According to LinkedIn’s data insights published in March this year, communication skills is the second most in-demand skill globally for recruiters and employers.
So, if you’re serious about improving your communication skills, then by all means necessary, be prepared to put in the work, the time, and the effort. It will pay you dividends in your work and your personal life.
It begins with attitude and self-awareness. Come to the table of learning with the right attitude, a willingness to be a learner, a willingness to examine your existing patterns of communicating with people, and a willingness to listen, listen, change, and improve.
I’ve written down six steps based on my own process for improvement. This is focused on setting a solid foundation for learning good communication skills that will help you at work and in your personal life.
Whatever process you use, the goal here is just to get clear thinking about why, what, and how you will work towards improving your communication skills. Be agile, and pivot as you need to as you become more self-aware and as your needs change.
Steps to Improving Your Communication Skills
Step 1: Identify your purpose
Purpose is the compassAbhijit Naskar
As always, it begins with each human being doing the inner work. Carve out some space and time in your day or weekend. Plan for it, schedule it. Unrushed thinking time, to ponder questions, to think about your present communication style and tendencies, and your future dreams. Take notes. When I say take notes, you can do that through pictures or art if you draw, if you don’t want to write text. It’s completely up to you.
Questions to consider
- Why do you want to improve your communication skills?
- Where do you want to improve? e.g. at work, at home, in your community service, in your community.
Write down all and every answer you come up with. Don’t edit your thoughts, just write it all down. This requires at a minimum time to think, write, identify, evaluate, and perhaps time to imagine what you have thought was impossible.
Grab a notebook and pen, or a sketchpad, or a laptop. to record your answers. Sometimes I prefer to use my laptop, other times I prefer to use a sketchpad and a thick ink-colored pen. It just depends on my mood and what I feel like using.
Be vulnerable with yourself. What have you got to lose? You have everything to gain. This will help you evaluate where you are now and where you want to be in the future with your communication skills. This inner work is critical.
Step 2: Be honest and kind with yourself
Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.Aristotle
Improving communication skills is often an uncomfortable place to be. This can be especially so if you are a leader or a manager who has never addressed your personal leadership or management style. It’s about looking in the mirror and being honest about how you communicate, or don’t with your people, your family and your work colleagues.
It takes emotional maturity to improve our communication skills because it demands that we give up the pretense and the masks that we might wear to the world. It’s about being willing to be vulnerable. It doesn’t mean you have to share your insights and what you know about yourself with anyone else. Share only with people you trust.
The bottom line, when it comes to evaluating our communication skills, honesty is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves. It takes humility and less ego to do so. It’s another amazing superpower. And kindness follows hand in hand with it, too.
If you are not honest with yourself as you take these steps, you won’t gain the benefits of deepening your knowledge of self, for example. As a result, you’ll lose out on the clarity and self-awareness, and insights you could have gained by doing these exercises honestly and fully.
Being kind doesn’t mean being dishonest. Being honest and kind means not judging and negating our mistakes and shortcomings and stereotyping ourselves. There are no perfect people. We all make mistakes because we’re human and it’s part of the human experience. Yet, too many of us judge ourselves more harshly than anyone else.
What we often fail to see is the learning and insights that come from mistakes and failures, if we’re willing to be teachable. Serial entrepreneurs know the value of failure and perseverance more than any other professional group, from my observation.
At the same time, another individual may have a completely over-inflated sense of confidence in their skills. These are reasons why mindset is so important in this work.
Step 3: Don’t get defensive or offended by feedback on your communication skills
The ego with its protective defense mechanisms is the biggest impediment to attaining spiritual growth.Kilroy J. Oldster
This is a hazard for many professionals, well for human beings in general, truth be told. Don’t get offended by the feedback you’ve had in the past or present about your communication style or skills. Why? It’s not worth it.
Treat feedback from people you like, love, and trust as a gift. I’m serious. Use it as motivation to improve, especially if they have identified a blind spot or an issue that you’ve been secretly wanting to stop or begin doing. It’s easier to hear genuine thoughtful feedback from people you trust and respect. It’s more likely to be heard for obvious reasons.
