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Effective Communication Skills: Use Words To Get Ahead In Your Workplace (w/ Examples & PDF)


Neville

BARK BARK BARK!

01101000 01101001!

Both of those statements above didn't make a lot of sense did they?  That's because you're not a dog or a computer.

If I said, "Hello there" instead, you would've easily understood what I was saying. It's just a matter of communicating something in the right way.

 

The point of all communication is transferring information from one place to another.  

You can communicate with another human:

Communicating Brains"Hey Jim, let's go sit over there!"

 

 

You can communicate with a computer:

Communicating with a computer::::type, movement of mouse, swipes of finger::::

 

 

You can communicate with Dog:

Communicating with a dog

"::::GRUNT:::: Stop humping my leg!"

 

Notice each different interface......you communicate with a different input language.

The human, the computer, and the dog all understand input in a different way.

For example, let's say you want to input the words into a smartphone AND a standard desktop computer.  What you're trying to input is the same, but the actions you take to enter these things are slightly different:

Tap Tap Tap

 

Similarly, different types of humans require different input.

Humans are essentially what our brains make us.  And the human brain is just a re-active computational machine.  It "learns" by making generalizations about things from the past:

  • You touch a hot stove......it hurts......so you don't touch a hot stove again.
  • You get a speeding ticket......it sucks......so you don't speed as much again.
  • You get bit by a dog when you're 5......it hurts......so you become scared of dogs.

And since every single person in the world has a slightly different experience in life, every single person's brain is different.

For example, below are two different brains.

The 1st brain has a traditionally "good" life.

The 2nd brain has a traditionally "hard" life.

 

Brain with a good life:

Brain Good Life

 

Brain with a hard life:

Bad brain

 

Looking at the experiences that shaped both those brains.....it's almost illogical to think they'll both react in the same way to an input!

Yet this is the scene we have to navigate.

It's why people tend to gravitate towards people similar to them.

It's why people get along easier when they have a lot in common.

It's why one person thinks something is funny, and another thinks the same thing is offensive.

It's also why we can learn A LOT from people different than us.

 

If you can communicate well, you can do a lot of things:

  • Convince people to buy things.
  • Convince people to give you $$$$.
  • Convince someone to do something.
  • Convince someone not to do something.
  • Convince people someone is a bad person.
  • Convince people someone is a good person.
  • Con people.
  • Help people.

You can use this talent for good or evil.  Whichever you choose.

You can also totally screw up a lot of things through bad communication (such as over-complicating a simple memo at work and confusing people more than helping them).

 

So let's explore some tactical ways to improve communication:

 

Watch yourself smile in front of a mirror:

Know why they have mirrors in dance studios?  So you can instantly see what you're doing and correct the wrong movements.

Sometimes the way you FEEL doing a movement, doesn't actually LOOK that great from an outside perspective.

However, most communication (ummm....probably ALL communication) does not happen in front of a mirror.  It happens when you're not looking at yourself.  In fact, usually you're too caught up in the situation to think about your individual movements.

A few years ago a friend of mine in the communications space was walking with me to a restaurant one Tuesday afternoon.

As we were walking I noticed nearly every guy and girl that walked by us was smiling at us.

The 1st time it happened I ignored it.

The 2nd time it happened I ignored it.

The 3rd time it happened I ignored it.

The 4th time it happened I asked my friend, "What the hell are you doing?? Something is happening!"

He smugly looked at me and said, "Ok, the next person to walk by, try smiling at them."

I obliged.

I saw a woman passing by.....looked straight at her and cracked a smile.  NOTHING HAPPENED.  This is why:

Half SmilingOh yikes......

My friend was like, "Ummmm, that's not really a smile."

What's crazy is: I genuinely thought THAT WAS a big smile!  In my head I could feel that I was smiling because my mouth muscles would rise! What I felt internally about my smile, clearly didn't reflect externally.

He went on to give me this analogy:

"Imagine you're backpacking through Europe and completely randomly see your friend Jason from back home.  You'd be totally surprised by this and crack a HUUUGGEEEE happy smile when you see him!   Do THAT to the next person walking by."

