Key Features Of A Communication Skills Training Program

Key Features Of A Communication Skills Training Program

According to former US president, Dwight D. Eisenhower:

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else do what you want done because they want to do it.”

According to the late president and war hero, leaders have the requisite skills to convince others to realize their vision and help them acquire it. This is not possible without really good communication skills. 

However, such skills are not always inherent to our personalities (except for a lucky few); rather, they have to be developed over a period of time though training and experience. Some key aspects of a communication skills training program include:

Listen Well

The first and foremost necessity for the development of good communications skills is to listen, and listen well. That is with attention, not just to your supervisors and customers, but also your subordinates too. This is because till you listen and understand, you cannot be in a position to respond adequately. A communication skills training program would make you a better listener overall.

Do Not be ‘Me First’

This is another aspect of communication skills training. If you are concerned with only talking about yourself, the other person’s hopes and aspirations would become irrelevant and lead to poor communication between the two. This also applies to audiences with multiple participants.

Delivering Monologues

Many people start a speech and simply drone on and on. Do not be monotonous; take breaks, even short ones lasting a few seconds, to give a chance to the audience to step in and say something

Focus on the Topic under Discussion

It is easy to lose focus during a conversation and let it meander on its own. But such conversations rarely ever give any productive results and on the contrary losing focus may mean many important aspects of the discussion may be lost.  

Take Feedback

If the other person is not responding or giving monosyllabic answers, that means you have already lost him or her and as such, the communication is being wasted.

The Value of Empathy

Being empathetic is arguably one of the most important points to considering when it comes to communication skills training. If ‘Y’ is telling you about an incident that may have occurred in her life, that is not a signal for you to start reciting a similar incident from your own life experiences.Not only would it demotivate the speaker, but it would make you seem self-centered and as such, would create a barrier to your interpersonal communication.

Say No to Frequent Interruptions

A good communication skills training program always emphasizes on the value of not interrupting the speaker. Interruptions show how little you value the other person’s opinion, and may often be taken as a type of insult. In fact, frequent interrupters end up antagonizing the person/persons they are conversing with due to this markedly irritating habit.

Improve Communication Skills - 3 Ways to REALLY Listen

Photo of a person cupping their hand behind their ear to hear better

Effective one-way communication is difficult enough.  Effective two-way can be a real challenge.  

Truly listening is an art. It is more than half, by far, of effective communication. Until you really understand what a person thinks, feels, wants or needs, you cannot provide true companionship, empathy or solutions.

Communications skills training experts divide the skill of listening into three parts. Practice listening all three ways at once to improve as a listener:
  1. Listen with your body
    Use body language communication skills to show you truly value and hear what the other person is saying. This means turning toward them, making eye contact and eliminating distractions. Put your smart phone down, turn off your screen, and shut out noise from another room. Be deliberate about these steps. Your nonverbal message is that you want to listen because you care about the person and what they are saying.

  2. Listen with your head
    Next, you must pay close attention and add to the conversation with understanding. Keep your mind on track by mentally summarizing their main points. Consciously follow their thinking and then probe for better understanding. Ask questions where you need more information. Confirm your understanding with phrases such as, “I heard you say…., is that accurate?” 

  3. Listen with your heart
    Communications skills training focuses not only on the words, but the music.  Try to get a sense of the point of the conversation. Does the other person want your approval or corroboration? Are they testing a new idea? Do they need something from you? Are they looking for emotional support? Once you understand the purpose of the communication, you can respond appropriately. The clues will come through the other’s body language, their tone of voice, and the words they use to respond to your questions.

Integrate the 3 communications skills aspects of listening—body, head and heart—to become a person who REALLY listens. 

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Inaccurate Assumptions Can Ruin the Best Communication Skills

A cartoon chemist is pictured after his experiment back-fired

Communication skills training teaches us about the danger of assuming we know what another person is thinking. Class participants learn about how to listen better and how to reflect back to check that they have heard correctly. But it would help to understand why good listening is so difficult and yet so important to effective communication.

Have you heard of the term “mentalizing”? It is a form of understanding and interpreting others’ behavior in terms of our own beliefs, feelings, needs and goals.  We are always, and quite naturally, trying to figure out why a person is acting a certain way. Mentalizing involves assumptions that may or may not be true and may or may not backfire. And this can happen in our personal as well as our professional communications.

In a recent communication skills training program, participants imagined meeting a friend for lunch who said they “love your new red coat.” Some participants could not just accept the compliment and move on. No, they could not help themselves from wondering why the friend would say such a thing…are they envious, honest, or flattering with an ulterior motive? They also discussed a situation at work where a manager asks how much time it took to complete a report. Some wondered if the manager felt it took too long or too short or if it was done well or poorly. 

