Knowing how to communicate effectively is the key to any relationship. Whether you’re giving a presentation at work, working out a disagreement with your significant other, or just having a chat with a friend, knowing how to articulate your ideas—and listen to those of others—is crucial. But though we spend much of our time each day talking to each other, that doesn’t mean we’re all great communicators. Communicating effectively can be surprisingly challenging. So whether you struggle to get your points across or just want to brush up on a few pointers, here are 11 ways to be a better communicator.
1. LEARN TO LISTEN.
Active listening is the basis of all good communication: If you aren’t paying attention to what others are saying, there’s no way you’ll be able to respond effectively. Focus on what your conversation partner is saying, and if necessary, repeat it mentally to make sure you understand the points they’re making.
2. PAY ATTENTION TO BODY LANGUAGE.
Pay attention to your conversation partner’s body language: Are they fidgeting or standing still? Yawning or smiling? Pay attention to your own body language as well—if your words exude confidence, but your body language expresses nervousness, your conversation partner will pick up on that. It’s important both to read others’ body language, and to pay attention to your own stance.
3. OBSERVE HOW OTHERS COMMUNICATE IN DIFFERENT CONTEXTS.
It’s important to understand your audience. If you’re giving a presentation at work, study how others do it (or watch videos of famous lectures by academics, businesspeople, or professionals in your field). If you’re nervous about how to act at a networking event or party, take cues from the people around you.
4. DON’T BE AFRAID OF A BIT OF SILENCE.
Occasional lapses in conversation are natural, so don’t sweat it if conversation lags. Plus, letting pauses occur naturally is a good way to make sure you’re not interrupting anyone’s train of thought.
5. USE ACTION VERBS AND CONFIDENT LANGUAGE.
Even if you’re not feeling confident, you can still sound confident. One good trick is avoiding filler words like “um” and “uh” by slowing down your speech a bit. Another is using strong action verbs—use your resume for fodder and stick to descriptive verbs like “evaluate,” “manage,” and “advise.”
6. ASK QUESTIONS.
Ask clarifying questions: It’ll ensure you understand what your conversation partner is saying, and show that you’re paying attention.
7. FIND COMMON GROUND, EVEN IN AN ARGUMENT.
Finding a shared interest or opinion with your conversation partner is always a great strategy—it’ll make the conversation more enjoyable for both of you as well as show your conversation partner that you’ve got something in common. But finding common ground in an argument can be just as important. If you disagree with someone, try to find a related point that you do agree with—it’ll show you’re trying to understand their point of view.
8. BE PREPARED AND KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.
Knowing your subject matter will put you at ease and make it easier to communicate your ideas to others. If you’re preparing for a job interview, make sure you are familiar with the position and the company; if you’re giving a presentation, know your stuff!
9. IF YOU WANT TO SUBTLY CHANGE THE SUBJECT, FIND A VERBAL BRIDGE.
We all occasionally end up in a conversation that’s not going in a direction we like. Finding a polite way to change the subject can be tough, but one good trick is finding a “bridge.” This can mean finding a topic somewhere in between the current one and the one you’re interested in or involve using a more general phrase that will help you shift the topic. For instance, phrases like “Yes, but,” “What I can tell you is,” or “The important thing to remember is,” all let you subtly shift the focus.
10. FIND THE BEST WAY TO FRAME YOUR STORY.
Whether you’re giving a lecture or telling your friend a funny story, it’s important to figure out how to frame it to make it interesting and engaging. Identify your hook (What makes your story interesting? Why would others care about it?) and pick a framing device: Are you taking your listener on a journey? Explaining a theory? Or making an argument for something? It’s important to clearly define early on where your story is going.
Though it’s important to be self-aware during an important or stressful conversation, ultimately one of the most effective communication strategies is just relaxing, and acting like you would normally—while, of course, remaining professional.
Wells Fargo Advisors considers the firm, their advisors and their clients as equal partners with no hierarchy. This not only makes for smooth and easy communication, but also ensures they put their investors’ interests first. Learn more at joinwfadvisors.com.
Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC, Member SIPC, is a registered broker-dealer and a separate non-bank affiliate of Wells Fargo & Company.