So I tried to imagine this situation happening in my head, and I cracked a HUUUGGEEEE smile to the next woman walking by as if she were a longterm friend.

As we passed by, the woman smiled and actually STOPPED to talk with me (because based on my body language she thought I knew her).....and this came as a huge surprise so I panicked and kept walking!

Smiling Chart

(With that bad lighting and a beard, perhaps I shouldn't be smiling at ANYONE)!

The "Smile" I thought I had all these years sucked.

This means the communication I was giving off internally, was never the same message being given off externally.

This is why practicing what you look during a conversation in a mirror can be really helpful.

 

Use analogies with people (or just reverse the situation):

For some reason one of the most useful things someone can explain to me is, "Imagine if I told YOU that (insert thing I did wrong here)."

It seems analogous to teaching a kid not to hit another kid......by showing him what it feels like to get hit.

 

 

Counting to 10 in your head before speaking:

About 5 years ago talking to a guy who literally jumped into every single one of my sentences in a weird way.

Me: I saw this blue car on the road....

Him: Whoa my girlfriend has a blue car and she :::blah blah blah:::!!!

Me: One time I went camping.....

Him: Holy crap I went camping too this one time, and these squirrels stole the :::blah blah blah::::

He interjected at every sentence and it annoyed the crap outta me.

I remember this striking a chord with me, because I felt like I ALSO DO THAT in conversation.

Realizing this years ago, I simultaneously felt sad and happy about this.

Sad because I realized this guys annoying habit was something I do.

Happy because now I realized it, and can make a change.

It feels like my brain is hyperactive sometimes, and anything out of someone's mouth I can relate a story to.  I realized from a few experiences this could be highly annoying.  The worst part is, in my head I thought I was contributing to the conversation because I enjoyed talking to the person!  It was actually my way of telling them, "I enjoy your company because I am engaging in your conversation!"

In reality, it could turn some people off.

So I developed this easy trick of counting to 10 in my head before responding with my own feedback.  It was an easy way to keep my brain occupied with something besides formulating an IMMEDIATE response.

I started noticing this worked ESPECIALLY WELL when listening to friends talk about something serious or sad.

Try it out.

 

Noticing the "vibe" you're giving off:

Here's a funny thing I had happen.  I frequently drive back home and visit my family.  Years ago sometimes I'd notice we wouldn't talk that much when we got home.

Then I figured it out.  And it was a super-stupid reason caused by ME.

I would walk in the door, parents would greet me, I'd go upstairs and put all my stuff away, then come back downstairs and do the following:

1.) Turn on the TV in the living room.

2.) Grab a magazine from the side table.

3.) Have my phone out.

Now.....I didn't MEAN to look this way, but from an outside perspective, I CLEARLY LOOKED like I didn't want to be bothered with conversation!

It's hilarious to think I would be typing on a phone, reading a magazine, and watching TV at the same time......and then EXPECT someone to say "So Neville, what's going on?"

But this kind of stuff happens all the time.

Someone wants people to approach them at a conference......but they look standoffish by not looking friendly and typing on their phone.

Someone wants to connect and have a great conversation......but they constantly interrupt and talk about themselves.

Someone wants to desperately show they are competent and smart......but they talk too much and it makes them look foolish.

 

Ask Questions You Actually Care About

You probably already know that to have better conversations, you should ask open-ended questions. After all, people LOOOVE talking about themselves.

The problem is, most people default to the first boring questions that pop into their mind.

BORING QUESTIONS = BORING CONVERSATIONS

This may seem obvious, but the trick to having good conversations is asking things you actually want to know the answer to (vs. just asking a question for the heck of it).

With strategic questioning, YOU control how interesting/boring a convo is.

2019 interesting conversation

interesting conversation about reading

 

interesting conversation freelance

If you’re struggling to think of good questions on the spot, try memorizing a few prepared questions that are general enough to ask anybody (books, life experiences, advice, points of view, etc).

With a bit of practice, you’ll never have another boring conversation again.

 

 

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I will be adding more and more communications tactics to this post (I want to develop a "collection" of them).  So please chime in with yours below!

Sincerely,

Neville Medhora

 

 

 

P.S.  In the comments, let me know which one of these you are most guilty of, and how you're going to change it (Constantly interrupting, appearing too stand-offish, other problems).