It is natural to try to imagine the motivations behind what a person says or does. But very often, we are wrong. And it’s all because of our false assumptions. Here, based upon  communication skills training research, is how to listen better by reducing our mentalizing and thus avoiding inaccuracies that lead us astray and hamper effective communication:

  1. Try to start with a clean slate.
    Your assumptions about people are closely connected to your feelings for them. See if you can erase those feelings and get closer to a more rational approach to the interaction. Think through what you assume are their motivations and their goals. Are you sure this is something you can support with evidence?
  2. Get rid of the self-talk.
    Understanding that mentalizing relies upon the way you feel about yourself as well as how you feel about others, try to eliminate the internal self-evaluation. If you have negative self-talk, you are likely to project that attitude on others. 
  3. Get the facts.
    Once you have achieved a relatively neutral state, try to find out what they truly want and what actually motivates them in the conversation.  Ask questions from a perspective of really trying to understand where they are coming from.

These communication skills training tips will help you reach a higher level of communication and influence based more on rationality than gut feel. 

To Have the Difficult Conversation…or Not

a man is weighing Option A against Option B

We have multiple communication skills training programs on how to have difficult conversations. They all revolve around being direct but empathetic, objective but understanding, and being ready to ask questions and listen well. Sometimes, however, a difficult conversation is better put aside…at least for the time being.

When is it better to delay a difficult conversation? Here are some of the reasons from communications skills training experts why you might not want to initiate a difficult conversation right away:

  • Emotions.You are too emotionally involved. For example, it would be better to postpone the discussion if you are upset, defensive, overwhelmed, angry, frustrated, ashamed, disgusted or obsessed. Settle down and wait until you can talk without losing your temper or truly listening. You need to be able to solve the problem, not add to it.

  • Learning.There is little to be achieved because the problem will likely take care of itself. Sometimes, rather than point out a mistake, it is better to let the employee discover it on their own, recognize natural consequences and take the steps to resolve the situation without your intervention. Think of it as providing a valuable learning experience.

  • Perspective.Your perspective is jaded.  Think about your relationship with this employee. Are you apt to judge more for what they do wrong than what they do right? Do you really want to support this employee’s growth or are you more interested in being right again? Are you ready to ask the questions that could help the employee learn?  And will you have the patience to listen carefully and thoughtfully to their answers?

  • Timing.The timing is not right. Difficult conversations need to be scheduled when there is some guarantee of privacy and time to reach a satisfactory conclusion. If the team is working toward a deadline and you’re needed to solve one crisis after another, you won’t have the time or focus to handle the conversation in a meaningful way. Or if your employee has to leave shortly because they need to pick up a child at day care, don’t try to rush it. 

In the cases above, it is better not to have the difficult conversation. It is better to wait so that when you do talk together, your message is delivered in a positive and helpful way and you can get the desired results.

Communication: When It Is Best To Meet Face-to-Face

Cartoon men are trying to communicate from different mountain tops with a megaphone, smoke signals, yelling, etc.

Technology is great. We now have many options for communication from smart phones to instant messaging to video conferences. But what have we lost when we are not communicating face-to-face and when should this be the preferred mode of interaction?

An important part of communications skills training is learning when meeting in person matters to the outcome, and when it’s OK to communicate by phone or via email. Understanding our physical and emotional reactions when we meet in person can help inform our choices about how we set up business meetings…on site or virtual. 

Here is what the scientists have to say about what goes on in our brains when we meet face-to-face. 

  • You can interpret the non-verbal messages.  A lot of what one person communicates to another is accomplished non-verbally…in body language and facial expressions. These can be missed if you’re talking on the phone. If you have some doubts about the sincerity of the person you are dealing with, you might learn a lot more about their feelings if you are in the same room.
  • The simple act of touching one another with a handshake greeting inspires trust. There is a part of the brain associated with rewards that lights up. When there is trust, we know that communication is enhanced…people just work together and understand one another better. If trust is a critical part of what you need for successful communication, say  in a job interview or initial sales meeting, then do your best to plan an in-person session.
  • You can convey emotion.  Though some excitement can be expressed over the phone with the words and tone you use, emotion is far more convincing when you are face-to-face. The receiver is apt to reflect the emotions of the giver. It is human nature. So when you want to encourage really positive feelings around something you care passionately about, meet in person.
  • Face-to-face meetings show you care about the relationship. The effort to schedule time to meet in person indicates how much you value the person or the topic. When it is important, do your best to meet face-to-face. All your senses will be engaged and you will notice and remember far more (they will too) than if you were just listening or talking from the familiarity of your own office.

