Effective communication is one of the most powerful skills you can have as you move through the world.
Communicating effectively helps you understand other people’s motivations, and gives you the power to share your own insights without anything getting lost in the shuffle.
Effective communication can help you in your career, socially, and in your personal relationships.
For example, effective communication can help with:
With the tool of effective communication in your toolbox, you’ll have fewer misunderstandings, be better able to communicate your wants and needs, and enjoy better relationships with others!
In this article, you’ll learn:
So let’s dive in!
How do you develop effective communication?
The first key to effective communication is asking yourself a simple question:
“What does success look like in this interaction?”
Consider this situation needing effective communication in the workplace: there’s a new employee joining your team at work.
You don’t know this person well, but your boss has asked you to pull them in to work on a new project.
What might a “successful” interaction with that employee look like?
Maybe success involves explaining the background of the project and giving some directions.
Or maybe success looks like getting to know this new employee and learning about their skills. Having a general idea of what you hope to accomplish is a powerful tool.
But we have to be careful not to get too attached to any one outcome. Communication situations are fluid and can change on the fly!
What if, after five minutes of speaking to this new employee, you realize that they’re deeply overwhelmed in their new job and need support?
Your conversational goal might shift– and that’s normal!
Sometimes we can get too wrapped up in the one outcome we’re hoping for out of a situation.
This is called “outcome dependence,” and it can mentally trap you (by keeping you focused on “not messing up” or “achieving your goal.”
The alternative, “outcome independence,” is one way to think about social situations without getting too hung up on what the next step will be!
Remember, successful communication can take many forms, and sometimes urgent situations come up!
Expert communicators are focused on successfully communicating their point, but also are flexible enough to adapt when a situation calls for it.
But what specific skills do effective communicators have?
Effective communication skills are often characterized as “soft skills,” but these soft skills have a huge impact on how people understand you!
And, of course, the one we think of most is speaking. So what skills go into effective speaking?
1. Fact, Bridge, Message: How to make sure your message is clear and non-ramble-y
One of the most powerful effective communication techniques you can use is… knowing what your message is, and staying on message while you talk.
And this is hard for those of us who loooooove to ramble.
But never fear: the bridging technique is here for those of us wanting to improve our effective communication in the workplace!
Nicole Schwegman, a friend of Become More Compelling and an experienced public affairs officer in the U.S. Navy, explains her technique in three easy steps: fact, bridge, message (or FBM– gotta love those acronyms!).
So let’s see how this might look in action:
FBM and bridging statements are especially powerful when 1) you don’t know or can’t share the answer to a question, and/or 2) the answer to a question would divert attention away from your all-important message!
By the way, for some expert examples of FBM and bridging statements, check out any good press conference.
You’ll start to see this approach everywhere!
Also, listen to Nicole talk about FBM on the BMC podcast:
ACTION STEP: The next time you need to communicate a particular message, try using a bridge (“what I can tell you is…”) to keep yourself on track!
2. Avoid Powerless Communication Words (These words DESTROY your Credibility)
Many of us have a tendency to use powerless communication words as we speak.
Things like “uhh” and “does that make sense?” appear in speech a lot, and for good reason!
These types of words help speakers maintain their train of thoughts.
These words don’t have the oomph that we want in our effective communication.
We’d rather build our point up with powerful words instead of undercutting ourselves!
Struggling with “um” or “I’m not sure, but…” appearing in your speech? Try The Jar Challenge to motivate yourself to cut those powerless terms out!
Some common powerless communication words:
If you really struggle with powerless communication words, you can even try The Jar Challenge.
What is it?
Tell a friend that you’ll be putting one dollar in a jar every time you use a powerless communication word for one week.
At the end of the week, give them the jar.
I give it 3 weeks before your powerless communication words are reduced by 80%.
This works because awareness is a crucial first step to changing behavior.
I explain more in this video:
ACTION STEP: Try these powerless communication substitutions…
Listening is the power behind the throne when it comes to effective communication.
Speaking gets all the hype, but being an effective and intuitive listener can supercharge your communications and improve your relationships at work.
So let’s get to it!
3. Active Listening: Make sure people FEEL listened to.
Have you ever told someone a story and just known they’re not listening, but instead waiting for their turn to speak?
We’ve all experienced it: the spring-loaded response trap.
The nano-second you’re done speaking, they leap right into their explanation and your point is lost in the dust. It doesn’t feel great.
As an effective communicator, your mission (if you choose to accept it) is to avoid the spring-loaded response trap. And luckily, active listening is here to help.
Active listeners view listening as an active process.
They’re engaged with the speaker and show their engagement through their body language.
Their primary goal is to understand the speaker’s point, and they use questions and restating to demonstrate their understanding.
Basically, active listeners are the type of people who you’d want listening to you.
ACTION STEP: Try out these active listening habits!
4. Non-Verbal Cues: Listen For What ISN’T Being Said
Even if you’ve never seen The Office, you might have come across gifs or references to Jim Halpert making vaguely-panicked or knowing eye-contact with the camera.
