Talking is easy; communication is hard.
Shockingly, at one point in my life, I was shy. Meeting new people as a small child, I would cower behind my mother’s legs, speak in a quavering voice if someone asked me a simple question, such as: “What is your name?”.
Overcoming my shyness was a long and exhausting process. As uninspiring as this sounds, I just forced myself into social situations. Going into college, I was so terrified of not making friends that I turned into this crazy version of myself: staying up late to talk to people, going to club meetings that I didn’t know anyone, joining a sorority, to name a few. My college friends always joke about how I would blame any illogical thoughts, statements, or actions on my general lack of sleep, when in reality, it was just me showing my true colors.
Becoming an extrovert did not make me an expert communicator, however. Emotionally, I was more open and willing to share what I was feeling and thinking, but I was still having a very hard time confronting any conflict that came my way. Words I would use to describe how I dealt with conflict would include “passive” and “people pleasing”. Even if something wasn’t my fault, I would end up apologizing just so that the conflict would be resolved, which always left me with a sour taste in my mouth.
These tendencies of mine began to change when I started working your average, full time, 9-5 job. Although I haven’t been living in “the real world” for too long yet, I feel as though the last two years have taught me more than the previous 22 years combined about how to be an effective communicator, especially in the workplace. Below, I have listed some general rules of thumb that I use daily to communicate in the workplace:
- Listen first. The most important part of communicating is actively listening. Listening to the people around you and responding to what they actually say- NOT just responding with your own pre-planned talking points- is the key to effective communication. Everyone wants to be heard, and if you want to feel that from others, give them the same respect you would want given to yourself.
- Speak your needs. I probably say this phrase at least once a day. Don’t assume anyone can read your mind. You are the only person who knows what you are thinking, what you are wanting to say, and what you need. You need to be your own advocate and speak up for yourself, in order for your voice and opinions to be heard.
- Don’t make assumptions-Ask questions. Miscommunications generally begin with someone assuming something about the other person or where that person is coming from. Ask questions to make sure you are on the same page with someone during a conversation. You don’t know another person’s perspective until you specifically ask.
- Choose words that have meaning. In other words, don’t talk just to say something. Empty words can make your communication more confusing and less effective. When you’re in a meeting, or even just having a conversation with your coworkers, make sure that you are choosing when and how you speak carefully. It is often better to say one thing that has meaning than to say five things that don’t.
- Direct is best. Passive aggression and beating around the bush have never solved world crises. When confronting someone or trying to make a point, being as direct as possible will help you get across your point better to your listener. That being said, don’t use being direct as an excuse to say something impolite or offensive. There is a difference between being firm and being rude. Communicating effectively, clearly, and directly takes time and thought- think before you speak.
- Your ideas matter. As Meghan addresses in her imposter syndrome post, it is easy to feel as though you don’t have a voice at the table, for a variety of reasons: age, gender, length of time at your company, just to name a few. Don’t let those fears or hesitations get in the way of you contributing in conversations and meetings- as part of a team, your opinion matters just as much as anyone else’s and you deserve to share it.
Communicating is much more than just talking; listening and speaking clearly and concisely impact communication greatly. It is important too to get to know your communication style, and how that can be improved. Take some time, today or this week, to reflect on how you communicate at your best, and at your worst, and how you can take those harder conversations to the next level.