder and CEO of Cleverism
2. Have a sit down chat
The best time to do this is when you start a new role. A sit down chat is a good opportunity to establish expectations, boundaries, and rules. This helps to make sure that everyone is on the same page and communicating effectively together. By establishing ground rules right away, it is easier to communicate in the future.
"One great strategy for good communications is always expectation management. Sometimes what we want to say is not recieved the way we want it to be received. So I learned that it's always good to ask again how they understood it, if they match your expectations, and maybe agree on a result. Communication is two-way, so both parties should make sure that their message is well received."
— Karla Singson, PREP
3. Be honest
Honesty is the best policy when it comes to communication. By being completely honest and open, you set yourself up for success and you set a good reputation for yourself.
"In all aspects of my life I believe it important to handle communication openly and honestly. Especially challenges. People always ask me how I have such a high capacity and it is because I do not let things fester as I once did. I also promote using my 'Three-P Method" of Pausing to Pivot to a Positive to help with challenges. Even when you cannot pivot to a positive, there is always a lesson to learn."
— Kerry Wekelo, Actualize Consulting
4. Train yourself
Whether or not your company trains for effective communication, you should always train yourself. There are fantastic TED talks to watch and apply as well as exercises like putting your phone away and eliminating distractions.
"The best place to start learning how to communicate effectively is outside a corporation. Spend a few years working at unprofitable or even philanthropic pursuits and learn the art of communication as part of giving rather than having an agenda of taking for oneself. Working for churches, nonprofit organizations, and school boards offers few taking opportunities, and so they make great training grounds for the art of giving your time, attention, and effort to other people. Inherently, the goal is service and to get and give help. Without the constraints of a personal agenda, one becomes a better communicator."
— Julie DiBene, Tough Things First
"Ideas for how to train for better communication and how to communicate better overall.
- Plan more challenging communications and consider the different personality styles involved.
- Do the communicating – make that call or send that email
- As you are talking or writing be more aware of how you are communicating and how they are likely to be receiving the interaction.
- Review your results. Was it a 'successful' communication? If so, do more of that for that person. If not, reflect on what didn’t go well. Ask for feedback if appropriate and adapt accordingly.
- Don’t get upset by failure. Take it as useful feedback of what not to do next time!"
— Dee Clayton, Simply Amazing Training
“The real key to effective communication has very little to do with what you say, but rather, with what is happening when the other person is speaking. Great listening. Really great listening is about truly going into the world that the other person is describing and occupying. That means being attuned, fully present in that moment, and absolutely not crafting your response, or wordsmithing the thing you mean to say, or responding to the alert that you just received a text message.
By listening keenly, without an agenda, we pick up the critical cues that lead us forward in the conversation. That way, no matter what item launched the conversation — even if it was an agenda of yours — you can fulfill it in a way that is germane and digestible to the person with whom you are speaking”.
— Amie Devero, Managing Director of Amie Devero Coaching and Consulting
6. Understand context
“Effective communication is about understand with whom you’re communicating, first and foremost. There’s nothing more important in communication than context. This can be true if you’re speaking publicly to a large audience, or having a one-on-one conversation with someone who’s having a rough time at work, or maybe a personal issue outside of the walls of the office that is affecting their work within the walls.
Understanding how this person is doing is vital to crafting the message in a way that leads to your desired action. Sometimes tough love is what’s needed to help someone get a message, other times it may be a more gentle touch. Therefore, a one-size-fits-all approach to communication can be a recipe for disaster. This is especially true in work settings where you’re dealing with a wide variety of personalities and approaches to work.”
— Kris Hughes, Senior Content Marketing Manager
"Use events such as mixers, receptions and 'minglers' as an opportunity to practice your communication skills. For example, you've got a new idea you want to pitch at work, so go to a networking event with the goal of talking to people and telling them about that idea. Use the time to practice being concise and to see if you are clearly communicating the value. Networking is also simply good for practicing the art of listening, which is an important piece of communicating well."
— Beth Bridges, The Networking Motivator
8. Use the sandwhich technique
"Include the following in your techniques: respect, patience, measure, and positivity.
One of my favorite ways to explain what I need from my employees is called the 'sandwich technique.' If your message is 'you need to create a longer, more detailed report for the next meeting,' you should first introduce what was right about the report that the employee produced. For example, it had a great design, and the key information was there. Thank the employee, but then let them know that it will be best to have everything the report had, with the addition of XYZ elements. Being specific helps a lot!
Part two of this is never to use the 'because I said so' technique. The technique works neither with kids at home nor at work. We are intelligent beings, and being told what to do without an explanation can be easily forgotten. It's not about disobeying the authority or ignoring your competencies. It's rather about not being able to memorize the effect without the cause.
Always give a rationale behind your requests or comments. If you approach the communication respecting the person and taking into account their point of view, you'll be able to communicate much more effectively."
— Tony Arevalo, Carinsurance
9. Be direct
"Be direct, but not too pushy. Try to state things as clearly as you can, but do not forget that the foundation of all good communication is respect and kindness.
Don't forget to listen with empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand another person's feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. Emotional acceptance, closely related to empathy, means that once we understand another person, we can also accept what he or she feels or thinks, whether we agree or not."
— Andrew Taylor, Net Lawman
10. Know your audience
"The most important aspect of effective communications is knowing your audience. In order to drive action you must be able to understand what motivates them and use language that resonates with them. The best way to learn about your audience is to ask them about their likes, dislikes, and their experiences. You can do this by having informal conversations, or by having them complete an electronic survey. You can use free tools such as Survey Monkey or Google Forms to make it easy to store the data."
— Nahamani Yisrael, Cofounder and CEO of nahamani.org
11. Ask questions
"Often, what we DON’T say is more important than what we do. How we communicate the content of the message can powerfully impact whether the intended message is heard, understood, and applied. Asking detailed, open-ended questions in response to communication shows interest, engages the messenger, and ensures that we fully understand the intent, scope, and content. After all, how can a person take action correctly on a message they did not fully understand?
Eliminate distractions before giving the message. If the message recipient is busy, ensure you have their full attention before beginning. If message is lengthy, write down questions as they arise to answer at the end of the message. Don’t get sidetracked and miss important information by answering a question immediately. Always offer opportunity for questions at the end. “Is there anything I can explain better?” or “How can leadership help implement this?” (if complex actions are required)
— John D. Hanson, Author/Consultant/Keynote/Trainer
12. Don’t assume
"Never skip an individual’s point of view to assume they would understand it wasn’t a valid point. Don’t ignore and delay getting back to people about anything that you are supposed to talk on. Let them know you are working, show them the progress from time to time, and help them visualize how plans are materializing. Discuss everything in detail and let them know you would try your best to fulfill every stakeholder’s suggestions and grievances." Gargi Rajan, Head of Human Resources at Mettl