Your ability to communicate effectively plays an essential role in all of your relationships — both professional and personal. Learning how to communicate better can help you improve those relationships and present your authentic self to others. From working on your active listening skills to reframing how you talk about problems, effective communication practices can measurably improve your ability to form and maintain relationships.
To facilitate smoother communication between you and others, follow the nine tips outlined below. These best practices will not only help you more easily share your ideas, but also enhance your ability to listen and understand what others say to you.
1. Listen to Understand
Focusing on formulating a response instead of really listening to someone is a common hang-up people face during a conversation — especially one that may involve disagreement. By taking an active listening approach, you allow yourself to actually understand other points of view while making your conversation partner feel valued and understood. Ultimately, that may make them more likely to trust you and enjoy talking with you.
2. Choose Your Words Carefully
The way you frame a conversation can make a huge difference in how others receive what you say. To communicate effectively, focus on using neutral and accurate words. This is especially important during conversations about an upsetting topic or situation. When you’re upset, sticking to accurate, neutral statements can help prevent the discussion from escalating. If someone didn’t show up at an event to which you invited them, for example, you could say, “You missed my party and it hurt my feelings.” This neutral statement is more effective than making the leap to say, “You don’t care about me.” Neutral statements also give you a better — and less emotional — point to begin a conversation.
3. Be Empathetic
You don’t need to experience something to empathize with someone who did. When someone approaches you for a conversation, try to put yourself in their shoes to understand their point of view. Practicing empathic communication will help you recognize why a person might act a certain way or say certain things. Approaching a conversation from a place of empathy humanizes your conversational partner — whether it’s your boss, spouse, or friend. Specifically, it helps you see them as an individual as complex as yourself with their own circumstances, needs, and aspirations.
4. Demonstrate Interest
You know what it’s like to talk with someone who clearly has no interest in the conversation. When that happens during an important discussion, it can prove frustrating and disempowering. To communicate effectively, you must demonstrate your interest in a conversation. Body language goes a long way toward indicating your interest in what someone says. Keep your eyes on your conversation partner and your body angled towards them while you talk. Remember to nod occasionally. You also can demonstrate interest by actively listening so you can ask follow-up questions that show you’re paying attention and trying to understand their perspective on the discussion topic.
5. Own Your Feelings
When something upsets you, try to figure out why it bothers you rather than lashing out at your conversational partner. Your emotions are your own. While the words someone says may trigger negative feelings, they aren’t the real source of your discomfort. Practicing self-examination can help you avoid getting angry. It also can empower you to work with your conversation partner to strengthen your relationship by identifying ways you both can improve.
6. Don’t Interrupt
Most people experience frustration when talking to someone who constantly interrupts with their own thoughts. If you can’t finish a sentence or even get a word in, you may feel like your conversation partner doesn’t value you or your perspective — a situation that can build genuine resentment. Conversations naturally involve both give and take. If someone in a conversation only takes, then you’re not communicating effectively. When you talk with people, be sure to let them complete their thoughts before you respond.
A study from Stanford University found that when people discuss a topic they know very well, they often overestimate the ability of others less familiar with the topic to understand. In this study, some participants tapped out the rhythm of a song and asked other participants to guess the song’s name. The “tappers” expected their “listeners” to have a 50-50 chance of correctly guessing the song. In reality, the listeners only guessed the correct name for three of the 120 songs tapped out. That’s a ratio of 1-to-40!
Whenever you discuss a topic for which you have a deep passion or extensive knowledge, remember to provide extra information along with tangible examples and stories. This overcommunication will help listeners unfamiliar with the topic better understand you.
8. Learn to Say “No”
Many people find it difficult to say “no” because diverse external pressures may convince them to agree to something they know they should avoid. Those pressures can range from the expectations of others and a desire to please to something entirely different and personal. Learning to say “no” when you mean “no” is one of the best strategies for effective communication. People won’t recognize your limits or have a genuine sense of your mental health and capacity if you never say “no.”
9. Learn to Accept “No”
Learning to accept “no” as an answer is just as important as learning to say “no.” If you find yourself struggling to accept such an answer and instead pushing people to change their responses, you may need to do some self-evaluation. Think about a time when someone continued to pressure you after you said “no.” Think about how it made you uncomfortable, or even angry, when they continued to disrespect your answer. That approach doesn’t lead to effective communication or healthy relationships.