10 Ways to Be a Better Communicator

You would think that with all the communications gadgets we have at our disposal, we’d be better at, well, communicating.

Then why is it that colleagues show up at the wrong time for a meeting? Or we become increasingly frustrated when an exchange of a dozen emails with a teammate leaves us more confused than ever?

If you’re tired of feeling like your communication efforts are about as successful as “Mars Needs Moms,” then it’s time to make some improvements.

  1. Be confident.  If you want others to tune you out then speak hesitantly, offer vague questions and answers and pepper your speech with a lot of ‘ums,’ ‘you knows’ ‘likes’ and other drivel that doesn’t enlighten anyone. If you’re shy about speaking out, practice at home in front of the mirror until you can confidently approach someone and make a comment or ask a question in a clear, concise manner.
  2. Don’t play email roulette. If you need to exchange ideas, the subject is complicated or you’re on your third email to the person regarding the same subject, it’s time to step away from the keyboard. In such cases you’re taking a chance that using email will help you achieve the best results. But creative give-and-take and problem resolution are accomplished much better – and faster – if done via the phone or in person.
  3. Eyes on me.  Ask any kindergarten teacher what is the trick to getting the young students to pay attention and he or she will say a key is saying “eyes on me!” until she gains their attention. Don’t start a conversation until you and the other person are looking at one another.  Sending a text, an email or scanning the room isn’t respectful of the other person and is a recipe for problems. Why waste time repeating yourself or asking the other person to do the same because you weren’t listening closely from the beginning?
  4. Read body language. If you approach a colleague and she’s red in the face, slamming things on her desk and cursing under her breath, take that as a cue that it might be better to approach her later. Not all body language will be so obvious, but always be aware that someone turning their body away from you or refusing to make eye contact may indicate you need to back off and try to communicate later. If you’re unsure, it can’t hurt to ask: “Is now a good time?” That simple courtesy can make someone immediately more receptive to your message.
  5. Focus on being positive. If you’re Debbie Downer, people are going to avoid you even if you’re really smart and have really good ideas.  But if you convey a positive attitude and use positive language, such as framing a “problem” as a “challenge,” then you’re much more likely to get others to tune into what you have to say.
  6. Stop the blame game. Nothing will shut down communications faster than taking an accusatory tone, either in an email, text or in person.   Instead of saying “you’re wrong,” try “I disagree.” If the intention behind your communication is simply to heap blame on someone else, then forget it. Go for a walk to blow off your frustration or find some other way to deal with your stress, but don’t try to transfer it to someone else.
  7. Be a chameleon. Pay attention to how other people communicate, either verbally or in writing, and try to take on some of those same attributes when you interact. For example, if your boss always loves to use sports analogies, find ways to weave some into your communications with him or her. If a colleague is very formal in her emails, then respond in kind.  By mirroring the words and actions of others, you make them feel more comfortable with you and begin to establish a rapport that can improve communications.
  8. Don’t fake it. Why bother having a conversation if you’re not going to listen? Ignore what’s going on around you and tune into the speaker. Don’t think about what you’re going to say next, but rather focus on key words and the emotion being expressed by the speaker.  You can even paraphrase the comments to ensure you’re getting the right message: “If I’m hearing you correctly, what you’re saying is…” or “I get the feeling that this is bothering  you….” This can help avoid misunderstandings and conflicts later.
  9. Do your homework. If you’re going to a meeting, joining a project or meeting a new customer, take some time to do some background work so that you’re up to speed on the latest news and won’t bog down communications because you’re the weak link. You’ll be a much more effective communicator if your questions are relevant and not forcing other to rehash old news to get you up to speed.
  10. Stop hiding. If you’re sending emails at 3 a.m., routing all your calls to voice mail and texting a co-worker sitting three feet away, then you’re purposely using poor communications to stall, block or muddle any progress. Ask yourself why you’re using such poor tactics. Is it worth risking your career over it? Are you willing to be passed up for promotions or great projects because you’re a poor communicator? If so, maybe it’s time you had a talk with yourself about what is really going on.

What are poor communication habits you would like to see improved?






Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

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