How to Improve Communication Skills
Once you say it, it's automatically understood, right? Wrong. Communication is a complicated process that involves critical factors present in the message sender, the medium of the message, and the receiver. If you want to know how to improve communication skills, you have to understand how these three works together.
The Message Sender
A person who is sending a message must exert deliberate effort to ensure that he is clear with his communication, and is speaking in the language most appropriate for his receiver.
Here is where the problem often lies: many times, a message is very clear to us in our minds. For example: a teacher who took a PhD in Political Science knows the ins and outs of the subject. Similarly, the manager who has worked in the company for 10 years understands production operations like it's the back of his hand. Parents know all the house rules they have set by heart. We are used to being experts in what we are saying, that we forget other people are not!
Those who are interested in how to improve communication skills know that they must always put themselves in the minds of the receiver in order to communicate effectively. A boss who tells his secretary "I want you to contact the gofer, and negotiate his fees" may think he is being clear; but the secretary might be thinking: "What on earth is a gofer?" "How is negotiation being done in this company?" and "Fees for what, exactly?"
Often in our busyness we forget to be intentional. If you want to know how to improve communication skills, you have to begin analyzing yourself.
Medium is the message, and the method we choose to present our communication matters a lot. Some communication platforms are more appropriate for some situation than others. And there are inherent advantages and disadvantages to different communication styles.
For example, email is probably not the best medium to use if you want to communication emotion like sincerity, anger, and even affection. Written text rarely captures the depth of feeling - unless you're a poet handy with prose. People usually read feelings through body language, and since you can't see the facial expression of the sender, you risk communicating the wrong message. "Thank you, you finally sent this file. Better late than never." may be perceived as appreciative or sarcastic, depending on who is reading.
Lastly, if you want to know how to improve communication skills, you also have to take the receiver of the message in consideration. Start with questions like "are they in the right frame of mind to receive communication?" Telling your wife that the bills are due, just as she walked in the door tired from work isn't really going to go down well.
We all have filters in our minds; filters that affect how we receive messages. Biases, emotional issues, lack of knowledge in a certain field can all affect how we receive messages. Age, educational attainment, socio-economic class and personality may also influence how messages are interpreted. For instance, the comment "Hey, you lost weight!" may be perceived as a compliment or an insult depending on who you're talking to.
At the end of the day, it boils down to a holistic understanding of the communication process. If you want to learn how to improve communication skills, you have to mind the message sender, the message medium and the receiver.
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