Do you find yourself scrambling for words during conversations? How often do you face an awkward silence? Do you wonder how some people manage to breeze through a conversation with ease?
You have told yourself that you have to improve your communication but you have not been able to do so. But you can change that and start today.
Common Problems of Communication:
Though people have different problems when they converse, they fall under three major buckets.
1. Thoughts not translating to words
You have good things to state in your head, but when you have to utter them as words, you find yourself scrambling and looking for a decent enough sentence. Sometimes you miss sentences, sometimes you miss words, sometimes you miss the grammar and sometimes you miss the thought itself.
Because you struggle to use the right words, you fail to convey the message with clarity. Sometimes, the wrong choice of words leads to an incorrect message altogether.
2. Words lacking impact
You want to persuade, motivate or build rapport but your words do not make enough impact. Your normal flow of words and the way you state them makes your message as bland as white bread. The sentence sounds powerful in your head but comes across as plain vanilla when spoken. You wonder, “Wait a minute, it sounded awesome in my head.”
3. Vocabulary not good enough
When a fluent speaker talks using above-average vocabulary, you fail to understand what the words mean. You know the words used weren’t that complex but you do not know what exactly they mean. Sometimes you think you know the meaning of a specific word but you aren’t sure.
10 Strategies to improve communication skills
To turn into a better communicator, you need to spend time. You will not notice changes overnight, but if you keep working step by step, you will develop significant skills. Like Dave Brailsford dominated world cycling by using the marginal gains technique, you should approach your progress as a daily improvement.
Here are some tips which help you improve as a speaker.
1. Don’t be ashamed to make mistakes
One of the biggest reasons why people struggle to speak fluently is because they feel conscious about their words. If your native language isn’t English, you prefer speaking as little as possible to avoid any mistakes. You worry about others judging you and as a result, you keep your lips sealed.
Unfortunately, you will have a hard time getting better unless you try. Without attempting to speak, you cannot improve your communication.
Expecting to improve your speech by speaking as little as possible is like trying to learn swimming without stepping into the water. You have to get wet to learn and water will seep into your nostrils when you are learning. People might turn around to look but do not let that bother you much.
I had the same insecurity when I had trouble speaking in a flow. I used to try to wrap up my sentences in quick bursts. But little by little, I stepped out of my comfort zone. During the process, I framed some terrible sentences and used the most stupid words for the context, but I got better. I am not an amazing conversationalist even today, but when I look back at how hesitant I was many years back, I feel happy to know how far I have come.
If you do not want to talk because you fear making mistakes, read no further because the rest of the tips will be of no use.
2. Embrace pauses
The biggest fear of a person with weak communication skills is a pause. The sound of silence between a sentence makes them feel like they are under the gun of judgment.
The truth is, pauses add more value to your speech when you use them right. All good speakers use pauses for the best effect. If you need an extra moment to gather your words, just pause, even if you are in between a sentence. Sometimes you might pause at awkward points but you will realize the difference between the good and bad pauses yourself.
A little silence works better than an incorrect usage of words. Also, a pause makes you appear more thoughtful. Do not fear pauses, embrace them.
3. Keep a mental count of filler words
The most common flaw in conversations is the overuse of filler words like “errr, like, umm, you know”. When you gather your thoughts to grab the right words, you feel the necessity to fill in the silence with a sound or words.
You do not have to.
As mentioned in the previous tip, pause instead of using a filler word. Now, it is easier said than done because your subconscious mind prompts you to use those words without your knowledge.
But if you pay enough attention to your words, you will notice your mistake as soon as you do it. You may not detect it quick enough to stop using the filler word, but you do have a moment where you feel, “damn, I used ‘like’ again.”
When you keep telling yourself you made the mistake, the message feeds into your subconscious. So mentally tell your brain that you messed up and your mind will learn to correct itself. Again, do not expect results overnight, but if you do this many times in a day, you will notice a significant cutback in your usage of filler words in a month.
I used tons of filler words. Like, err, umm, you know. You name it and I have had that habit of using it. Telling myself I made a mistake was one of the most powerful techniques which helped me get over them. Today I feel so comfortable using a pause instead of a filler word and so does the listener.
4. Speak at a pace you are comfortable with
If you have trouble speaking in a flow, you tend to rush through the sentences because of insecurity. But speaking at a faster pace makes it all the more difficult for you to gather the right words.
Try to calm down and slow down your pace. You will feel your brain undergoing stress when you speak slower than your usual talking speed, but it will get better.
