It doesn’t matter who you are, where you work, what your goals are or what you’ve done up to this point. Universally, you have an inherent advantage if you are a better communicator: On a team, you’ll have fewer miscommunications and stronger influence. As an employee, you’ll carry more influence and respect from your bosses and supervisors. As an entrepreneur, you’ll have an easier time managing employees, updating your partners and investors and even securing new clients.
And those strengths will give your business an edge in a number of different areas, simultaneously.
As we begin 2016, I encourage you to make 10 new year’s resolutions for yourself, all of which can make you a better communicator:
1. Adopt a few new mediums.
When someone says “communicate,” what do you think of? Speaking? Calling? Texting? Skyping? FaceTiming? Facebooking? The options for communication are practically limitless, and every platform has its own advantages and disadvantages. In 2016, try to break out of your shell; adopt a handful of new mediums that you’ve never tried or that you gave up some time ago. Become better acquainted with the protocols, strengths and weaknesses of each.
2. Meet more strangers.
If you only talk to the same people over and over, you’ll never develop as a communicator. Make it a point to talk to more people you’ve never spoken to before. They could be new people at networking events or strangers on the street -- it doesn’t matter. Strike up a basic conversation with small talk and see where it leads.
3. Ask more questions.
Asking questions does two things: It forces you to think through the conversation at hand, making you more invested; and it gives your conversation partner more opportunities to give you information. You’ll walk away in a better position and with more information -- what more could you ask for?
4. Strive for specificity.
In every conversation -- in person, online, or some other context -- look for more opportunities to be specific. Do you reference “a project”? What project would that be? Are you “too busy”? Too busy with what? Specificity gives you more credibility and also forces you to think through your statements carefully.
5. Trim the fat.
All of us are guilty of bloated communication at one point or another. Filler words in conversation, like “um” or “uh,” take more of everyone's time. Expanded requests like, “It would be nice if you could do this for me” instead of “please do this for me,” dilute your meaning. Strive for simpler, more concise forms of communication in every medium.
6. Address your main point earlier.
When you write an email or long text message, how long does it take you to get to your main point? Chances are, it’s somewhere in the middle of your draft. Strive to include your main point as early as possible to capture your reader’s attention. The same can be true for vocal conversations as well -- take your intentions clear from the beginning. It saves a lot of time.
7. Practice better body language.
Body language isn’t important for online interactions, but in person it’s even more important than the vocabulary you use. Practice better body language in front of a mirror or with a family member, and introduce it into real situations. Keep a straight, upright posture, breathe deep, look your listener in the eye and remain in an open, inviting position.
8. Prepare for more interchanges.
How often do you “wing it” on a client call or show up to a presentation planning to improvise? It’s possible to over-prepare, of course, but for the most part, preparation is always a good thing. Think about your words, the order of your speech and possible rebuttals that could come up before any interchange. You’ll be glad you did -- on more than one occasion.
9. Practice humility in every conversation.
You don’t know everything. You aren’t good at everything. There’s a lot of world out there you haven’t discovered, and a lot of details you’re missing even in your own area of expertise. It’s good to be confident in your opinions in conversations, but don’t neglect the practice of humility. Admit when you don’t know something. Embrace dissenting opinions. You’ll be seen as wiser and more approachable, and you’ll stand to learn more, as well.
10. Talk less and listen more.
This is key. The more you listen to other people, the more information you'll have, the wider and more sympathetic your vocabulary will become and the more perspectives you’ll be able to incorporate into your life. The less time you spend talking, the more time you can spend listening, and listening is only going to help you. Listen to your bosses, mentors, teammates, employees, relatives and even perfect strangers. Everyone has something to teach you.
As with all new year’s resolutions, there’s one caveat to ensuring you get the benefits from these practices: You have to remain committed to them. Doing them once or twice in January isn’t going to cut it; you need to practice them, daily if possible, and for months, before you start to reap the real results. Communication, like any other skill, demands prioritization and repetition to improve. Make this the month you get started.