How many opportunities have you missed due to ineffective communication skills?
-An interview that did NOT land you the job?
-That conversation with your boss that that left you doubting yourself?
-The conflict you avoided because it was going to feel uncomfortable?
– Did not speak up in that meeting because you were not 100% confident that your insight would be well received?
-Gave a presentation that was just “okay”?
Will you ever know what opportunities you lost?
Research says that good communication is one of the most important skills in any industry. Yet, how often do we really devote time to work on our own communication skills? Too often, I will hear from potential clients in law enforcement that they “do all right” so they don’t think they need any help…i.e. no problems have been reported, from their communication style. Lawyers may think that since they know how to argue, present evidence, cross-examine a witness, they too do just fine. However, BOTH police and attorneys have benefited from a refresher on things like body language, inspiring trust and increasing likability via solid communication skills and anyone can benefit from a simple refresher.
It can be quite overwhelming to decide where to begin. Here are four steps on how to take your communication skills to the next level, no matter what industry you are in:
1. Body Language: Are the messages that you send nonverbally, intentional? Are you fully aware of what you are saying by your posture, eye contact, movement, gestures, tone and pace of speech? Become keenly aware of how you walk into a meeting room, how much space you take up while seated, how you approach the podium when presenting. Eye contact spurs trust. Feet pointed towards your audience communicate interest. Covering up your abdomen? …Could mean you are figuratively hiding something. If you want to encourage trust, likability and clear communication, start with your body language.
I spoke to a group of financial professionals recently. Prior to taking the stage, I observed that most of them had a resting face with an obvious frown. During my presentation later that day, I pointed it out and asked them what message they send to their clients with a resting face frown. One man told me afterward that he looked in the mirror during break and couldn’t believe he never noticed his frown before, and then he practiced a friendlier resting facial expression.
2. Listen. No really… stop (collaborate) and listen. (Who doesn’t love Vanilla Ice?) People love to hear themselves talk. When people feel heard, they have a basic psychological need filled, to feel valuable and worthy. Be the reason people feel valuable. Listen to them. This is challenging at times because our tendency is to listen just long enough to compile our response. Don’t do that. Be intentional about the amount of time you spend listening versus talking.
When in public, my father is a bit of talker (literally, he is a professional speaker on business ethics) and my mother is more of the listener. Oddly, it was my Mom who had a crowd of speakers around her one day at a professional speaker’s convention. I later learned that my Mom gained a fan from that crowd. When I asked my Mom about it later, she commented, “I did not say a word to that person, she talked the entire time.” My Mom didn’t have to utter a word for another person to speak favorably about her because of her intense listening skills. She simply smiled and nodded as the speaker talked to her.
Are you gaining trust or respect just by listening?
3. Take Inventory. Besides body language or listening, where can you improve? How ARE your presentation skills? Take an inventory of these skills. Give yourself a grade. Be honest and fair. Record yourself. Review a presentation or practice verbalizing your thoughts for an upcoming challenging conversation on video. Ask for feedback. Request that someone you trust who will be honest, gives you constructive feedback.
Once I had a client tell me that he ‘killed it’ during a presentation. I ran into his peers and asked them, they agreed he did “okay” and continued to tell me about his inability to stay on track and his propensity to repeat himself. In order to improve, we must figure out WHERE we need improvement. What do you dread the most? If you do well, how do you know? What feedback have you been given about your presentation skills? Focus on one thing at a time.
4. Take Action: No, really…do SOMETHING. There are plenty of good articles online (ahem), videos and books that walk you through the steps to effective communication tactics. Narrow down where you want to improve first. Prioritize your needs. Do you have a presentation coming up at work? Hire help! Want to ask for a raise? Write out your thoughts on how to ask, then practice, aloud. Record yourself. Listen. Adjust. Improve. Take action… and keep moving forward towards improvement. As your skills become more polished, the doors will open. Do something. Take action!
Research says that we spend about 80% of our waking hours in some form of communication. This causes us to often take for granted the opportunities we have, all day long, to communicate in a purposeful way. Consider these four simple steps to open doors, increase your potential for others to see you as competent, powerful, and influential. Then watch the doors open, all because of your newly improved communication skills!
Meg Bucaro is a communications expert, professional speaker, and college instructor who is passionate about empowering clients to perform at their highest level by communicating with more comfort, competence and confidence. www.megbucaro.com