Communication skills are the key to developing (and keeping) friendships and to building a strong social support network. They also help you take care of your own needs, while being respectful of the needs of others. People aren’t born with good communication skills; like any other skill, they are learned through trial and error and repeated practice. So, if you’re thinking of improving your social skills, we’ve got everything you need to know!
3 areas of communication that you may want to practice are:
- Non-verbal communication
- Conversation skills
A large part of what we communicate to each other is nonverbal. What you say to people with your eyes or your body language is just as powerful as what you say with words. However, your body language and tone of voice does communicate powerful messages to others about your:
- Emotional state (e.g. impatience, fear)
- Attitude towards the listener (e.g. submissiveness, contempt)
- Knowledge of the topic
- Honesty (do you have a secret agenda?)
So, if you are avoiding eye contact, standing far away from others, and speaking quietly, you are likely communicating, “Stay away from me!” or “Don’t talk to me!” Chances are, this is not the message that you want to send.
It is normal to struggle a bit when you are trying to make small talk, because it is not always easy to think of things to say. To combat this, try staying up to date with current affairs that might be of interest to those around you. Have a few topics in your back pocket that you can use to get the conversation going, and use what you know to build on the things that you might have in common with others. Once you’ve established some common ground, the conversation will naturally flow.
Assertive communication is the honest expression of one’s own needs, wants and feelings, while respecting those of the other person. When you communicate assertively, your manner is non-threatening and non-judgmental, and you take responsibility for your own actions.
Assertiveness skills can be difficult to learn, especially since being assertive can mean holding yourself back from the way you would normally do things. For example, you may be afraid of conflict, always go along with the crowd, and avoid offering your opinions. As a result, you may have developed a passive communication style. Alternatively, you may aim to control and dominate others and have developed an aggressive communication style.
However, when improving your social skills, an assertive communication style brings many benefits. For example, it can help you to relate to others more genuinely.
Barriers improving social skills – Myths about Assertiveness
MYTH #1: ASSERTIVENESS MEANS GETTING YOUR OWN WAY ALL THE TIME
This is not true. Being assertive means expressing your point of view and communicating honestly with others. Often, you may not get “your own way” when you are assertively giving your opinion. But telling others how you feel and trying to work out a compromise shows respect for both yourself and others.
MYTH #2: BEING ASSERTIVE MEANS BEING SELFISH
False! Just because you express your opinions and your preferences does not mean that other people are forced to go along with you. If you express yourself assertively (not aggressively) then you make room for others. You can also be assertive on behalf of someone else (e.g. I would like Susan to choose the restaurant this week).
MYTH #3: PASSIVITY IS THE WAY TO BE LOVED
Nope! Being passive means always agreeing with others, always allowing them to get their own way, giving into their wishes, and making no demands or requests of your own. Behaving this way is no guarantee that others will like or admire you. In fact, they may perceive you as dull and feel frustrated that they can’t really get to know you.
MYTH #4: IT’S IMPOLITE TO DISAGREE
This is not true! Although there are some situations where we don’t give our honest opinion (e.g. most people say how beautiful a friend looks in her wedding dress, or we only say positive things on the first day of a new job). Much of the time, however, other people will be interested in what you think. Think how you would feel if everyone always agreed with you.
MYTH #5: I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING I AM ASKED TO DO
False. A central part of being assertive is setting and keeping personal boundaries. This is difficult for many people. With our friends, we may worry that they will think we are selfish and uncaring if we don’t do everything they ask. At work, we may worry that others will think we are lazy or inefficient if we don’t do everything we are asked.
But other people cannot possibly know how busy you are, how much you dislike a particular task, or what other plans you have already made unless you tell them. Most people would feel badly to learn that you had done something for them that you really didn’t have the time for (e.g. writing a report that requires you to work all weekend) or that you really dislike doing (e.g. helping a friend move).
Being able to have effective conversations in the workplace starts with being comfortable with having conversations with those who know you best. Once you master this, the way you communicate with you colleagues, clients and customers will improve dramatically.
You can find out more about why poor communication is holding your business back, and what you can do to fix it, in our latest eGuide.