There is an observance for just about everything these days. In May there was a “Talk Like Yoda Day” and in July we’ll celebrate “Sidewalk Egg Frying Day.” Silly, right? Sure. But these observances are harmless. In fact, making room in our lives for playfulness can be good for our health and productivity.
But we also have observances throughout the year that represent topics that are recognized as more serious and impactful to our lives. June offers an observance for something that is important in every facet of our lives with “Effective Communications Month.” After all, communication is key in all our relationships—personally and professionally–from stating our coffee order to the barista to speaking to a family member to presenting ideas to a business colleague or client.
Local Communications Professional Offers Her Insights
Patricia O’Brien is an accomplished senior level Communications, Public Relations, and Marketing consultant with more than two decades of experience who launched her business, Catahoula Consulting, about a year ago. She has been on the receiving end (and giving end) of many interpersonal communication wins and faux pas through the years. She shared some insights with us from her professional experiences.
- Whether you’re a new employee or a 20-year company veteran, be aware of your interpersonal communication skills. I think the most important skill is simply paying attention to the other person or people in the room; displaying an attitude that they and the topic they are discussing is the most important thing in the world to you.
- Refrain from checking your cell phone or email while having a conversation with a coworker. Are you paying attention during a meeting and making eye contact with the person who is speaking? Do you look interested in the topic of conversation, even if it doesn’t apply directly to your work? Are you truly listening to what is being said, rather than thinking of a way to respond when that person is done speaking?
Pat says, “A few years ago, I attended a company sales training. Rather than take notes in a notebook, I was using my laptop. What I didn’t realize at the time, was other attendees thought I was doing other work. The impression I gave to many people in the room was that I wasn’t interested in the topic being discussed, which was the exact opposite: I was trying to record as much information as I could, and I can type faster than I write by hand. My actions didn’t leave the best impression with many people in the room, until a few days later when I distributed my notes to the attendees via email. Then they all understood what I was doing.”
Speaking Loud and Clear Without Words
The research jumps around a bit depending upon the study or researcher, but a common percent that’s often used, is 50% for the amount of communication that comes from body language. So, if you’re not paying attention to how you’re sitting or standing, what your hands are doing, or the expressions your face is wearing, then you could be saying more with no words at all…and it may not be the message you intend.
Body language can be used effectively in smaller settings and in presentations when you get into the right habits. Gestures with a purpose can be practiced. You don’t want to just wave your arms around or point without a reason, but if you want to illustrate an important point in a presentation or conversation, for example sales or views on your website have been going up, you could show the increase with your hand sweeping upward.
Body language is especially important when you are meeting with a person one on one or in a small group setting.
Things to Do
- Make eye contact. When a person sees that they have your attention, it makes them feel respected and valued. They feel like they are being heard.
- Offer cues that you’re listening actively. Nod your head to show that you understand or agree with a point someone is making; tilt your head to show you’re curious or intrigued by what was said, and smile when the other person says something that you’re enthusiastic about.
- Mirror body language. This is a non-verbal way to show empathy. It signals that we are connected to another person in some way. Read about the science behind the importance of this practice.
Things Not to do
- Look at your phone or other point of focus. Unless you are at a point in your conversation when you need to find information you want to share or schedule your next meeting or get-together, put your phone away. Be present with the person you are talking to. It shows respect and allows you to focus on the business at hand.
- Sit with your arms crossed. This is often viewed as a barrier to acceptance of other’s ideas or conveys defensiveness.
- Roll your eyes or respond with other dramatic gesticulations. This is rude and disrespectful. It gives the impression that you’re bored or have disdain for the person speaking or what they’re saying.
Choose Your Words with Intention
Now that we’ve covered the nonverbal, let’s talk about words. At tecBRIDGE we believe in the power of words and their intentional use. When Executive Director Don Webster interviews guests on our weekly tecBRIDGE Radio podcast, he asks his guests for one word they would choose to for the year. This can reveal a lot about the mindset of the guest, their experiences thus far, their goals for the year ahead, etc. Guests have shared everything from rebirth to reclamation to revenge (in a good way). The word choices not only give listeners a glimpse into the guest and their mindset but also prove to be great conversation stirrers, inspiring some of Don’s questions and insights that he shares.
But word choice is important for more than getting to know someone or having an interesting conversation. Words are important in business, especially when it comes to clearly explaining your product, service, mission and so much more. According to an article in Forbes, “Researchers are spending more time than ever investigating cross-cultural differences in consumers and how language and word choice can shape their judgments.” To read the full article, click here.
Whether you’re saying words or communicating through gestures, you are revealing something about yourself and sending a message. That’s important in all relationships so why not take some time to assess your skills. It could mean the success or failure of a personal or professional relationship–and let’s face it, for a well-balanced, fulfilling life, both are important!