The desire “I want to communicate better” is quite on the same level as “I want to learn more about the universe” or “I want to know more about the earth”. All of them refer to a vast domain, without mentioning specifically which part of that domain is the target. The communication is a system as complex as the ones exemplified above. It implies permanently information transactions and it is part, in various types, of the entire human existence.
I don’t intend to synthetize the classification of communication types. I will mention a few, only to underline the complexity: public speaking, written / verbal / non-verbal / behavioral / pathological / group / public / informal / official / emotional communication. I stop here as I don’t want to discourage anyone who would like to improve his / her communication skills. The list is far from complete and, for each type of communication, there is at least one book to detail it.
It can be frustrating or confusing for someone to find the correct steps in improving the communication skills. The quantity of information you can find is almost endless, sometimes faulty, sometimes too extended to be sure the chosen steps are proper. In case you ask a specialist, there 2 options. You either receive some recommendations which are most probably un-adequate, as they refer to something else than your need. Or you end up in a discussion that you find too long and you don’t want it (and which starts with the above explanations). I can say, from my personal experience, that most would like to find / receive 2-3 “fantastic” ideas that would solve their issue almost over-night (unrealistic desire in most cases).
First, I would like to offer some suggestions of questions that one needs to clarify before any step:
- What exactly you don’t communicate well enough? Who told you that? In which situations? How many times you received similar feedbacks from various persons? What do you think about those feedbacks? It helps in identifying the right type of communication you need to improve. The more specific you make it, the higher the chances are to find the most concrete and efficient ways to improve it. Example: you want to improve your abilities to explain. Who told you that your explanations are not good? Why? Would you like to receive explanations in the same manner you offer them? What exactly creates issues: the information structure, the quantity, the details, the language you use?
- What you don’t like about yourself and you want to change? Do you want to improve your communications because you are tired of others’ suggestions or because you decided to make some changes? Sometimes we engage in some actions only declaratively (maybe forced by a context), with no inner desire for change. It helps in transforming an external pressure into a personal objective. The process becomes more pleasant and the motivation increases. Example: you are told that you need to improve your skills when having an argument. Do you agree? What bothers the others? Do you like yourself when having an argument with someone? Do you agree with the results you have? Would you like to do something differently? What?
- Why do you want to improve? What are the benefits you expect? When will you enjoy the benefits? It helps both in determining the motivation behind the efforts and in following the process (setting realistic benefits is a good metric to follow the evolution of improvements). Example: you decide to learn to communicate better with difficult personalities. Which are the difficult personalities? What makes them difficult for you? When do you interact and what do you want to obtain? Which aspects disturbs you and which ones you decide to tolerate? What can you do to change the results? When do you expect changes to appear and which ones?
I’ve noticed, in my experience, that there is an exercise which helps in many situations: TO CARE FOR. Translated into actions that can be exercised, this means:
- Respect the information you transmit and the way you do it. They are yours to handle and you build with them a reality that is first yours. It helps be more aware of the impact you have on others and also to increase your self-esteem indirectly. Example: if you communicate inconstantly or aggressively, you will be part of inconstant or aggressive relations.
- Find points of interest among the information you receive (it can be the content itself, the tone of voice, grammar, anything that works for you). It helps you find (intuitively or applying a method you learned before) the best way to engage in the communication. As an example, you can become less angry and, as a reward, the other one will try harder to relate too.
- Involve yourself actively in the communication process, transforming it, as much as possible, into something you want. The communication depends equally on all involved in it. It helps you feel more in control, capable of changing what you don’t like. Example: if you didn’t find anything interesting and you are very bored (but still forced to be part of that communication), you can start putting questions so that the content gets closer to something that interests you.