I’ve talked about communication skills from time to time. But although I’ve given some general principles, I’ve never really looked at how to improve communication skills as a specific set of tasks that we can do on a daily basis.
So today I’m going to embark on some basic communication skills training.
Communication Skills Training 101
This is not intended to be a theoretical post on improving your communication skills – I’ve done the theory side of it a few times before, and it’s time to get into the the practical side of communication skills training. So let’s go:
1. Practice makes perfect
If you want to improve your communication skills you need to communicate. This seems trite, of course, but is often missed. People sit in their offices, reading books (or blog posts – except this one of course, which is extremely relevant and important) about how to improve communication and spend so much time in that exercise that they forget the important part – doing it.
2. Communication Skills are Niche areas
There is a principle in blogging and website development which basically says that to be successful you should be targeting a specific niche (if you haven’t picked it, this blog is targeted mostly towards the niche of law students and new or younger lawyers). So it is with communication skills training – a letter is different to a SMS is different to a telephone call is different to an email is different to a Facebook post. Each form of communication has a different purpose and a different style. If you’re implementing step 1, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your 1000 tweets a day will make you a better letter writer. They won’t. They might make you a better twit though (that’s a joke, Twitter fans – just in case you missed it). You need to practice the form of communication that you actually want to improve. A good speaker is not always a good writer is not always a good advocate is not always a good user of social media.
3. Get honest feedback
Emphasis on honest here. Let’s say you give a presentation. The general path that will follow after your presentation is that everyone will give you pats on the back and say what a great job you did. You, in turn, will take a self-deprecating approach and murmur about how it wasn’t really that great (not really meaning it but putting on a bit of humility so you don’t seem too proud). What if, however, your presentation actually was rubbish? How are you supposed to know that, get advice and improve for next time if nobody tells you about it. Getting honest feedback that actually lets you improve your communication skills involves a three step process:
- First – find somebody who excels in the communication skills you want training in (see tip number 2 – this is horses for courses here, don’t get an expert letter writer to give you advice on public speaking).
- Second – ask them to attend/review/consider your particular communication, either before or after you deliver it.
- Third – give them permission to provide you with honest and potentially brutal feedback. This one is the tricky one, because in reality most people aren’t jerks – they just want to be nice so they don’t hurt your feelings. Make it absolutely clear that you want to improve, you know they are good in this area, and you would like their honest opinions.
4. Be authentic
Part of the trouble with our current amount of access to information is that we lose ourselves a bit. Instead we try to take on the personalities and characteristics of the people we admire. This is poison to authentic communication, and will severely limit your ability to improve your communication skills. All of the big personalities and effective communicators out there share one thing in common – they are authentic to their own voice. Tour ability to get into communication skills training relies upon you doing the same. That doesn’t mean you can’t improve your techniques – but in doing so make sure you reference everything you are doing back to your core – does it feel like you, or does it feel like somebody else?
5. Don’t Overthink your Communication Skills
It’s easy to start over thinking this process. As a result, we end up losing our authenticity (see point 4 above) but we also end up making ourselves too nervous to accomplish anything. It’s great that you’re looking at how to improve your communication skills, but if you let your fear and your intellectual worry take over, you will in fact be doing yourself a disservice. The strategies I have set out here are designed to “get you in the game” without an unnecessary amount of thinking (I’m convinced that too much thinking is bad for your health).
Instead, and especially when it’s something you’re not too comfortable with, just get into it and leave the fine detail until another day. Focus on your content, and your audience. Those two things should take primacy no matter what communication skill you are using.
Those are my tips on how to improve communication skills. Which one resonates with you? Got any more practical tips to help? Let me know in the comments!