I am personally interested in this stuff and LOVE hearing your problems & solutions!


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I'm still a big fan of the The Golden Rule. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

This actually helps a lot in the work environment too.

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Completely guilty of cutting in to early. I want to appear enthused and engaged in the convo, but sometimes, especially after reading your post, it seems a little much. Will wait 10 seconds now. I think after waiting you come off as more thoughtful and gathered.
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A favorite teacher said:

"You can be 'right' (ie self-righteous/agrandizing)... or you can be happy... but you can't be both."

(not easy coming from a 'know-it-all' world/family)

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Guest Neville

Posted

Nice Jesal.

I don't think there's anything wrong with cutting in sometimes, but ALL THE TIME is definitely an annoying habit.

Unfortunately, almost no one will tell you that you're doing it. You generally have to find out for yourself.

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Guest Neville

Posted

Bahahah.....that's a good one! This seems to definitely apply to interpersonal relationships.
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Guest Rachael

Posted

I'm absolutely guilty of sharing my own "relatable" story or offering advice when someones not asking for it. I noticed a few years ago that my father does exactly the same thing because I got mad thinking, "WHY are you making this about you?" (He was trying to help, but I just wanted him to listen)

So now, if someone's talking about something they're struggling with, I make sure to empathize first. Something like, "Wow I'm sorry. That DOES really suck" And then depending on who it is I'll say - "I went through something similar, do you want help?" and go into my story. I know I don't do this 100% of the time though so I'm going to try throwing in counting to 10!

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I'm guilty of the last one. I simply have no clue on what vibes I'm giving out to other people.

I think it's because, when I was a kid, I was completely under the illusion that I could get on with everyone. I would do everything just to be that super cool dude whom everyone likes.

I was surprised it didn't work when I grew up.

That's especially true when you're communicating with girls. For example, my ex used to tell me about her problems, and I would always give her solutions. But I didn't have the foggiest idea that she only wanted me to listen to her, not to offer her solutions to her problems,

Now that was a mess of a communication.

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Guest Nikolay

Posted

The trick "count to 10" is exactly the one, I always do when I speak with somebody. And it is usually cross with the first one - "reverse the situation". I use to think "what if I were him?" before start to speak myself and give myself a bit of time to live with that thought. Surprisingly it is often cancel the necessity to open my mouth.))))

For the third one I've got the good slap from my father somedays ago, that I can still recall.

Thanx for the good input Neville.

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Guest Britt Malka

Posted

Unless I jump around as blood elf, killing filthy, stinking dwarfs, I'm terribly shy. So I'm guilty of the first smile you show above.

I'm sure I curl the corners of my mouth upwards, but it's not working quite as intended.

Since I got a wolf-like dog, a Shikoku, nobody cares whether I smile or not. They only look at the dog and talk to her. Problem solved.

And I communicate well with my dog.

"Nefnef, walk nice."

"Yf yf, wheeee."

"Nefnef, walk nice now."

"Yf yf, woo woo."

"Nefnef, I've had it with you. Walk nicely!"

"Ech."

And after having said "yes," she still doesn't walk nicely. But we communicate.

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Guest Deirdre

Posted

I am guilty. So guilty. I am glad I read your E-mail this morning. I think I can solve the world for my friends and have to tell them about it immediately. You described me perfectly. I just looked in the mirror. It's a smirk. Not good. Looks more like go to h*** look. For the last one I feel like I just have to check email once more than I will talk. Amazing how you can hide behind such a small piece of plastic ( cell phone) but put up such a big wall. I am know going to be aware my actions(smile), put the phone down. Count to ten. Save this post. And make it a great day. Thank you. Didn't know it but I needed this, this morning!
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Guest Bruce Li

Posted

Meow meow,

Mew mewl mewlmewl, mewl mrowlrowl meow. Prrowl rr mrew mew, mew, rrr-prowl meow mewmewmow.

______________

Dear Nev,

Three tips I've always used in the way of communications tactics:

 

1) Don't overthink things or worry about impressing someone.