I had a habit of speaking fast no matter what language it is. Slowing that down took a toll on my brain. But I kept trying to, even though it was hard. In about two weeks, I started feeling a little comfortable lowering my pace. During those weeks, I would slip back into my quick speaking habits half the time. Even then, the habit of lowering my pace half the time served as enough practice.
Even today I speak like a bullet train sometimes but my average talking speed has reduced over the years. Lowering your pace of speech will help you turn into a better speaker.
5. Keep a scoreboard
Each day rate yourself on how you did that day. Choose a scale of 1-10 and evaluate yourself. It does not matter if you do not rate accurately. Keeping a scoreboard helps you focus and work on it.
The best way to keep a scoreboard is to put up a chart on the wall and write down the daily figure. Using an excel sheet or a notepad to keep track works too.
Do not be afraid to use decimal points like 5.5, 6.3 and so on. When you maintain scores and work hard to do better than the previous week, you will improve over time.
The technique applies to learn or grow in any area and not only communication.
6. Write down what you did well
At the end of each day write down what did you do well which helped your communication. You might have attempted to talk more, you might have used a new word in your speech or you might have tried to change the tone of your voice. It does not matter how big or small the improvement is. If you put an effort to advance, write it down.
When you note down what you did well, you get a dopamine rush. The more dopamine you get from your improvement, the more you feel like going at it. The behavior turns into a routine and you cultivate strong habits that become second nature after a few weeks.
7. Write down the mistakes you did
As human beings, we are forgetful creatures. When you make a mistake, you will not always remember to correct it the next time unless the consequences were catastrophic. For example, if you used filler words such as like, umm, you know, you will keep repeating the same mistake unless you remind yourself to change.
Everyday note down what went wrong and how could you have done better. Your notes serve as a reminder for your brain. When you write down your mistakes, your brain slowly learns not to repeat the same error. You might still repeat the same misstep, but you will notice yourself overcoming your flaws.
Jotting down your mistakes is powerful. Try it for a week and know the results for yourself.
8. Make a swipe list
Writers have a habit of maintaining a list of good usage of words that they like. Learning from them, I maintain a list of good metaphors I encounter whenever I am talking to a person or reading a book. Here are some from my swipe file:
- like eating soup with a fork
- like a dog chasing cars
- like playing in a chemistry lab without reading any instructions
Likewise, you must keep a list of good words or sentences that you heard or read which you would like to use. Do not try to get into usage which is much above your skill level. For example, if you have trouble framing sentences without making a grammatical error, do not try to use metaphors or analogies. You will end up frustrated and disappointed.
Aim to make progress at a pace you can handle. Trying to go faster is like trying to run a marathon at a sprinting pace. You might gain an early lead when you take off but you will run out of steam soon after.
9. Read the book how to talk to anyone
If you have trouble with communication, you turn anxious when talking to a person. Due to that fear, you worry about the topic to talk about as well. You find yourself in between the devil and the deep blue sea where at one end you worry about your vocabulary and sentences, while on the other you worry about what to talk about. As a result, you refrain from talking and you do not get a chance to practice enough.
The book How to talk to anyone by Leil Lowndes helps you with… well, doesn’t the title tell the story? Yes, it helps you talk to anyone and hold a conversation. You will understand several tips to communicate better. You might find some easy to apply and some impossible, but the book will help every single person no matter what your level of language is at the moment.
Grab a copy now and you will not regret it. Thank me later.
10. Learn a new word every day
Do you know that the difference in vocabulary between a great communicator and an average one is 50 extra words? Because most good speakers do not use complicated words in their speech. When you hear the words of a speaker you admire, turn a close ear to his words. You will notice that you know all the words. You just have trouble using them in sentences.
To improve your bag of words, try learning a new word every day and attempt to use it in a sentence at least once. Again, do not go overboard and try to use sophisticated words like multifarious or exacerbated. People will know you are attempting something stupid.
Instead, use a simple word in your speech which you otherwise don’t. For example:
|Regular Usage||Improved Usage|
|He is clever||He is a sharp guy|
|Can you explain a little more?||Can you elaborate more?|
|I am very tired||I am totally exhausted|
If you see, none of the changes are excessive. All the alternatives are simple words but add a little more punch to the sentence.
Improving your speech will take its due course. I suggest you take a vow to spend at least three months(six months is ideal) in putting in the effort. If you expect quick results, not only will you not find them but also you will give up in no time.
Learning how to improve verbal communication skills is a journey, not a destination. I am on the journey myself and have come a long way over the years, but I don’t think I have even reached the halfway mark. Oh wait, I said the destination does not exist, didn’t I?
Come along, walk and take the journey. You will enjoy the ride.
What I am not:
What I am:
Continuously improving self-learner
Productivity/Time Management Obsessed