Author: Lote Steina
Communication – our ability to exchange ideas, cooperate, argue, find solutions, and express emotions – is what sets us apart from other animals and what has made everything around us possible. Indeed, while shared communication is one of the preconditions of a civilization, it is almost certain that nothing else could have happened without effective communication between people.
Given its centrality to our lives, communication has only increased in importance. With dozens if not hundreds of professional and familial relations as well as friendships to maintain every week, it helps us develop and prosper both individually and as a society, not to mention put food on the table for the tens of millions of people around the world who make a living from everything surrounding communication.
The sad thing about the recent months and the restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic is that some venues of communication are limited to the bare minimum (touch, in person meetings) while others are quite strained (talking, gestures, facial expressions) not just due to the virtual mediums in which they are carried out, but because a lack of face-to-face communication can lead to all sorts of misunderstandings and arguments.
Considering how effective communication is more important than ever in these trying times, I will use this blog post to outline some key communication principles that you should observe, to make you an attractive employee/employer, a great parent, or just a cool person to talk to.
There is nothing quite as off-putting as conspicuous ignorance. Not knowing everything is fine – we are not walking/talking encyclopedias. However, putting your lack of knowledge on display is not great. If the conversation heads into uncharted waters (topics you are not so well versed in), don’t plow in with assertions that are wrong or may come off as pretentious. Rather listen, admit your lack of knowledge, and ask questions to show that you are interested in finding out more. The latter will not just show your desire to learn, but make you an attractive person to talk to.
If, on the other hand, the topic of a meeting or a conversation is already clear and you can prepare beforehand, do so! This really boils down to the most basic things such as the topics to be discussed, people attending the meeting, some overall information about the topic, and what has already been discussed before. It will take you no more than ten minutes to acquaint yourself with these things sufficiently and breeze through any conversation. If, on the other hand, you do not spare a moment for proper preparation, the consequences can range anywhere from a chilly reception to not getting that promotion/new job/pay rise you would have wanted. So next time you talk about anything with anyone – take care not to mistake someone’s name or delve into something that has already been discussed in the previous meeting (if not necessary).
Now more than ever clear and effective communication is an absolute must. As more and more of us are stuck in tiny tiles on a computer screen, whenever we are given a word we should make it count. Babbling about, delving into minutiae, and not getting to the point for ages will surely frustrate your conversation partners and, most importantly, leave the main message/idea you wanted to deliver unheard. This is why people who are concise and straightforward are more appealing to practically everyone.
Here again the same principle applies – spend extra 10 minutes in figuring out what and how you are going to say/write before you actually do. Then convey your message precisely, completely, and concisely. That way you’ll save time that you would have to spend in clarifying what you meant or elaborating on a certain topic. Don’t use vague language or give unclear directions. For example instead of saying “prepare a pandemic impact assessment by the end of the week” say “prepare a 5 page report on the impact of Covid-19 on the incomes and human resources of our company using the attached template by 4 pm this Friday”. The second message conveys much more information and leaves little room for interpretation regarding the type or contents of the report, its length, and the deadline. This, in turn, will reduce the time you have to spend later explaining what you meant initially.
Although I used an example from the “professional realm”, the same principle applies to your personal relationships. The more clear and complete information you give to your friends or family members, the less likely misunderstandings and frustrations will be.
When I grew up, my parents used to say that “talking is silver, but listening is gold”. As with all adages, there is a lot of wisdom in these words. A conversation is not a competition between those talking. Instead of striving towards the longest monologue, the cleverest remark, or the most convincing argument, approach a conversation as a win-win arrangement – a chance to learn new facts and opinions, as well as establish new relationships or solidify the existing ones.
Don’t forget that listening is not a passive activity – engage with the other person by asking relevant questions, offering feedback, or expressing support so that they know that you are actually with them mentally and emotionally. Listening is about genuinely understanding instead of waiting for the right moment to jump in to add something or refute a statement.
Here are just three benefits to listening:
01 Avoiding inappropriate jokes. While jokes are fine, offensive jokes are a slippery slope that could end up hurting someone.
02 Not expressing strong political opinions. You can hold whatever political stance you please and you can share it with family, friends, or whoever else is willing to listen. However, bringing them up whenever and wherever will more than likely signal bad taste and could seem inconsiderate, even if some people may agree with you.
03 Don’t talk behind anyone’s back. Talking behind someone’s back must be one of the worst things one can do This, of course, doesn’t apply to constructive criticism and performance evaluations both of which end up reaching the person. However, hypocritically attacking a person without letting them know or addressing the issue with them, is a pretty significant red flag that you never want to be associated with you.
04 Don’t interrupt. This is the simplest yet most frustrating and rude thing one can do to the person he/she talks to. This is particularly annoying if done over a conference call. So my advice – just don’t! Signal you have something to add or raise a hand instead of simply barging in unannounced.
This blog post has only scratched the surface by outlining the most important aspects underpinning these four principles. They could be further discussed in greater depth and subdivided infinitely. Nevertheless, I hope this information will aid you along the way to more effective communication.