The ability to communicate clearly and effectively is one of the most important “soft skills” for professionals to have. Unless you’re running a 1 man start up or have robots for co-workers, you’re going to have to work with other people, which will require a lot of back-and-forth, explanations and even some good old fashioned convincing. Even if you don’t work closely with a group of colleagues, working on your communication skills will only benefit you in the long run. Aside from making things run more smoothly between you and your co-workers, practicing good communication will also benefit you throughout your life, making everything from family matters to romance run a bit more smoothly.
The first step that you should take if you’re trying to improve your communication skills is to self-test for bad speaking habits, or speech patterns that get in the way of being understood or taken seriously. What I mean by “speaking habits” are those fallback phrases that so many of us use when we need a moment during a conversation. Words like “like” and “um” are conversational crutches, plain and simple. While you might be relaying a compelling, articulate argument otherwise, saying “like, 50,000 units” or “um, yes” can really knock you down a peg in terms of how professional and intelligent you seem. Even though these speech patterns are pervasive (especially in the younger generations), most professionals believe that it’s kind of…well, unprofessional. We use these words to stall; making them place holders for those split seconds of silence in which we decide what comes next in our trains of thought. Instead of using these verbal crutches, try omitting them. Using these silences in conversation makes you appear deliberate and thoughtful, pretty much the opposite of what people will think about someone who is “like, pretty sure about that.”
The next step in improving your communication skills has to do with tone. Now, most people are pretty used to the way that they talk, making it hard to detect how they sound to others. You can try to pay more attention to the way that you come off (impatient, unsure, enthusiastic, etc.), but a much easier way is to record yourself the next few times that you’re on the phone with a customer, client or colleague. Being recorded will make you speak a little differently than usual, making this an effective exercise. Pay attention to the mental corrections that you make throughout the conversation. Are you reminding yourself to speak with more conviction or in a way that sounds engaged? Are you trying to hide your frustration with a difficult customer a little more than usual? While we make these sorts of corrections to our speech constantly (often without even realizing that we do it), they are a reaction to how we perceive our own side of the conversation. If you are trying to sound more enthusiastic, chances are that your delivery might be a bit flat when you’re not paying attention.
Developing the ability to hear yourself objectively will help you to change any bad speaking habits that you’ve picked up over the years. Whether that habit is using abrupt, terse language in your conversations with co-workers or ending all of your sentences with an upward inflection (making everything you say sounds sort of like a question), developing the ability to sense how you’re communicating will help you to get rid of these habits and improve your communication overall.