Communication Skills

Communication is the ability to express and connect well with the surrounding environment. Effective communication is an extremely desirable personality trait and helps you interact better with people. Communication is of two forms- Verbal and Non-Verbal. While verbal communication is about written and oral means of expressing yourself, non-verbal communication is about your body language.
Effective Communication Techniques
  • Listen Actively
    • Be attentive - concentrate on what is being said.
    • Be impartial - don't form an opinion before listening.
    • Reflect back - restating what has been said helps the speaker know that you have understood.
    • Summarize - pull together the important messages so that you and the speaker recognize what was important during the conversation.
  • Non-verbal Messages
    • Posture - let your body show that you are interested by sitting up and leaning toward the speaker.
    • Equal positioning - if the speaker is standing, you stand. If the speaker is sitting, you sit as well.
    • Facial expression - remember that feelings are reflected in facial expressions.
    • Gestures - your body language reveals a lot about how you interpret a message, so be aware not to send signals that might reflect that you are angry, in a hurry, or bored, etc.
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  • Express Thoughts and Feelings
    • Be open and honest - collaboration between professionals begins with the understanding that you trust each other with information.
    • Speak clearly - don't mumble or talk too quietly. If you don't know the word for something, describe what you mean so that you and the speaker can have a shared understanding of your concern or question.
  • Communicate Without Being Adversarial
    • Express concerns non-judgmentally - talk about your questions or concerns without blaming other people. For example, rather than saying, "You didn't explain that very well," say, "I didn't understand what you just said. Please explain it again."
The 5 "Musts" of Intentional Listening
"Communicate" is a verb that means ‘Transmit information’. When we “communicate”, we not only exchange information but also exchange ideas or messages. The medium of communication can be multifarious and these can include: writing, talking or using gestures.
Yet, if you look around, you will find that intentional listening is quite lacking in the world. This could be a major hurdle in interviews: an interviewer will feel irritated if he has to repeat the question or explain to you what the question was. The reason for this is interference. What is interference? It refers to the state of being aware to one’s own sensations rather than being aware to those of external things and people. Make sure listening is one of the core skills that you should inculcate. 
Consider these five "musts" as the handrails that keep you on track as you learn to master intentional listening.
  • I must listen with a purpose
    The purpose here is simple: to connect with the other person and find out what he is referring to. This is not the easiest thing to do and you need to inculcate this skill in yourself. You can use a little practice in your next conversation to learn this skill. While you are listening to someone, interrupt your thought process and ask yourself: “What’s my purpose in listening to this person?” You might receive any kind of response, from negative to positive. The important thing is you analyze your reactions and see how you are responding to the situation.
  • I must practice listening for understanding, rather than evaluating
    One of the key parts of the human thinking process is to continuously evaluate the information we receive. Instead of simply receiving such information, we continuously evaluate it, change it, fight it or try to fit it to our view. One key skill that you can consciously imbibe in yourself is the skill of not evaluating the information you receive and accept it as it is.
  • I must be aware of words, phrases, and behaviour that distract me and make me defensive; and exercise emotional control even though I disagree.
    While listening, a lot of people tend to get defensive, almost all of a sudden. At times, the onset of such a state is brought about by a simple word, phrase, or behaviour that essentially acts as a trigger and ensures that we respond emotionally to a situation. For example, words as simple as: stupid or idiot, can lead to the onset of such a mood. Thus, it is important to be aware of the words that bring such an emotional response. Whenever you hear them next, ask yourself whether these words are really worth reacting to and should you really emotionally invest in them.
  • I must concentrate on what is being said, in spite of distractions
    One of the key things that makes you a good listener is keeping the distractions out. How can this be? Well, one simple way is telling the other person that you are actually distracted right now, and not being able to focus on what he is saying. This would certainly make the other person work harder for your attention, and also your guilty conscience would disappear and help you concentrate.
  • I must recognize that listening powerfully may be the key to my success
    You might be one of those, whose success is limited because you cannot pay attention to what others are saying. Poor listening might be the missing piece in the jigsaw of your life, and might be preventing you from achieving your true potential. At times, you might be dealing with a difficult person, and it is in these situations that listening well can bail you out.
Why is Listening Important?
