Communication 101

For some time, many people believed that good communication skills were something you were born with and could not be improved. Today, we know that’s not true.

During NerdNation 2016 in National Harbor, Maryland, Cengage Learning presented an Educational Forum entitled “Communication 101,” in which they outlined the importance of effective communication skills in today’s world and workforce as well as the simple steps you can take to improve your communication skills. Here are some takeaways from that presentation.

Why does communication matter?

  • Even if you’re not a communication major, these transferrable skills are critically important for success in the classroom, in current and future jobs and in your interpersonal relationships.
  • The majority of the public speaking situations you’ll encounter outside the classroom will be impromptu speaking.
  • Communication can help you meet your goals. Get and keep the job you want; get a promotion; develop and maintain meaningful personal and professional relationships; do well in all of your classes; be more perceptive of others; and be a more informed consumer.

In a recent study by the Pew Research Center, adults were asked which of 10 skills they believed were more important for children to have in order to get ahead in the world today. Ninety percent of respondents said communications skills were the most important, followed by reading, math, teamwork, writing and logic.

Why do communication skills work?

  • They’re employable and transferrable. No matter what career you have, these skills — soft skills — are important to all employers.
  • They’re necessary for success at all employment levels and in all sectors.
  • They are as important as job-specific and technical skills.

The U.S. Department of Labor has a training program called “Soft Skills to Pay the Bills — Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success,” which focuses on the importance of communication skills in gaining employment and succeeding in the workplace. The No. 1 soft skill in the program? Communication.

Putting your communication skills into practice.

Effective communicators adjust their message to their audience. Analyze your audience by asking yourself these four questions:

  • What is the size of my audience?
  • What do I know about them?
  • What can I observe?
  • What can I infer?

You should also adjust your message to the context of the situation.

  • Social Context — the norms, values, laws and other restrictions of a society to communicate within a specific limit. Examples include greeting people when meetings, thanking, apologizing, etc.
  • Cultural Context — the lifestyle and identity of a person, such as their caste, class, race, ethnicity, gender, etc.
  • Relational Context — this relates to relationship history and manners. You talk with an old friend differently than you would a stranger.

Communication helps you manage your relationships. Relationships develop, evolve, are maintained and deteriorate through communication. Through self-disclosure, we reveal information about ourselves that others are unlikely to discover on their own. Some guidelines to keep in mind when self-disclosing information with others:

  • Share what is appropriate to the relationship.
  • Match how much and to what extent is shared with you.
  • Before disclosing further, observe how the other person responds to your communication and what he or she does with it.
  • Pay attention to the purpose of the disclosure — disclosure is meant to enhance the quality of relationships.

Communication is more than words.

Listening is not the same thing as hearing. Hearing is passive; listening is an active process that involves being mindful, physically receiving a message, selecting and organizing material, interpreting and responding.

The best way to understand people is to listen to them.

  • Listening helps us confirm others.
  • Listening helps us understand.
  • Listening helps us learn.
  • Listening promotes civic engagement.
  • Listening helps promote social justice.

Effective communicators are aware of and attempt to minimize obstacles to listening.

Adapt your listening to your communication goals.

  • Be mindful — choose to pay attention.
  • Minimize distractions (these can be external or internal)
  • Ask questions — clarify or elaborate
  • Suspend judgment and don’t evaluate
  • Try to understand the other persons’ perspective
  • Express support

Body language, or nonverbal communication, is a critical part of the communication process. Studies estimate that between 65 and 93 percent of the meaning of a message is derived from nonverbal signals, so even if you don’t think you’re communicating something, there’s a good chance you actually are.

What’s more, when what you communicate nonverbally contradicts what you say verbally, people more often trust the nonverbal cues over the verbal ones.

Pay attention to others’ and your own

  • Facial expressions
  • Movement and posture
  • Gestures
  • Eye contact
  • Touch
  • Space
  • Voice

It’s not just what you say — it’s how you say it.

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