The one area I get asked the most about as a leadership consultant and coach is how to communicate effectively. If you can't communicate and talk to others clearly and effectively, you're giving up your potential as an influential leader. Current employer data reports that the ability to speak and write effectively is one the most essential "soft skills" employers are looking for right now, according to the analysis of some 940,000 job listings.
A study published by the American Psychological Association suggests that bosses prefer candidates who they find likable and friendly over those who are self-promotional, though they note that a combination of the two is probably best. Research published in the Journal of Education for Business shows that managers pay special attention to communication skills and analytical skills when reviewing an employee.
So where do you start? Communication is such a vast growth area. Here are my top four “Must Do’s” in becoming a great communicator:
1. Increase Your Enthusiasm.
I cannot stress this enough. I encounter many leaders who walk around in a zombie like state, what I call the walking breathing dead. Enthusiasm sells. When you are excited about what you are talking about, others will be excited as well. Dale Carnegie once said, "Even people with only mediocre speaking ability may make superb talks if they will speak about something that has deeply stirred them." An easy way to show more enthusiasm is to smile. Smiling, demonstrating positive energy and exuding confidence make a huge difference.
According to scientific studies, the mere act of smiling triggers the release of hormones that are mood-boosting. The part of your brain that is responsible for your facial expression of smiling when happy or mimicking another’s smile resides in the cingulate cortex, an unconscious automatic response area. In a Swedish study, subjects were shown pictures of several emotions: joy, anger, fear and surprise. When the picture of someone smiling was presented, the researchers asked the subjects to frown. Instead, they found that the facial expressions went directly to imitation of what subjects saw. It took conscious effort to turn that smile upside down. So if you’re smiling at someone, it’s likely they can’t help but smile back. If they don’t, they’re making a conscious effort not to.
2. Use Names.
People respond well to their own name. By the time we reach adulthood there is a whole social dynamic now attached to our name. When someone uses our name we know they know us. The tone they use when they say it indicates how well they know us. The facial expressions someone uses tells us what they think of us when they say our name. The number of times they use our name tells us how important we are in any particular conversation. This is where the true power of someone’s name can be found.
When you greet someone or are in a conversation with a person, saying their name gives them a sense of status or importance. It may seem small and insignificant but it carries huge value. While you won't want to overdo it, using a person's name when chatting or when thanking him or her shows respect, acceptance and friendliness.
Neuroimaging studies show that the sound of our own names produces distinct activity patterns in the regions of our brains responsible for our sense of self. Everyone likes to hear their name and by utilizing this tool periodically in conversation you are building social influence.
3. Use Notes.
If you watch some of the best communicators in action you'll see that they rarely look at a piece of paper. They understand one of the core principles of a good presentation or speech; that a good speech is never typed up beforehand.
Whether you're preparing a presentation or gearing up for a pitch meeting, prepare notes (not a full draft) of whatever you want to say. Having your key points jotted down will give you an outline of what you want to say, which will make you more confident, while avoiding the biggest pitfall of preparing a full speech, appearing like a robot. Referring to your notes, rather than reading a long draft, allows for an authentic experience.
While it's important to know how to speak well, it's also crucial to know how to listen. In order to advance in your career or influence, you need to listen more than you talk. Nobody learned anything listening to themselves talk. In order to be a good listener, you need to be able to ask good questions. Questions that are open-ended and that draw out information that will help move the other person(s) forward. Asking open-ended questions will help you listen to another person's point or suggestion.
I remember a time when a colleague once said to me, “You really like to hear the sound of your own voice, don’t you?” While it stung to hear those words, it was the right type of feedback I needed to receive. It wasn’t until I substituted open-ended questions for my “monologues” that I witnessed a huge shift in how people responded to me.
5. Utilize the Non-Verbal
Power and confidence is communicated by utilizing gestures. Research shows that charismatic leaders use gestures four times as much as others do when they talk. As a leader, it is important to pay attention to the tone of voice, facial expression and gestures. According to body language expert, Patti Wood, people who stand up straight, make occasional gestures and eye contact appear more competent. How you hold your body is directly tied to how you feel.
Effective communicators talk in a conversational tone conveying a genuine positive attitude. People who can control their tone and delivery are perceived as leaders. Others may hear your words but they feel your attitude.
Moreover, people may not remember what you said or did, but they will always remember how you made them feel. That is why the most important aspect of effective communication is to ensure your thoughts, feelings and actions are congruent. My mentor once said:
If you communicate something you know, but do not feel, your communication is dispassionate.
If you communicate something you know, but do not do, your communication is theoretical.
If you communicate something you feel, but do not know, your communication is unfounded.
If you communicate something you feel, but do not do, your communication is hypocritical.
If you communicate something you do, but do not know, your communication is presumptuous.
If you communicate something you do, but do not feel, your communication is mechanical.