One major reason is time. Listening is the most frequent and, arguably, the most important type of on-the-job communication. Studies conducted over 60 years ago indicated that adults spent an average of 29.5 percent of their waking hours listening. This is almost three times more than they spent talking and virtually twice as much time as they spent reading. A more recent study focused on listening in business settings. Personnel at all levels including top-, middle-, and lower-level managers as well as workers with no managerial responsibilities were asked to note the time they spent engaged in various types of communication during a typical week. The results were impressive:
  • Listening 32.7%
  • Writing 22.6%
  • Speaking 25.8%
  • Reading 18.8%
Top executives spend even more time listening than other employees. Researchers have found that executives spend between 65 and 90 percent of the working day listening to someone. Another piece of research revealed that effective managers almost constantly ask questions of their subordinates; in a half-hour conversation, some ask literally hundreds.
Beyond avoiding costly and embarrassing errors, good listening skills can play a major role in career success. Job hunters can often find leads and succeed in employment interviews by keeping their ears open. Listening is just as important once you are on the job. A study of employees in the insurance industry revealed that better listeners occupied higher levels in their company and were more upwardly mobile. In a study of managerial effectiveness, listening skill was the best factor in distinguishing good bank managers from poor ones.
Listening for Information
This is the most common type of listening in most occupations. We use informational listening to understand a wide variety of messages accurately: a caller's phone number, a supervisor's instructions, a subordinate's problems, or a customer's needs. The following strategies can improve your ability to understand informational messages:
  • Stop Talking
    Questioning and paraphrasing can reveal valuable information, but there are times when remaining silent and letting the other person talk can pay dividends. Sometimes silence gives the speaker a chance to explain; hence, providing more information than you could extract with your own probes. Author Mark McCormick endorses this approach: "Silence has so many different selling applications. If you stop talking and start listening you might actually learn something, and if you don't learn, at least you'll have a chance to collect your thoughts.”
  • Withhold Judgment
    It is often difficult to understand another person's ideas before judging them, especially when you hold very strong opinions on the matter under discussion. For example, judging the ideas of a boss, co-worker, or subordinate before he or she has finished explaining them ("Uh-oh. I hope this doesn't mean I have to spend a week in the field, trying to get market information." "These college kids come in and want to take over right away.") Listen first. Make sure you understand. Then evaluate.
  • Be Opportunistic
    Sometimes a speaker's ideas are boring or irrelevant and it becomes hard to pay close attention. In such situations, you can often find reasons to listen by asking yourself how can you use this information. Listening expert Ralph Nichols explains: Be interested in the topic under discussion. Bad listeners usually declare the subject dry after the first few sentences. We ought to say to ourselves: "What's he saying that I can use? What worthwhile ideas he has? Is he reporting any workable procedures? Anything that I can cash in on, or with which I can make myself happier?" Opportunistic listening can also help when you are confronted with bad news or criticism. Rather than letting yourself become defensive, try to discover what parts of the message tell you something useful.
  • Look for the Main and Supporting Points
    "What are you getting at?" We are often tempted to ask this to a long-winded speaker, but it is also an ideal question to consider when you are listening for information. Sometimes it is appropriate to ask, politely, for the speaker's thesis. "I’d like to be sure if the procedure we follow, meets your needs as fully as possible.“Could you tell me, briefly which of these problems are the most damaging?" Take Notes as you are unlikely to remember every deadline, every comment, or even every topic in a meeting or conversation unless you jot it down. This doesn't mean that you have to scribble every word in every setting, but when the topic is important, put it in writing.
  • Repeat what you heard
    It is not always possible to take notes, and repetition works well in such cases. Remember that untrained listeners remember only about half of what they hear immediately after hearing it and then only half of that after 48 hours. One way to minimize this loss is to go over the important parts of a message as soon as possible. For best results, restate these ideas aloud- to a co-worker, your secretary or assistant, or a friend. Some business people who have access to a typing and dictation pool describe important ideas into a Dictaphone and get a typed record the next day. Which is a better - taking notes or repeating ideas aloud? Notes work reasonably well when they are taken on the spot, especially for recording specific facts such as dates, figures, or people to contact. They are not especially helpful for recalling ideas or plans, though. When you describe aloud the ideas you have heard you will find yourself bringing in details that don't come up or seem important when you try to construct an outline on paper.
How to be a Good Listener
  • Be patient
  • Be alert
  • Demonstrate interest
  • Concentrate
  • Search for meaning
  • Seek areas of agreement with the speaker
  • Seek clarifications
  • Give feedback
  • Interrupt the speaker
  • Respond emotionally
  • Evaluate before the speaker has finished
Non-Verbal Communication
Non-verbal communication in group discussions
Non-verbal communication is through gestures, postures and eye movement. It also includes body language as well as diverse behavior like appearance, tone of voice and the surroundings in which the message is delivered. 
