Message From Your Region 7 Representatives | July 2019
4 Communication Soft Skills that are Important to Effective Communication
Soft skills differ from hard skills in that soft skills are less rooted in specific technical abilities, and more aligned with general disposition, your attitudes and your intuitions. For example a doctor is required to have many hard skills that are more technical in nature such as prescribing a medication or diagnosing a patient based on symptoms. That same provider should also be skilled in a variety of soft skills many of which focus on effective communication. However effective communication goes beyond what is found in Patient care. Here are 4 communication soft skills that can help you grow in any capacity or profession.
Being empathetic toward a person is different than being sympathetic toward a person. If you are sympathetic then you acknowledge the feeling of a person and try to provide support for those feelings. Unfortunately, by doing this you acknowledge without necessarily understanding their feelings. When you are empathetic you understand what they are feeling. This gives you an advantage when communicating because you can understand why they feel the way they do and tailor your communication accordingly. You don’t have to agree to understand but understanding rather than acknowledging is fundamental to effective communication.
Nonverbal communication refers to gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, eye contact (or lack thereof), body language, posture, and other ways people can communicate without using language. There is an old metaphor of “it’s not what you say, but how you say it…”. We have all been in a conversation where you can tell that the person you are speaking to is not listening. Unfortunately many of us have also been the person not listening. Think of a time when a person came up to you to ask a question and you were working on something on the computer. Did you stop, look at them and answer their question or did you continue working and say the answer without breaking your gaze on the screen? Your body language (nonverbal communication) can tell just as much of a story as to what you say. It important that when communicating effectively that you address the person you are speaking to with attentiveness and respect. If it looks like they may not understand what you are trying to communicate, ask follow up questions so both parties leave the conversation with the same understanding.
Active listening is the ultimate accumulation of skills wrapped into what seems like one of the simplest things to do but it is probably the hardest skill to execute. But active listening can be broken into 5 parts:
- 1: Pay attention. It is important to create a comfort zone and allow time and opportunity for the other person to think and speak. Pay attention to your nonverbal communication and try to understand (empathize) where they may be coming from.
- 2: Be open minded. In order to hear, you have to have an open mind as well as ears. As the listener you need to be open to new ideas, new perspectives and new possibilities. Allow the speaker to present their view on the topic free of interruptions and judgment. You may have strong views on the topic but it is important to hold your judgment until the speaker has completed their thought process. You will have an opportunity to express your view point in time but it’s important to hear what the speaker has to say first.
- 3: Reflect. Don’t assume that you understand correctly or that the other person knows you’ve heard them. Reflecting is a way to indicate that you and your counterpart are on the same page.
- 4: Clarify. Sometimes asking clarifying question by paraphrasing key points may help you understand what is being said. Especially if you feel there is a point that seems ambiguous or unclear. Keep questions open-ended if possible this will encourage participates to expand on their ideas and promote more thoughtful responses. Summarize what you heard so that there is a mutual understanding.
- 5: Share. Active listening is about listening rather than being heard. As you gain a clearer understanding of the other person’s perspective, you can then introduce your feelings, suggestions and ideas. But keep in mind that active listening should be a give and take, you must constantly apply these concepts through the whole conversation.
Unfortunately sometimes in communication there is a point that you have to come to an agreed upon course of action that requires some give and take from both parties. By definition you are seeking conflict to work towards an agreement. You need to present your facts and appeal to the other person to meet an agreement. You may need to seek an alternative that meets both parties’ needs. The end goal should be something that both parties can agree upon.
Effective communication is a combination of many skills applied to make sure all parties are heard and understand what is needed. Communication is critical to all aspects of our personal and professional lives and can be the difference between success and failure. These skills are paramount in individual and organizational success.
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