So this is how many people approach conversations with acquaintances:

Wave. Mouth, "Hi!" exuberantly. They wave, and now they're coming over! Okay, don't screw this up. Look them up and down to see if there's anything you can comment on. No--okay, that's all right. What do you know about this person, anyways? When was the last time you saw them, anyways? Was it at that party? OH MY GOD it was! You can totally ask them whether they ended up finding their beer they were looking for when you bumped into each other last time--wait, no, you're at university and it has been about a month. Best to leave it. Okay, but--oh, she's staring right at me. Was she talking? What did she say? Okay smile. No, SMILE. Oh. Oh, she's got to go. Maybe she didn't say something smile-worthy.

This is how the better way to approach it is:

Doo-a-ditty-dam-ditty, doo-wah-wah-Hey who's that?. I think I know her. Wave. Hey, she waved back. Now she's right in front of me. How'm I doing? Pretty great, actually. Just coming from my swim at the University pool and about to go grab a bite before class. What are you up to?

And on and on.

The first person is worried about where they're standing, how they're talking, what they're going to say next--they're conscious about EVERYTHING they do. They're TOO conscious. They're SELF-CONSCIOUS. Don't be self-conscious. Stop paying attention and trying to get the perfect conversation out. Enjoy the experience of interaction.

 

Yeah, this seemed a lot shorter in cat language.

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Guest Marc Ames Sandin

Posted

Guilty or interrupting and giving off a bad vibe.

I'm very curious to see what happens with a me box applied to my photography business.

Did I say "my?" Ha! I meant ANY. Silly me.

I want to streamline services for my customers without becoming a horrible mall photo studio *cringe*.

But I think I can do it with time and resourcefulness. And maybe a Nevbox. I mean as lon as you're GIVING them away.......... :)

-Marc

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I am guilty of not smiling much. I grew up always fighting and getting into trouble but later on I changed into a better person. One thing someone told me was when you meet someone or see someone you want to meet, think about one of your favorite relatives, friends or a movie star and think about them telling you all kinds of great things about yourself and you are smiling huge and that will put you in a state of happiness so you will be friendly to them and smile when talking to them. It has worked for me. Thank You.
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The two big questions I ask myself after I write something before releasing it.

1. Does this inspire me to action?

2. Will this make me stop in my tracks and read it?

If I don't want to read it, and it doesn't inspire me, why would it anyone else? They can tell if you're writing just for the sake of writing.

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Guest Peter Buick

Posted

Hey Neville,

the biggest communication problem I have is thinking people know what I mean. Do you know what I mean? No of course not!

I remember writing an email blast once and I got a reply. He thanked me for a truly exciting and wonderful email, but was curious what it was about.

What does he mean what's it about? I thought. Obviously it's about BLAH.

But when I checked the email back, I had missed out the COME BACK TO PARAGRAPH that explained it all. But my head was so ahead in the process, I had convinced myself I had already written it.

Do you know what I mean?

Actually this reminds of the Southpark episode where Butters goes to a Pimps Convention to learn the craft. Being only 8 of course, he had no real idea but always relied with "yes I think I do know what you mean".

Of course eventually he did it get and went on to run one of the best staff appreciating whore houses in the area. Do you know what I mean?

SO between people not saying what they mean, and people pretending they know what people are saying, it's amazing, isn't it....

What is?

Well yes exactly. And that's a great point you brought up there.

"Clarity in all things"

Peter

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I'm probably guilty most of listening to reply and not listening for the listening, although I'm getting better.

Recording weekly videos has gotten me better at smiling while I'm talking, although sometime swhen I'm deep in thought, because the videos are unscripted, I watch and see that I'm not smiling as much as I think I am.

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I'm totally guilty of the cutting in one. damn. I swear this paragraph could be about me: "It feels like my brain is hyperactive sometimes, and anything out of someone’s mouth I can relate a story to. I realized from a few experiences this could be highly annoying. The worst part is, in my head I thought I was contributing to the conversation because I enjoyed talking to the person! It was actually my way of telling them, “I enjoy your company because I am engaging in your conversation!”"

I'm committing to the counting to 10 thing. Thanks Neville!

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You can't go wrong with old school advice from Dale Carnegie.

