For leaders, clear communication can make or break a business—especially during a time of uncertainty. To be an effective leader, you must be an effective communicator. To be an effective communicator, you must believe in the value of every conversation, even those that don’t take place face to face.
According to a recent Gallup Panel, 30% of American adults think the disruption caused by COVID-19 will last through the summer and 54% believe they will last the rest of 2020 and beyond. Whether your company is settling into new norms at the office or you are continuing to work remotely, you can cement your role as a team player, deal closer, or visionary leader by honing these essential communication skills.
In order to communicate effectively, it is important to have and show respect for someone else’s point of view. Everyone experiences life and the world around them differently—we have different beliefs, values, filters, and the list goes on. By listening deeply in order to understand and respect these differences instead of judging, better and more efficient communication will occur. Deep listening promotes better understanding, reduces conflict, and enhances relationships. When you’re having a conversation, whether in person or virtually, tune into the person who is speaking and focus on how they see the world. What do they want you to know or understand? What are they committed to or what is most important to them?
You can improve your deep listening skills by practicing these two methods:
1. Objective Active Listening: Objective active listening is completely focused on the other person and getting the facts versus getting all the details of a subjective story. This type of listening is extremely helpful for problem solving and accurate solutions.
2. Intuitive Listening: Intuitive listening means reading between the lines and tuning into the underlying meaning of what someone is saying. It’s about being completely present in the moment, using all your senses and being acutely aware of nonverbal communication to create a deeper connection.
Practicing intuitive listening during video calls or over the phone can be challenging but far from impossible. When you know you are approaching an important virtual call, I recommend doing some intentional pre-planning to shut out all other distractions. Lock your home office door to prevent interruptions, silence your phone, close all your internet browser windows, and turn off your TV or music streaming app. This will allow you to devote all of your senses to the conversation at hand. Being more in tune with the person you’re speaking with allows you to be more authentic, get to the heart of the matter, or solve any problems quickly.
Understand Nonverbal Communication
Nonverbal communication is how you connect with others through body language, gestures, or voice pitch to build trust and rapport. In a study that spanned two decades, Dr. Ray Birdwhistell found that 93% of all communication occurs nonverbally. That means nonverbal communication can be even more meaningful than the words we use.
Next time you are in a work meeting or on a Zoom call, pay attention to what your body language is communicating. Are you sitting up straight? Are your arms crossed? Are you constantly looking down or turning away from the person you’re speaking to? Observe the other person’s nonverbal communication, too. What is their posture or tone communicating? How might you use your own nonverbal communication to ease the exchange? Shift your body or relax your facial expression to appear more calm, open, and willing to communicate.
Building rapport is crucial in effective communication and it might seem challenging during COVID-19, especially if you’re used to building it through in-person meetings or engagements. One way to build rapport with others is to become a master at understanding and using nonverbal communication. Something as simple as nodding your head when you agree with someone’s point on a topic or making eye contact with your camera when on a video call (instead of looking down at your computer screen) will help you build connection.
You can also build rapport through verbal communication. Consider tonality and volume: the best communicators are aware of their tonality and volume and can quickly adjust how loud, soft, fast, or slow they’re talking in order to conform to or harmonize with the people they’re speaking to.
Ask Better Questions
Friction in the workplace is often the result of mismanaged expectations or, simply put, miscommunication. One of the best ways to avoid or overcome miscommunications is to ask better questions. Asking open-ended “what” and “how” types of questions can help you learn and better understand the meaning behind someone’s words and properly set or fulfill their expectations.
Examples of these types of questions are:
- What do you mean by that?
- Can you give me a specific example?
- How is that important to you?
Traditionally, our daily workplace conversations are kept relatively surface level. The coronavirus pandemic has opened the door for a more personal work culture. Take this opportunity to ask open-ended questions and gather more information about your employee’s values, needs, or vision.
Hone Your Internal and External Awareness
People might not remember every detail of what you said or what the conversation was about, but they will remember how you made them feel. Practice being present in the moment: elongate your breath and see the whole picture of how your words, actions, listening style, and communication style impacts others. Are you having the kind of impact you want? If not, revisit these skills to see where you can improve.
Working on effective communication with your team will not only allow you to meet each team member where they’re at and better prevent miscommunication, but it will also allow you to connect with them on a deeper, more personal level, navigate interactions more authentically, and move the conversation forward to a result. It could also be vital to keeping your team engaged as your company settles into its “new normal.” The impact of your effective communication will extend beyond your meetings, the conference room, and even your industry to have a ripple effect through all areas of your life.