Technology has increased the ways we can connect. But there are times when meeting virtually is a poor substitute for meeting in the old-fashioned  way…face-to-face.

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5 Steps to Communicate and Build an Aligned Culture

5 puzzles pieces are numbered to indicate 5 action steps

Sure, organizational culture can just evolve organically. But is there any guarantee that the culture that evolves is the culture you want or that can help your organization perform and succeed long-term? 

Corporate cultures that help to propel a business and talent strategy forward are best built purposefully and intentionally by leaders who understand what it will take for the business strategy and the workforce to thrive. Effective leaders build a high performing and aligned organizational culture through a system of strategic alignment, clear communication, accountability, transparency and positive reinforcement. The process begins by relying upon what we all learned in basic communication skills training: clear, consistent messaging that takes into account the preferred communication style of your audience.

Step One: Define the desired corporate culture and why it’s important.
Your corporate culture should fit with, support and create leverage for your business and talent strategies. Our organizational alignment research shows that when a business strategy and an organizational culture are aligned, along with being in sync with your talent, you outperform your peers in terms of revenue by 58%, profit by 72% and employee engagement 16.8-to-1.  Explain to your employees why your corporate culture matters to you, them and the business. It is the way you behave and how you get things done, day in and day out. Explain what it would look like in your organization. Do you run a tight ship? Then your dress code and communications should reflect a more formal structure. Do you want a company culture that is more relaxed and innovative? Then you would be more comfortable with flexible hours and casual dress. 

Step Two: Set expectations.
Be clear about what cultural attributes you are looking for in your employees. How do you expect people to work together? Which matters more in your environment, individual contribution or team collaboration? Do you value an open style of communication or more careful, guarded conversations? Employees need to understand your expectations so they have a standard to uphold and to reach.

Step Three: Integrate culture throughout the company.
Culture needs to be supported by company practices, processes, procedures and systems. Interviewers need to hire for cultural fit. Reward systems need to value the culture you seek. Make sure performance reviews reinforce the desired behaviors. Do you want to encourage teamwork for instance? Then don’t pit one employee’s accomplishments against another’s.

Step Four: Evaluate and measure.
Set up a measurement system that holds leaders and workers accountable for incorporating culturally-reinforcing behaviors into their everyday performance. There should be a timely, fair, accurate and transparent feedback loop that encourages behaviors that support the culture and discourages behaviors that don’t.

Step Five: Recognize and reward culture ambassadors.
There will be some standouts who fully embody the culture. Recognize and praise them for living the culture and hold them up as examples for others to emulate.

Communicate your corporate culture with your words (clear, compelling, consistent, simple to understand) and your actions. Employees look to you as their leader. When you model the behaviors you want, they will follow.

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Communication Skills: The Under-rated Art of Really Listening

a cartoon man is yelling through a megaphone at a man who has earphones on and can't hear

Yes, really listening is an art. It is all about being invested in truly understanding what your speaker is trying to say. 

And there are so many ways NOT to do it…you can be obvious with earphones that block communication as in the illustration above or less obvious by simply not being fully present. Your thoughts are elsewhere. Either way, not truly listening is not just a bad habit; it’s rude, disrespectful and ineffective. How many of us have delivered our very best lecture with our teenager looking right at us only to discover that they did not hear or process a word? You feel frustrated and resentful.
In a business setting, poor listening can have serious consequences from entirely misunderstanding a boss’ request to undermining the trust of a co-worker. 

Part of the reason listening is difficult is that it requires concentration and putting the other person first. To listen well, you need to be other-center-focused and undistracted. Your thoughts must be entirely directed toward truly hearing and understanding the speaker. Good listening, as we point out regularly in our communication skills training, is a skill that can make you a more effective teammate and a more influential leader. Why? Because it shows that you care.

Here are two basic communication skills tips on how you can become a better listener:

  1. Focus on what the speaker is saying, not on what you will say next.Too often in conversations or meetings, our mind is concerned with how we will reply or add to the discussion rather than really understanding what is being said. We can miss important facts and feelings, embarrass ourselves by asking a question that has already been addressed, or discount the emotion behind the speaker’s remarks.
  2. Repeat back what you heard to check for understanding and to train yourself in better listening habits.Don’t overuse this technique or it can quickly become very annoying to others. But used judiciously, it can help you listen more carefully so you can summarize what you heard. Additionally, it gives you the listener a chance to make sure you understood accurately and gives the speaker a chance to clarify or correct a point.

Better listening can show you respect the speaker while inspiring trust. Observe the golden rule…listen to others as you would want them to listen to you.

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