Become GENUINELY interested in other people. When others are talking, stop thinking about yourself and your next witty answer and just listen to them. Try to absorb and understand what they're saying (then pause for 10 seconds) and come back with an insightful response or follow up question.

Remember, the one thing people love to talk about more than anything else is themselves. If you take interest in someone and their story, you'll be able to grow your relationships and earn favors quickly.

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Wow! This is a great thing to bring to your conscious mind. I love the analogy of the dancers thinking their body is doing one thing while the mirror says something else. I'm going to have a great time putting myself on the other side and seeing where I'm communicating differently than I think I am. I guess a good way to do this is to watch and listen how others respond to you. Asking for feedback from good friends would work too:)
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One tactic I am focusing on, for sales related correspondence, is making sure my content highlights the "increase" that the other person will achieve by doing business with us.

For example - if we are selling them equipment then I want to emphasize the value they will get from the equipment and how the value will benefit them (not just what it does)

i.e. how much time or money will it save them, how can they use it to scale their business and make more money themselves, etc.

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Interrupting didn't happen as much before we all got on cell phones; now there's this LAAAAG! I have loads to say, and I think the person on the other end of the phone is done, so I start talking only to discover they're still at it, and I'm interrupting. I've been working on it by taking a really deep breath before I speak. That gives me another few seconds to be sure the other person is done speaking before I start.

Talk too much? Guilty! I keep trying to remind myself to journal my thoughts because there really aren't too many people out there who care about someone else's agenda.

Unsolicited advice? Yes! I read a linkedin profile for a writer who used incorrect subject predicate agreement, and I had to send this stranger a note to let her know of her mistake. I was trying to help.

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Great idea. I'd love to see more of these.

I have a whole file in Evernote of people skills hacks I've been compiling over the years. Here are some of my favourites...

1. Think of a conversation like playing catch with a football. You throw the attention back and forth between you and the other guy. Responding to what they say, adding something or redirecting the topic slightly, then throwing it back again. You lose the game by:

- Being selfish with the ball (talking non-stop without giving them a way in)

- Dropping the ball (giving crap dead-end unenthusiastic responses)

- Snatching the ball out of their hands (interrupting them mid-sentence)

2. I taught a training class for volunteers at a suicide hotline last year. Here are the skills we spent 90% of our time on...

Open Questions

Reacting

Reflecting

Clarifying

Summarising

Short Words of Encouragement

 

Notice how 'giving advice' wasn't even mentioned.

3. Use your smartphone to record yourself speaking during real conversations. Listen back and see if there's anything you could improve about the way you speak. A lot of people have boring monotone voices or weak nasal voices (that's me). A couple of months spent fixing your speaking voice could radically transform your life.

4. When you're sitting at a table with someone don't sit directly opposite them, sit at a 90 degree angle.

5. Show your hands when you're talking. And use them to gesture if you need to add more energy and movement.

6. If really you want to bond with someone, and you're feeling brave, play the 36 Questions Game (Google it).

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Two things I do, communications-wise:

1. When speaking in front of a group of people, I make sure to VARY my tone and volume. You know one thing that will get EVERYONE'S attention while speaking? Lower your voice to just above a whisper when you're about to make an important point. (Imagine, in your head, that I just did that - do you see how it would serve to underscore a point?) When you do that, the room WILL quiet down. People WILL suddenly wonder - "what's he about to say?"

2. In emails, I hate hate hate to waste time. (Mine, or other's.) So very often when replying to a quick email I will just add to the subject line. Example: If I am responding to a request for font changes on a site I manage, and the original email title was "Font Changes on website", I might reply with "Font Changes on website - NEW FONTS ADDED. Done!". The people I communicate with on a regular basis know I do this. They "get it". And they know why I do it. It works. (For a new client or for more formal emails, I DON'T do this.)

Communication is a science AND an art. You have to know your audience. And to a degree, you should train them on how to listen. That's what's involved in these two techniques.

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ASK QUESTIONS! You don't know the other persons input code, so by listening (watching body language) and asking questions you can discover what "makes them tick." A book called *SPIN Selling* taught me this and it radically transformed my communication and doubled my sales of capital equipment.
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