5 Ridiculously-Simple Communication Skills To Refine If You Want To Get Ahead
During this awkward, not-quite-graduated-and-earning-money-but-not-quite-as-employed-as-I-want-to-be phase of my life, I’ve found that one of the most important things is to work on refining skills I’ve acquired during my time in school, and figuring how to best apply them to the life I want post-graduation. These five skills are all communication-based, and are especially important to work on if you, like me, shudder at the prospect of going on multiple job interviews, or putting yourself out into a world where your lack of self-confidence may be on full display.
It is scary to start new things, and put yourself out there knowing that the end result might be rejection, especially when your ability to pay rent is on the line. But in order to get ahead, you need to have refined these five communication skills that will ultimately make your work more effective, and make you more successful in everything you do.
1. Body language.
This one is (or should be) obvious: the way you communicate through non-verbal cues is often more important than what you verbally communicate with someone. People are always, often unknowingly, paying careful attention to every move you make in conversation with them — and gathering information about you in the process. Crossing your arms, shifting your eyes around, slouching in your seat, covering your mouth when you talk, biting your fingernails, and not making eye contact all convey messages that you probably don’t want to be conveying in most of your professional interactions.
Sad but true, I, at 22 years old, still sometimes get papers handed back to me by professors who couldn’t read my nearly-illegible handwriting. I tend to think that everything has been digitized to the point where I don’t really need to rely on my penmanship for much of anything anymore, but the truth is, in most jobs you will have to hand write things sometimes, and it makes you look pretty shitty if you write like a toddler. You can have the greatest idea in the world written in the best combination of words possible, but if the handwriting is indecipherable, you simply haven’t done your job communicating the idea effectively. Luckily, this is one of the easiest skills to refine — all you have to do is practice, and take your freaking time when writing something so it looks neat, and not like you scribbled it on the dashboard of your car before you walked into your class/meeting/wherever you’re going with your handwritten note.
(Sidebar: being able to neatly write in cursive is also important, even though it may not seem like it anymore. You probably want to be able to sign paperwork without it looking like you’ve just learned the cursive alphabet.)
3. Active listening.
As a student, most of our interpersonal communication studies focus on one of the most important aspects of communicating: listening. Actively listening to what someone is saying to you is hugely important for two main reasons: 1) you most likely need to be able to understand the content of what is being said to you by your boss, coworker, or whoever else is trying to give you a message, and 2) people can easily tell if you’re not actively listening to them and paying attention to their words, and it reflects poorly on you both as a worker and as a human being.
4. Focus and simplicity.
One of the toughest skills to master is keeping focused on one idea or task, even when you have a million equally-important things distracting you. There is hardly ever going to be a time in life where you are entirely emotionally capable of single-tasking. There is always something — another project to work on, a personal problem, another job to do — that may be distracting you from the task or idea in front of you. But putting your focus on ten things at once dilutes the quality of each important task. Pick one, make it your focus, and communicate it strongly and effectively. This goes for everything — projects, presentations, persuasive arguments — you name it.
5. Controlling your voice.
You would be surprised how much is actually communicated through just the way you use your voice, no matter what the content of your words is. Speaking too quietly or softly may convey a lack of confidence. Speaking too loudly in the wrong setting may make you come off as arrogant or abrasive. Pausing briefly before saying something important may build up just the right amount of tension and anticipation to make your statement more impactful; pausing for too long might make you seem like you have no clue what you’re talking about. Paying attention to the tone of your voice, the pace at which you speak, and the rhythm of your words helps you to communicate the meat of what you’re saying in a way that is easier to receive.
Mary writes every day for TFD, and tweets every day for her own personal fulfillment. Talk to her about money and life at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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