What you say is important, but so is how you say it.
Whether you’re a waiter or a CEO, an introvert or the life of the party, everyone can benefit from communicating more clearly and confidently. In fact, of all the life skills you can hone, few are more helpful and more universally applicable than good communication skills.
And while great communication skills will often be noticed and appreciated, bad communication skills always will. Much of good communication, thus, is knowing what not to do.
So take a look at this list of things people with good communication skills never do.
1. Never Look Down While Speaking
While the debate about whether looking down indicates lying rages on, the action clearly doesn’t convey anything positive — insecurity at best. Make a conscious effort to keep your eyes up during conversation, even if you find yourself lost in thought (actually, especially if you find yourself lost in thought).
2. Never Think of Your Response While “Listening” to Someone Else
Forming your response while someone else is still speaking has one obvious inherent flaw: The other person is still speaking! That means their point is still evolving, which may (really, should) affect your response. So whatever it is that something they said triggered, make a note of it quickly, and then turn your attention back to the person speaking.
3. Never Run Out of Things to Say
The best way to do this doesn’t involve a shortcut… It involves living an interesting life. Traveling, reading, learning about other cultures and viewpoints… All these things have the side benefit of supplying endless conversation fodder. And if all else fails and you can’t think of anything to share, always be ready with a follow up question about what the other person is sharing.
4. Never Interrogate
If you notice that your conversation is starting to take on a certain detective/suspect dynamic, you may be asking the wrong questions. Remember to ask questions that are open ended (as opposed to yes/no), and get at “why” rather than “what.”
5. Never Over-Nod
Are you one of those people who nods after every clause the other person says? Are you doing it right now? Did you know Santa Claus was a Martian? Gotcha! The over-nodder is making an attempt to show that he’s listening, but may in fact be implicitly agreeing with things he shouldn’t be.
6. Never Lose Their Place Mid-Story
“Wait — where was I?” You were losing the respect of the person listening to your story, that’s where! Don’t start a story or point if
You don’t recall the ending, and/or
It’s not interesting enough to at least keep yourself from getting side-tracked while telling it.
7. Never Tell a Story When a Visual Aid Could Tell It Better
However pleasant a good communicator may be to listen to, she should never to fall in love with the sound of her own voice. This is especially true when presenting a business pitch or discussing a work of art: show, don’t tell.
8. Never Sacrifice a Specific Word for a More General One
Good communication is about clarity, and word choice is a big part of that. Be precise with your language.
9. Never Exclude Someone Already in the Conversation
A good communicator is a juggler, able to simultaneously keep several conversational partners engaged, never forgetting to share around the eye contact, never getting so fixated on one person as to forget about the others.
10. Never Ignore Non-Verbal Signals
Just as you need to be mindful of your own body language, ignore others’ at your peril. An understanding of your own non-verbal cues can also inform how you perceptive you are of others. Is the person you’re speaking with looking down or away? Perhaps you ignored one of the above tips to the point of boredom…
11. Never Let Their Conversation Partner Flounder
The most expert of communicators not only master the skills that apply to their own speech, but they’re skilled enough to bail out someone who hasn’t.
12. Never Ignore Context
During a negotiation, it may make complete sense to let your opponent see you looking away, disinterested (even if it’s only feigned). Or perhaps you’re attempting to avoid discussing a touchy subject with a friend, in which case substituting a more general word for a specific one may save everyone embarrassment and discomfort.
Above all else, a good communicator knows that his message and delivery aren’t judged on some arbitrary scale (like, “Did they avoid everything on this list?”), but rather by the information and impression they convey to whoever it is they’re speaking with. To that end… know when to break the rules!