It’s that time of the season where, between year-end reviews and new year’s resolutions, we’re thinking a lot (at Whole Whale, at least) about what we can do better in 2018. And in the nonprofit and social impact sectors, keeping our communication skills on point — like A/B testing — is an ongoing optimization process.
Whether you’re looking for a new professional adventure in 2018 and want to ace your cover letter and interview, or you’re simply hoping to become an even more skilled communicator in your current workplace, here are 5 skills to consider honing in the new year.
Surprise! Listening is perhaps the most important communications skill you can have (a fact made even more apparent in this past year). Rather than listening with 50% of your attention on the speaker and the other 50% on what you’ll say in response, try to give your full attention to the speaker with your full attention. If that feels like a bit much, especially in one-on-one conversations where our tendency is to lean forward, try this trick: Keep some of your awareness in your lower back and lean that part of your body away from the speaker. This will make sure you are engaged, but not literally hanging on every word.
2. Body Language
Speaking of the body, there are a number of ways we communicate in person. Are your arms crossed? That’s a classic sign of defensiveness (even if you’re simply chilly). During a presentation or one-on-one, check in with yourself every 20 minutes or so. How is your spine? Are you hunched, or sitting up straight? Are your arms at your side, folded in your lap, crossed, or propping up your head? Are you smiling or have you scrunched up into resting scowl-face? Are you maintaining eye contact or are your eyes darting around out of nervousness?
Pro-tip with eye contact: If it feels too intense to stare your conversation partner directly in the eye (which can get very Hannibal Lecter very quickly), look at the bridge of their nose. You’re still maintaining eye contact, minus the staredown.
As Marshall McLuhan put it, the medium is the message. This means that it’s not just what you’re communicating, but how you’re communicating it. Ever notice how your tone can be easily misinterpreted via email or text? Sometimes picking up the phone or meeting in person is not only easier, it’s better for conveying the full impact of your communication. And we could all use fewer emails in 2018, right? Conversely, if you’re about to call a colleague with a full verbal data-dump, perhaps consider putting that all down in writing for easier digestion. (Hint: If you’re sending data from Google Analytics, you can set that up as a dashboard.)
4. Yes, And
This comes out of improv theater and is one of our favorite mottos (we use it at staff retreat and have spotted it in some of our favorite books): “Yes, and” connotes buying in and building up. If you were improvising a scene and said “I’m a turtle!”, you wouldn’t want your scene partner to respond, “No, you’re a puppy!” Likewise, no one really likes hearing their idea isn’t going to work or isn’t any good. Even if you think it’s impossible to build an Auntie Anne’s pretzel franchise on Mars, try responding to your coworker’s suggestion with “Yes, and we could also build one down the street.”
5. Emotional Communication
Here’s the right way to be emotional: Any one of these elements could be its own item on a list of communication skills, but for the sake of brevity, let’s look at these as all facets of one whole: Empathy, compassion, warmth, confidence, and respect.
Consider, for instance, giving feedback: Being able to speak with respect and warmth will strike the right tone. Then, let’s layer in some classic advice from Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and “omit needless words”: Be concise and clear with whatever you’re saying — especially feedback — to avoid getting caught in a verbal cul-de-sac. We recommend a process of stating the situation, the behavior that needs to be addressed, and then the impact of that behavior (SBI, for short). Especially in a feedback environment, have empathy for whoever you’re speaking with,. Chances are whatever we’re saying, we’ve been on the receiving end of those same words once before.
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What communication skill are you looking to hone in 2018? Tweet it to us @WholeWhale!