Without speaking, Jim is able to communicate…
Fear… Or skepticism!
This is the power of non-verbal communication: to communicate the affect, tone, or undercurrent to a situation.
The trick to non-verbal communication is looking beyond what the person is saying to how they’re feeling.
This is communication detective work: find the clues to figure out what’s going on behind the scenes!
Non-verbal hints such as folding one’s arms, looking away, or leaning towards a conversational partner can give us hints into others’ emotional stance.
Some examples of non-verbal communication include:
Non-verbals can affect the way spoken statements come off to others.
Try delivering any of the following sentences using confident tone and body language, and then repeat using insecure or nervous non-verbals!
⚠️ Important note: Look for clusters!
A word of caution: it’s SO easy to find negative non-verbals if you’re looking for them. “Oh, she crossed her arms over her chest, she hates me.” “Oh, their brow was furrowed, they don’t like my proposal.” Sound familiar?
The context behind non-verbals is important.
Maybe you’re speaking to someone and notice that their eyes are teary. Maybe the subject matter is painful for them… Or maybe they just have allergies!
Context matters, and asking a couple of questions about context can help make communication even clearer.
One piece of advice I always give my private coaching clients about non-verbals is that 1 data point doesn’t matter– 3 data points matter.
Basically… Look for clusters of non-verbals!
So, your boss’s brow was furrowed as they read your proposal.
Maybe your boss needs new reading glasses!
That one data point isn’t too scary yet.
Now, if your boss’s brow was furrowed, they were screaming, and pointing repeatedly towards the flashing fire alarm… Get out of there, it’s a fire! (See, context!)
Do you really want to look for non-verbal data clusters? Try…
5. The Mirror Test: A Quick Way To Jump-Start Rapport
Ever been talking to someone and wondered if they were enjoying your conversation?
Well, the mirror test is one way to subtly check in with your conversation partner (without saying “Hi I like you, do you like me? Let’s be best friends forever!… Wait, where are you going?!”)
When we’re in conversational flow with someone, we naturally tend to mirror their non-verbals. Scientists call this limbic resonance.
So imagine you’re having a drink with someone. If they’re in limbic resonance, you could…
You can start the mirroring and create the limbic resonance yourself! You would see them…
With the mirror test, you can easily improve the warmth and rapport of your conversations!
ACTION STEP: Try the mirror test for yourself!
The next time you’re chatting with someone, make a couple small motions and observe the other person you’re talking to.
See if they’re reflecting your actions back to you!
6. Pronoia Mindset: Expect Good Things to Happen!
We’re all familiar with the paranoia mindset: they’re out to get me! However, sometimes this paranoia can leak into our perceptions of social situations.
Do any of these thoughts sound familiar?
Most of us, due to the negativity bias, assume that the worst is going to happen and fixate on negatives we encounter. And that’s a paranoia mindset.
But our mindsets can be changed! Why not try a dash of pronoia instead?
Pronoia is a concept I recommend to my coaching clients, and it boils down to “expect good things to happen.”
You know that voice reminding you of what could go wrong?
Why not respond to that internal voice with a question of your own: “What if things went right?”
What if I crushed that job interview, or what if I broke out of an unhealthy communication pattern?
Because why wouldn’t good things happen?
Some of this requires a perspective shift.
One way to start is by making a list of things you’re grateful for.
Maybe you can only think of one thing, and it’s the very strong coffee you had this morning before work. That’s a start!
ACTION STEP: Jot down a quick list of five things you’re grateful for.
7. Persuasion: How To Win Hearts and Minds
In this post, we’ve gone over ways to communicate effectively– but communicating is different than convincing!
Sometimes, part of effective communication involves persuading someone with a different opinion than yours.
So how can you persuade someone with a different opinion?
Counter-intuitively, the best first steps are (1) to summarize their perspective and (2) to empathize with them.
When someone argues with us aggressively– telling us that we’re wrong, dismissing our points– the human response is to get defensive or retreat altogether.
And, as effective communicators, we’ve already learned that the biggest part of effective communication is a two-way relationship.
When you’ve summarized someone’s point and found the facts, or the core piece of the argument, then you’ve found what’s keeping the other person from being convinced.
Chris Voss, a former top FBI hostage negotiator, wrote an outstanding book called Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It.
He gives us a magic phrase to use during negotiation: “That’s right!”
“That’s right” is an especially powerful phrase to use during persuasion because it (1) validates the other person’s point and (2) keeps the other person in the conversation.
Think about the difference between “That’s right” and “You’re right”:
When we’re trying to persuade someone, the goal is to keep the other person engaged in the conversation and open to alternative opinions.
Chris Voss gets the last word on the subject: “He who has learned to disagree without being disagreeable has discovered the most valuable secret of negotiation.”
ACTION STEP: The next time you’re trying to persuade someone, take a deep breath, try to empathize with your conversation partner, and use “That’s right” to find common ground.
Action Step Summary: How To Develop Effective Communication Skills
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