Ever found yourself in a conversation with someone and you’re just… not getting each other? Like two ships passing in the night, you keep missing each other’s point. And the more you try to clarify, the more awkward it becomes.
It’s happened to everyone, whether face-to-face, via email, or on a chat app. The worst-case scenario is it becomes a full-blown communication breakdown, or the job isn’t done correctly. At best, it’ll just be a little long-winded and frustrating.
Being able to express yourself clearly and effectively is a skill for work and for life. Let’s take a look at why good communication is so important, as well as run through some helpful tips, tricks, and techniques.
What is clear communication?
Clear communication is the ability to convey a message so that your audience understands it. Being able to do this not only helps you get what you want — it also makes things easier for the listener.
Whether you’re talking one-on-one or to a group, to your customers or your boss, there are core rules that apply to every situation. The most important of which is the why. Why are you speaking (or writing) in the first place?
Always know what you want to say…
It sounds obvious, but often, the core meaning of our message is lost or overlooked. Just think about all the pointless meetings you’ve attended (and should have canceled). Or, on the flip-side, consider the watercooler chats that have sparked great workplace camaraderie. This just goes to show how the ‘why’ isn’t always obvious.
Here are two things to bear in mind:
- As a speaker/message-giver, ask yourself ‘what am I trying to accomplish?’
- As a listener, ask yourself ‘where is this conversation happening?’ And if the answer isn’t clear, ask probing questions to guide things towards the why.
Knowing why a conversation is happening is the best way to avoid confusing digressions and move toward an outcome in the most straightforward way possible.
What are the 7 Cs of communication?
Know exactly what it is you want to communicate. If you’re not sure, your audeicne won’t be either. Taking the time to organize your thoughts can help you here: Distill your message down to one core point per sentence (too many can be distracting or confusing) and make sure your meaning is unambiguous. Leave no room for misinterpretation. At the end of each point, consider adding a call to action, so those reading it know exactly what they should do next.
Ever sat in a meeting that went on a bit too long and found your attention wandering? The problem’s (probably) not your short attention span, but actually the speaker’s inability to be concise. Whether you’re speaking via your voice or the written word, keep your message to the point.
- Remove instances where you repeat the point, but in a different way. If your listeners need further clarification, they’ll ask. Or you can ask them if they need it, then supply.
- Chop filler words. These are words or phrases that don’t add anything concrete. When you’re talking, keep ‘umm,’ ‘like,’ ‘basically,’ and ‘you know’ to a minimum. When you’re writing, shun business jargon and remove as many instances of ‘very’ as you can.
- In a similar vein, chop out clichés. They don’t add anything and make you sound less credible.
- Keep your sentences short and your words simple, whether speaking or in writing. Long sentences are difficult to process while using lesser-known words often obscures meaning and alienates a portion of your audience.
3. Concrete (and Credible)
When you remove filler words and know what it is you want to say, your message is concrete. To further this, add facts, useful details, and things like case studies and examples to back up your point.
You can also make your language itself more concrete. Rather than saying ‘break facilities,’ just say ‘kitchen,’ or ‘coffee machine.’ Instead of saying ‘leverage,’ just say ‘use.’ The more specific you can be, the more clear you’ll sound.
Correctness can mean two things.
- It’s correct for your audience. By this, we mean it’s relevant to their needs and goals. It’s pitched at just the right level (for example, you’re not confusing people with overly-technical terms, or, conversely, you’re not over-simplifying when your audience is already expert-level).
- It’s error-free. Dates, names, terms, and details are all double-checked and correct. And it’s free from distracting typos and grammatical errors.
Coherency means your message is logical and each point works together as a whole. In writing and in speaking, this means everything you say needs to be connected back to a logical central point.
The flow of each topic from the next also needs to be logical: Avoid jumping around, or, if you think there’s too big of a leap from one point to the next, add more detail between the two. Don’t be afraid to trial-run your work past someone else for a second opinion. You can also try a handy technique known as reverse outlining, which can help you fine-tune flow and distill complex ideas into clear statements. It’s often used for essay-writing, but you can apply it to any long-form message.
Your audience should know the full picture once they’re reached the end. If you want them to do something, include a straightforward call to action at the end of your message — even if it’s as simple as ‘let me know if you have any more questions.’
You should also give your audience the opportunity to contact you, or those discussed easily. Add contact details, times, dates, locations, and other relevant information. Make it as easy as possible.
Aggressive communication is never productive. If we think someone’s being rude or unfair, we tend to become defensive, so bear that in mind when delivering your message. Keep communication friendly, open, and transparent, and keep your emotions in check, avoiding aggression, as well as anything that could be misconstrued as passive-aggressive. A good way to do this is to constantly ask yourself what it is your audience wants and needs, as well as how they want to be spoken to.
- Be personable: Keep your tone friendly and listen as much as you talk.
- Avoid weasel words: These are phrases that disguise unpleasant facts. They’re often dehumanizing, and quite frankly, don’t fool anyone. Instead, be honest. If there’s an unpleasant job to do, admit it. Or if redundancies are about to happen, or have happened, address it head-on. People will respect you for it.
- Be honest: In additional to avoiding weasel words and facing up to difficult truths, be honest in your apologies. Fake apologies are when someone feels obliged to say sorry, but they don’t really mean it. They’re usually phrased something like “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry you were offended.” This has the opposite effect of an apology and actually makes the recipient feel as though the situation was their fault. A real apology should be an admission of fault, followed by steps for making amends.
- Use ‘I’ when you want to give non-confrontational feedback: Phrases such as ‘what do you mean,’ and ‘why did you miss the deadline’ can sound aggressive. Instead, say ‘I don’t understand,’ or ‘I really needed the work by this deadline because…’
Communication techniques: A checklist
- Prepare: Do you know what you want to say, and why?
- Are you using the right channel? In-person is best for sensitive or emotional topics (good and bad); chat apps are good for casual conversations and notes that don’t require a response, like ‘thanks’ and ‘great work.’ Email is good for formal confirmation and documentation, as well as information-rich messages.
- Choose your words: Whether writing or speaking, fine-tune your pitch, so it’s clear, concise, and — well, you know the rest…
- Reinforce your message: Words make up a small part of communication (around 7%). Tone of voice and body language all come into play, so make sure you’re speaking clearly and your tone is friendly. When it comes to talking via text, things like gif and emojis can add clarity (although you may want to keep these to colleagues rather than clients).
- Add context and recap: Remember the old adage: First tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you have told them. Giving a complex message context and a recap is a simple technique for preparing people for what’s to come while increasing understanding once it’s been delivered. And, when it comes to clear communication, the proof is in the pudding: positive feedback is a sure sign your message has come through loud and clear.