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Communication is complex. And it’s a critical skill we use every day in life and at work, but getting it right isn’t easy. About 72% of workers still feel they’re missing out on important information, and most employees and executives blame poor communication for workplace failures. The bottom line is telling, too–companies lose on average $62.4 million per year because of inadequate workplace communication to and between employees.

So how do we get it right? 

Effective communication is not just about what you say and how you say it–it involves many moving parts:

  • How you communicate with others
  • Your preferred conversation topics
  • How you process information
  • Your mindset towards the conversation you’re having
  • The style of message you’re going to listen to
  • The types of communication that make you feel uncomfortable
  • Your nonverbal communication including body language and eye contact

Because many things affect communication—your style and preferences as well as your receiver’s style and preferences– it’s important to develop self-awareness to enhance the way you communicate. 

Self-awareness allows you to understand your strengths, interests, stress triggers, and expectations better in order to be your very best communicative self. Here are some practical ways you can improve your communication skills and open the door to constructive dialogue in both your personal and professional relationships.

1. Build Awareness of Your Strengths

When we’re naturally good at something, it often becomes our default setting. Likewise, our strengths impact how we communicate with others, becoming our “go-to” style and what we think is the right way to communicate. However, our strengths can also become our blind spots–behavior that detracts from constructive communication because of a lack of two-way communication.

If you’re a candid leader, “telling it like it is” and delivering your thoughts in a frank and straightforward manner will more than likely come quite naturally to you. And it’s a great skill to have–after all, someone needs to lay out the facts. However, leaving your filter at home and being too blunt can also make or break a conversation with a coworker. For someone who prefers more tact, communicating in your default style can come across as rude or disrespectful, resulting in you running the risk of alienating them. In these instances, a thoughtful approach that walks the tightrope of clarity and consideration will be far more successful in making sure your message is both understood and well received.


2. Understand Your Interests

Your interests are what you like to do and the activities you naturally gravitate towards. They affect what you prefer to talk about, how you provide information to others, and how others can best communicate with you. 

Talking budgets and poring over spreadsheets with a fellow accountant is easy if number crunching is your thing. However, when you need to translate the data for your marketing teams, presenting the numbers creatively and in a visually appealing way will probably be a far more effective approach. Remember that just because you might find certain types of information interesting, others may not share that interest. Speaking the language of the recipient’s interests is much more likely to get them invested in the topic at hand.


3. Notice Your Triggers

When we’re stressed, we’re our most unproductive selves. And behavioral triggers– or when we get the opposite of what we’re expecting in terms of others’ communication styles–can quickly send us into stress mode. Speaking with a boss who’s too assertive for your liking, for instance,      will negatively impact your ability to engage in conversation effectively and meaningfully. 

You might be an incredibly flexible person who others find spontaneous, adaptable, and easy to chat with. However, when colleagues start nit-picking over the smallest details, or your team leader decides it’s “his way or the highway,” this is likely to cause a stress reaction on your part. Knowing your triggers means you’ll be better equipped to recognize and deal with them as they arise, helping to avoid miscommunication and potential conflict. 


4. Find Out Your Expectations 

We all have unspoken, underlying needs or expectations that affect how we listen when communicating. When these needs are met, we “hear” better because active listening is the type of communication we prefer to listen to, and what makes us most comfortable. “Hearing” better means we’re naturally more open to other peoples’ viewpoints and perspectives, able to pick up small nuances in meaning better, and engage in more meaningful conversations with those around us.

If you’re an energetic, fast-paced individual who prefers quick and decisive action, sitting in on a team meeting with colleagues who are more measured and considered in their approach will no doubt cause some level of frustration. While impatience might be a natural knee jerk reaction to your communication needs not being met, mindfully recognizing this will help you change your behavior and stop rushing them along–a win-win for both your personal development and your team’s success.


A Blueprint for Constructive Communication

Being a skilled communicator requires the EQ and self-awareness to know yourself inside and out. And once you do, it’s time to learn about those around you too. 

At Birkman, we unlock valuable, data-driven insights that help individuals understand their own and others’ unique perceptions of the world and how these can work for or against you. Connect with our team for more information, and read our white paper for more tips and tricks to enhance your communication skills even further. 

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