The important general principle is that you can strengthen your verbal message by ensuring that your words and nonverbal language are in sync. When your verbal and non-verbal language messages match, you convey the impression that you are trustworthy and honest. 
When used congruently, the head, the face and eyes provide the clearest indication of attitude towards others. If you are addressing a group member, turn towards him and make eye contact. Your full attention suggests self-confidence and respect for that member. When you have good eye contact with the person you are addressing, that individual interprets what you have to say more favorably than if you avoid eye contact. If you make eye contact with group members in turn,they pay more attention to your message and perceive you as more confident.
Posture is the most obvious nonverbal signal of self-confidence and belief. Standing up straight reflects high self-confidence, whereas stooping and slouching indicates the contrary. Leaning toward other individuals suggests that you are favourably disposed towards them and their message.
  • How do you sound?
People often attach more significance to the way you say something than to what you say. A forceful voice, which includes a consistent tone without vocalized pauses, suggests power and control. A whining, complaining or nagging tone annoys most people. To improve voice quality, listen to your recorded voice and keep rehearsing till you sound more confident. 

Matching your body movements to those of the person you are communicating with (called mirroring) without being too obvious creates a sense of solidarity that conveys a feeling of agreement with the other person.
  • Body Language symbols can be broadly categorized as Positive & Negative symbols
Open Palms Indicates honesty
Palms on Table (facing down) Assertiveness
Slightly tilted head Inquisitiveness
Body bent forward Inquisitiveness
A uniform smile Genuine appreciation
Shoulder movements Generally positive
Hand on cheek Assessing a situation
Hand on forehead Deep thought /Melancholy
Straight body / brisk motion General agility
Head down / slow motion / hands to the back Contemplation
Steady eye contact Confidence
Continuously changing positions Nervousness
Crushing the teeth Hostility
Drooping body Lethargic
Standing akimbo Defiance
Palms over mouth Lying
Bending backwards Trying to avoid
A bent smile Ridicule
Hands folded Not receptive
Pointing fingers towards someone Aggressiveness
Drumming fingers on the table Assessing negatively
Avoiding eye contact Lying / Hiding something
Examples of Body Language in Use:
In order to communicate effectively, and interact better, you can use the following tips for improving body language:
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  • Making eye contact with someone is important but the impact is more if one can maintain eye contact while doing so. This reflects on the value we give to the other person’s ideology as well as the amount of respect we show towards them. This also makes them comfortable in one’s company while exuding a feeling of warmth towards them. 
  • Posture is one of the most important physical parameters to master for communicating well. As soon as you get your posture right, you feel a boost of energy and feel a lot better while communication. If your posture is not straight and your shoulders, not able to carry the weight of thoughts, are bent in desperation, you will naturally be more nervous and depressed.
  • Maintaining a great head position is one of the things that you can use while improving your communication skills. You can wield more authority as well as be sure that you are being listened to. On the other hand, while expressing a friendly approach, tilt your head to one side so that the other person feels relaxed while talking to you.
  • In the normal course one keeps the arms on the side of the body. Easy and outgoing people gesticulate a lot. Quieter ones are less likely to move their arms away from their bodies. The most correct and easy way is to keep the movements of the arms in direct proportion to the body neither very high nor at the sides. Keeping the arms abreast is bad manners.
  • Legs are one part of the body which is difficult to control while communicating. Tension and tricky situations tend to give greater movement to them. The only thing that works is to move as little as possible when in such circumstances. While crossing legs also, decorum should be maintained.
  • Body angles denote body language. We tend to go closer to people who are either attractive, close to us or with whom we have some kind of rapport. We tend to be stiff with those people whom either we do not know or do not like. When being interviewed we should be careful of maintaining the right angle so as to be respectful towards the interviewer.
  • The next physical aspect of communication is that you should keep in mind is hand movements. Easy-going people keep their palms upwards, whereas palms facing downwards are seen normally as a sign of aggression and domination. Aggression is also signified by very little movement between the wrist and the forearm.
  • In communication, physical distances also play an important role. To keep a proper distance is of the utmost importance. Being very close signifies being forward and standing too far away can be construed as a sign of pride. Do not stand too close to someone and then move away abruptly as this can be seen as violating the personal space of the other person.
  • Listening is another key skill when it comes to communicating with others. Wise men always listen more than they talk. We have two ears and a single mouth, and it is advisable that we listen twice as much as we speak.
  • Mouth movements are also another very important part of communicating well. Being tight – lipped and pursing one’s lips are different. One signals reticence whereas the other situation can occur if we are holding back something or are afraid to say the wrong thing. Either way one is labeled as being hot- headed.
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