Human language has evolved over thousands of years, and if you speak English, there are 1.35 billion people worldwide who should be able to understand you.
There is also now incredible variety in the communication methods and tools available to you. You can talk to anyone, anywhere in the world instantly thanks to the Internet.
Yet, good communication can still be incredibly allusive!
Not just socially, but in organisations, where 86% of people feel workplace failures are caused mainly by a lack of effective communication and collaboration.
Also, there's a world of difference between being vocal on social media or chatting to friends and communicating well under pressure. Whether that's being polished in interviews, delivering business intel effectively, or speaking confidently in meetings.
Did you know there's a psychological term for fear of public speaking? It's called Glossophobia and it's an issue shared by around 25% of the population!
To help you overcome barriers to speaking and writing clearly and successfully, here are the top 10 effective communication skills you need to master.
"Listen more than you talk. Nobody learnt anything by hearing themselves speak." - Richard Branson.
Using your ears may seem a strange place to start in discussing essential communication abilities. However, it's a fundamental aspect of many of the other skills outlined in this article.
There are two major advantages to developing good listening skills.
Firstly, you gain the respect of your audience. Put it this way, do you know people who appear to half-listen, waiting for a chance to speak again themselves? Or worse still, who interrupt constantly, or talk over the top of you. This is likely to make you less inclined to listen to them.
Someone who gives their full attention to other people is more likely to enjoy a receptive audience when they communicate. (More on showing respect later.)
The second reason to demonstrate active listening is you can expand your knowledge of - and empathy towards - your audience. From listening comes an appreciation of what interests them, and the sort of questions, concerns and motivations they have.
Keep in mind that the skill of active listening is not just staying quiet while someone speaks, or reading a document thoroughly. It involves using an open body stance and an animated face, to show you're genuinely engaged. As well as asking questions and giving verbal or written prompts.
This links with active listening. To be a good communicator and show interest and empathy (see below) you must establish a good connection with your audience. Being open-minded means taking on board their views, needs and expectations, and adjusting your communications accordingly.
An illustration would be a colleague or business contact with religious or cultural sensitivities. Riding roughshod of these – as you don't agree – is not the way to 'win friends and influence people'.
We have touched on this above, as your body language can encourage people to talk to you freely and confidently. Also, when you physically deliver information, you will be more effective if you connect with your audience with more than just your words.
The most significant example is eye contact. When speaking to either individuals or groups of people, adults generally make eye contact 30 to 60% of the time. When in fact, they could communicate much better if they increased that to 60 to 70%.
It tells your audience you are interested, actively listening, and showing respect and empathy. Making eye contact as you speak also makes you look more confident than you feel!
The same can be said of keeping an open body stance. No crossed arms or a turned away or slumped posture. These can be subtle barriers to effective communication.
You need to use some discretion with this though. For example, when speaking to someone about sensitive topics, or engaging with someone who is shy, you may need to adjust your body position or eye contact, to help them feel more comfortable.
Alongside the interrupters, you will also know someone who loves the sound of their own voice. Or, who delivers every written communication with an ocean of additional words and superfluous background detail. Worse still, is the colleague or business contact who uses jargon and tech-speak so much, it's like they have their own language!
You are communicating with a purpose. For example, to educate, warn, inform, influence or persuade. Good communication comes from choosing the information needed to achieve that purpose. Clear, succinct and to the point.
You can always preface what you say with an invitation to ask for more detail if needed. However, keep your central points focused on your end goal. The more you ramble or throw in flowery sentences, the more distracted your audience is.
From an appreciation of what your audience's needs and expectations are, comes clarity on the best way to communicate with them.
For instance, why fire off an email – common practice these days – if you can achieve more effective communications in a one-to-one meeting, or a telephone call with lots of time to discuss the topic.
Another example is drafting up a glossy brochure packed with information when a basic fact sheet with product benefits would get your message across better.
This may seem a non-essential skill for the world of business. However, you are still communicating with humans!
This means to reach your goal, you need to engage them sufficiently, by using a personalised and individualised response.
It can be something as simple as using their name seamlessly throughout your communications and varying your speaking voice to sound friendly, motivated and interested.
This links with some of the above essential communications skills. To achieve your purpose, you need to understand and respond to your audience, using empathy.
What does empathy mean? It's showing awareness of other people's emotions and taking account of what they may be thinking or feeling. So, in communications, it is formulating information to match your audience's preferences, knowledge level and expectations.
An illustration of empathetic communications would be researching a business contact's goals and needs, and then only presenting information that matches those. Rather than droning on about experiences and expertise of no relevance or interest to them. Better still, can you demonstrate your ability to problem-solve for them?
"Respect people who respect you. Forget people who forget you." - Unknown.
This knits together several points in this list of effective communication skills you need to master.
Through listening, and learning with an open mind, you become more aware of your audience, and you can tangibly demonstrate your respect for them.
This can be underpinned by your body language, modifying your words to suit their interests and understanding, and regularly checking they have opportunities to respond and ask questions.
You can be respectful even when delivering counterarguments and bad news too if you keep your tone warm, calm and empathetic.
Also, even though a friendly tone and some humour are good, never let that stray into overfamiliar 'banter' or disrespectful language, even with colleagues!
Active listening and respect can be reinforced by creating opportunities for your audience to give you feedback.
For example, in presentations and interviews, ask open-ended questions to gauge the understanding and response so far. Make sure people know that you're happy to clarify and answer questions, either throughout a speech or at the end.
In written communications, this could involve providing 'calls to action'. For example, "Email me if you need more information or to give me your views on this topic" or "As a follow-up to this report, you will have an opportunity to discuss your response in our next meeting."
As you may well have spotted, many of these effective communication skills involve thinking about – and listening to – your target audience. What would motivate them to give you the response you need?
Then, you must establish a connection with them through concise, carefully considered communications, delivered with warmth, empathy and respect.
The last of the effective communication skills you need to master, is confidence. This should flow naturally from working on the other attributes in this list. That's because you will be speaking or writing from a position of understanding and awareness.
If you can tick all these skills off, even if you don't get the response, you wanted your audience will be impressed enough to listen to you again next time!