Updated: May 24
Focus on the development of communication skills to change nearly all aspects of your personal and professional life. Future conversations, whether personal conversations among friends, constructive conversations among a team, or hard conversations with an employer, will be more productive and enjoyable for both parties.
According to the global survey of corporate recruiters from Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), communication skills are still at the top of recruiters’ lists in what they look for from their applicants. Furthermore, good communicators are more likely to be hired, promoted, and given a raise. The benefits are limitless when we start taking communication seriously and tuning in to how we deliver our thoughts.
We’d all like to get our thoughts across more effectively and efficiently. The question is, are you willing to do what it takes to permanently change the way you communicate your thoughts and ideas? If so, you’ve come to the right place! Watch yourself become a better communicator with these 5 ways to boost your communication skills.
Become A Confident Decision-maker
People tend to be indecisivness. From the clothes we pick out in the morning to the dinner plans we make in the evening, our days are riddled with decisions galore. It’s no surprise that many of us are tired of making the call, and often deflect the decisions to those around us.
If you’ve ever responded to a friend’s “Where should we go for dinner?” text with, “I don’t care, where do you want to go?” it’s time to learn to be the decision-maker. Use the following tips to get started.
1. Stop overthinking the decision outcomes
Yes, it’s important to weigh the outcomes of your decisions. However, lack of productivity comes into play when we begin to overthink, and perhaps obsess, over the potential outcomes.
To avoid this, focus on what will likely happen, instead of what could happen. Worst- and best-case scenario explorations are usually only necessary for lifestyle decisions, such as buying a new car or quitting a job.
2. Offer solutions, not problems
Oftentimes, any solution is better than no solution. According to the Harvard Business Review, your boss will most definitely prefer solution-offering over problem-mentioning. In the personal world, offering up a random restaurant for dinner to a friend would be much preferred over returning the question.
If you’re entirely unsure of a proposal, offer an out. For instance, when proposing a restaurant idea to a friend, you could offer the out of going to a different place if there’s a wait to sit down.
3. Remember those around you don’t know, either
It’s likely the people around you don’t have a good solution to the decision, either. Otherwise, they would speak up! Get in the habit of being the one making a quick decision to drive the conversation.
With time, playing the decision-maker role will become natural, though it might be uncomfortable for the first couple weeks. Remember it’s the discomfort itself that allows us to grow and evolve. As the saying goes, “fake it, ’til you make it.”
Know how to effectively engage your audience
To engage those that have taken the time to listen, it’s crucial to develop a habit of using nonverbal communication to pair with what you say. In other words, pay attention to what your body does! It’s even more important than what you say (Forbes 2020).
Using nonverbal communication includes using eye contact, hand gestures, and body language to match the message you are trying to convey. If your words are professional, but you say them in a monotone, relaxed manner, they might come across as unprofessional.
In addition to watching what our bodies do, it’s important to watch what our listener’s nonverbals are telling us. Are they confused? If so, clarify your message. Are they bored? Spice up your tone. Listening to their nonverbal messages will help move the conversation along naturally.
Listening is absolutely critical to guiding the conversation in the right direction. Instead of a one-way battle, think of the conversation as a journey between two people. The goal is to shift through each other’s thoughts, and ideally land in agreement in the end. It’s important to highlight agreement won’t always happen. Nevertheless, with both parties truly listening, you are sure to get your ideas out in a productive conversation.
Listening can be much tougher when you don’t agree with another’s stance, especially when communicating through touchy subjects. Take a look at TED’s blog post “How to listen — really listen — to someone you don’t agree with” to help navigate these types of conversations.
Active listening could easily be labeled as one of the most important communication skills. No, active listening doesn’t always mean repeating back the speaker’s words in a different way, although this can be useful. It also doesn’t necessarily mean muttering a “mmhmm” every so often.
Active listening means carefully listening to what is being said and giving feedback to clue the listener into what you’re thinking. Giving inputs such as “Wow!” or “that makes sense” are great ways to indicate active listening to the presenter and your peers. These exclamations show the listener you’re paying attention and what you’re thinking at the same time. You could also ask for clarification at any point.
In conjunction with active listening, stop yourself from thinking up your next response or drifting off while others speak. If you catch yourself doing either of these, draw your attention back to the listener. Soon, active listening will become a habit you won’t want to shake.
Pay attention to how load, clear, and slowly you speak
We, as humans, tend to quiet down our voices, speak quickly, stutter, use filler words, or even mumble, when we’re unsure. Any of these can come across as uncertainty to the listener, instantly lowering your credibility. Granted, you might actually be unsure, but it’s always better to state your uncertainty with confidence! With practice, you can train yourself to speak up, enunciate, and slow down your speech.
Speak Up — Make it a habit to speak loud enough to be heard. Sometimes, this could mean having the courage to say something in general. Never shy away from uncomfortable conversations, but rather confront them head on. Whether or not you have a naturally quiet voice, check out this article to learn more on how we can work on speaking louder.
Enunciate — Have you caught yourself mumbling on occasion? Do your friends ask you to repeat what you just said? It cannot be emphasized enough. Paying attention to the clarity of your phrases and your pronunciation is crucial for delivering clear messages. Be careful with the words you choose and add clarification as often as possible.
Slow Down — Get your thoughts across at a pace the listener can follow. If you haven’t been careful about how fast you talk, chances are you’re letting the words fly out as they come. Our brains think much faster than they process speech. Watch your talking speed next time you’re speaking to a friend or college. If the listener can’t keep up, chances are they’ll tune out!
Prepare your thoughts ahead of time
No, we don’t mean practicing a presentation. It’s likely you already do this… we hope.
Instead, think of the big, important conversations you have on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis. Preparing your thoughts for those conversations can yield incredible value to both you, the speaker, and those that will listen. You will have a better experience delivering thoughts that have been previously prepared, and your listener(s) will have a better experience digesting a well-crafted message.
Organize your ideas in the form of topics to share or points to be made. Steer away from practicing word-for-word conversations, unless it’s absolutely necessary. For example, parts of a formal speech might need to be practiced to this degree.
Consider the opposing viewpoint. What would they have to say? As you prepare your own thoughts, prepare responses to any critiques you can think of. If possible, work these responses into your original message.
Don’t forget to research examples or support statistics to back up your ideas. Imagine the difference in your professor’s response in the following scenarios:
You come up to your professor after class and ask for an extension to the project with nothing but a will to beg.
You walk into your professor’s office hours and ask for an extension to the project with a signed petition from over half the class stating they felt the deadline was rushed.
Instead of a signed petition, you could have brought a signed doctor’s note showing you have a concussion. Or, the funeral itinerary to show your grandfather passed away last week. The point is, having something ready to back you up will always be extraordinarily helpful in getting your message across effectively.
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