Hold the mirror up to yourself first. If you do give feedback, be prepared to receive feedback in reply, however uncomfortable. Sometimes people use feedback insincerely as a weapon. But there are also people who don’t like receiving feedback in any way, shape, or form, regardless of who it is coming from. And their nearest and dearest will be acutely aware of that.
But here’s the truth: the sooner you can hear what might help improve your communication with a significant other, the sooner growth and learning comes. It will bring you peace and it will change your life.
But for those souls bursting to give someone feedback, particularly negative feedback, there’s a caveat. People, including teenagers and children, tend to ignore feedback from people they don’t trust or like. Think about your own attitude when put in the same situation.
Trust is the key ingredient that needs to be present, before even thinking about giving anyone feedback. If there’s no trust or caring in a relationship, whether it’s at work or in your personal relationships, there’s no genuine basis for believing the feedback and the motives behind it. So don’t be surprised if feedback is disbelieved and knocked back in those situations.
At the same time, you don’t have to take feedback from anyone and everyone. Be wise about whose feedback you listen to. People you respect and trust. There’s a difference between feedback that points out a person’s physical flaws versus feedback on how you felt or interpreted someone’s actions or words, for example. The former, which is often cruel, mean-spirited, and can damage a person’s sense of self-worth, is not the kind of feedback I’m talking about here.
Exercise discretion about who you share this journey with. You want it to be people who really care about you and who cheer you on in life.
Successful people use failures to sharpen their intuition by acknowledging mistakes for what they truly are – feedback.Gordana Biernat
So, my friends, don’t be judgemental of yourself. Don’t make it mean anything other than this is an opportunity to learn and grow.
Step 4: Identify your strengths
Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strength.Donald O. Clifton
Take time to think about your strengths as a communicator, and write them down. It’s important that you have real-world knowledge of your strengths as a communicator at work, at home, and in your community. Write it all out. Think about the compliments you’ve received and see what applied to the way you talked, wrote, or expressed yourself, or how you made someone feel by your presence. When I refer to presence, I’m referring to body language and the non-verbal cues we give, without saying a word. You’ll be surprised by what you discover. If you draw or paint, express it artistically, otherwise traditional text is absolutely fine.
Step 5: Identify areas for improving communication skills
Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.William Faulkner
The fact that you’re reading this shows that you want to improve. So, a big hi-five and a hearty pat on the back. Well done. I’m a big believer that as long as we’re willing to learn and change, and next level our communication skills, there’s always hope and possibility. Anything’s possible, I really believe that.
As you work through these exercises with yourself, your mind and heart will begin to guide you.
Questions on Improving Communication Skills
- What do I lack confidence in?
- What do I struggle to be able to do?
- What do I wish I could do better?
- What do I wish I could stop doing?
- What do I want to begin doing?
Frankly, everyone, all of us on Planet Earth, could do with improving our communication skills. None of us are perfect, so that’s a given. Even those of us with years working in this field recognise the need for continuous improvement and learning. That there’s always something to learn.
One of the ever-present challenges is not knowing our blind spots. These are the things we can’t see that need improving. It takes having people you trust and care about you to help you identify these. Even organisations have blind spots.
Step 6: Set at least one communication goal
How much you can learn when you fail determines how far you will go into achieving your goals.Roy Bennett
Don’t overthink this. After you’ve followed the other steps, then you’re ready to come up with your learning goals. This is about setting goals, your intentions, so you are motivated to take action.
Write your goals simply and clearly. If you’re not clear in your thinking about what your goals are, then your writing will also read confused and unclear.
A goal not written is only a wish. So write your goals down, and measure our progress.
Looking at your areas of improvement:
- Which ones are a priority right now? List them.
- Pick no more than or 1 or 2 to learn within a realistic time frame.
Finally, the writing and rewriting process for any topic always begins with raw, unrefined scribbles of thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Write free fall if that works for you. Just don’t judge it, just write.
All good writing goes through rewriting. Usually, a first draft is never the final draft. I can’t emphasise it enough. Rewriting is a part of every serious writer’s journey so embrace it.
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