9 Best Practices to Improve Your Communication Skills and Become a More Effective Leader
Poor communication is becoming more common, and it can have a detrimental effect on your business's bottom line.
David Grossman reported in “The Cost of Poor Communication” that a survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees each cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year because of inadequate communication to and between employees.
When working with clients and companies over the years, I have seen millions of dollars and opportunities lost, promotions not given and relationships tarnished because of inadequate and non-effective communication. In my own professional life, my poor communication skills have led to the loss of thousands of dollars and missed promotions, opportunities and deals; in my personal life, it's resulted in the loss of romantic relationships, friendships, love and passion.
Here are nine ways you can improve your communication skills to become more effective as a leader in business and in life.
1. Be an active listener
According to the late American author and businessman Stephen R. Covey, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
How often do you slow down and truly take the time to actively listen without an agenda? Seek to understand instead of being understood. You may have to get a point across or deliver information to the other person, but before you do, can you take some additional time to really listen to the other person and hear what that person is saying and communicating with his or her words and nonverbal actions? Practice becoming an active listener with the next person you meet.
2. Ask effective questions
How many times do you shy away from asking questions? Perhaps you fear asking the wrong questions, looking stupid or think too much about how the other person or team will experience or interpret you. These are all totally normal thoughts and feelings that come up, but when questions aren’t asked, there is no way to get to the core of the situation, and many people will ascribe their own meaning to a situation, remaining stuck in the unknown. Next time, ask the question if you want to see real results.
3. Understand and know your audience
It is important to research and get to know whom you will be addressing; each audience is different. Engage with your audience, asking questions and tuning into what could be of value to the people in it. What would be best for them to know and learn? Ask yourself how you can best be of service to them in the moment.
4. Listen to nonverbal communication
Much of our communication is nonverbal, and there are many studies out there to prove this; you may listen to the words that are being spoken, but are you listening and aware of the nonverbal cues that are being given? Researchers found that tone of voice, facial and body gestures provide critical information: the crossing of the arms, looking away or positioning the body and feet away from the other person are telling signs of not being engaged, open or receptive.
What nonverbal communication traits are you picking up from others, and maybe even perpetuating yourself? Research done by the Face Research Laboratory found that both women and men were more attracted to images of people who made eye contact and smiled than those who didn’t, so try to smile and make eye contact more frequently.
5. Overcommunicate effectively
In the face of society's fast pace or instances of high anxiety, overcommunication must be effectively utilized. Keep it simple, sync early and often, and leave room for others to ask questions for better understanding.
6. Begin and end powerfully
People remember how you start off within the communication and how you end it. Whether it is a one-on-one conversation or a presentation to a huge audience, you will be remembered for how you begin and end, so give them something to remember. You might begin or end with a question, powerful statistic or quote, or a relevant story.
7. Timing is everything
All great and effective communicators are able to utilize their intuition, feelings and emotional intelligence to feel out their audience. Asking a different question, using an example or story to make a point, reiterating a point and knowing when it’s time to move on are all critical contributing factors to the timing of communication.
8. Get comfortable being uncomfortable
Not every situation or conversation will be easy or comfortable. Being uncomfortable keeps you on your toes and allows you to lean on your leadership skills and navigate through difficult conversations. Practice putting yourself in uncomfortable situations in order to stretch yourself and your capacity.
9. Have fun
Don’t be boring. Research and studies that were done with different groups of students show that laughter and humor can improve a learning experience, lighten the mood, lower anxieties and make experiences more pleasant. Be aware of what your audience may need at the moment; sometimes a little laughter and humor can go a long way.
Effective communication is one of the most valuable skills you can cultivate and improve on as a leader in life and business. Knowing how to communicate effectively will change your business, life and whole world — it did for me. It only takes one small shift to create lasting positive impact.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor