Building Bridges: 7 Ways To Improve your Communication Style

Building Bridges

In this age of instant communication, everyone seems to be in such a rush to speak what’s on their mind that we forget to focus on truly communicating to others in a shared way, which implies to be open to the information coming from the minds of others.

How you communicate is a strong indicator of what type of person you are, how you view yourself and what types of skills you have in terms of leadership and management. To communicate properly is crucial in the frenzy of our days and to do it effectively, the key is to be able to listen. If one takes the example of the greatest leaders, one realises how they are great communicators that transmit charisma and make the others feel they are being heard and paid attention to.

To be a great communicator is different from being a good talker. A skilful talker tends to just focus on enunciation, vocabulary, presence, delivery, grammar, syntax which means that her or his emphasis is centered on herself or himself and what she or he has to say.  As a communicator the focus shifts from yourself to the relationship to the other. When you are communicating you are not speaking about you, your opinions, your standpoints or your personal subjective circumstances. You are rather focusing on the inter-subjective relationship. The great communicator understands other people´s concerns, and adds value to the world of others by meeting common needs.

To be a great communicator, one needs to develop an intense external awareness that enables the communicator to not just muddle through her or his interactions with others. Are you self-aware of your communication style? You can make a test: Are you able to “see” your language when you speak ? Can you “look” from above, silently observing the types of words you use and your emotional tone, sensing your facial expressions, and the emotions you feel in your body? Do you truly listen to what others have to say, when you are communicating? Or are you more focused in winning the conversation, by stating the last word?

How to communicate in a better way?  First of all you have to realise that you want to change your communication style. To think that:  “Well, that’s just me.  I can’t change how I speak or behave – that’s my personality and communicating style” is not necessary or even affordable anymore, with so many information and resources available to everyone. You can indeed improve your communication style and approach, and make your conversations more effective and successful, which will empower you and others.

Some great strategies to truly communicate in a proper way are:

1. Build bridges by having conversations:

The greatest form of discourse takes place within a conversation and not a lecture or a monologue. To repeat yourself so you broadcast your message ad nauseam will not work, as people will just stop listening to you.  The key is to be able to engage in a meaningful conversation where you hear what the other one has to say, and as such you not only share views but you build bridges. Seth Godin offers us valuable suggestion when saying: “I learned that a long walk and calm conversation are an incredible combination if you want to build a bridge”.

2. Focus on empathy, authenticity and transparency:

Empathetic communicators display a level of authenticity and transparency. Like the great leaders they  transmit a strong personal charisma.  To use “I” sentences is always a useful resource, as these are in touch with your own feelings, and prevent you from allocating the responsibility of what you feel on the shoulders of others.

Frankness should be communicated with empathy & caring, and a willingness to understand the point of view of others.

3. What is your contribution ? 

When you are communicating with someone else if you make an effort on wholeheartedly contributing to what is being discussed, you move from just giving your opinions, into being willing to share these and construct something in common. The prize will be that you have accomplished the goal of truly communicating. What seems on a first hand counter-intuitive is actually what works: if you intensely focus on the other party’s wants, needs & desires, you’ll learn and achieve far more than you ever would by focusing on your own agenda.

4. Be open to dissenting opinions:

Why is it that so many of us are fearful of opposing views, when in a discussion? Why not trying to be genuinely curious and interested on what the other one has to say? By focusing in the process of communication, rather than in the outcome, the level of interaction becomes more holistic. What one learns is not only about the matters discussed but also about what both you and the other thinks and feels, how he or she sees the world and how you speak and understand each other.

A leader will benefit tremendously from seeking out to understand those who hold dissenting opinions and opposing positions. The focus  should be put on understanding and truly empathising with what’s on the other ones mind while exchanging ideas.

5. Be self-aware: read between the lines:

Great communicators are able to read between the lines, because they are very self aware of the whole range of verbal and non verbal messages given in any communication. They have the mysterious capacity of understanding what is not clearly said, witnessed, or heard, but transmitted via body language and other subtle ways.

6. When you speak, know what you’re talking about:

Be sure that you know the subject about which you are talking about, or if not, be bold enough to recognize that you don’t possess subject matter expertise. As you probably have already noticed, the “fake it until you make it” days have long since passed, and one should avoid to be a smooth talker who concentrates on form over substance.

A great communicator adds value to any situation or topic, even if that value is an example of humbleness and a willingness to learn, when realizing lack of expertise in the subject matter. Good communicators focus both on the content and context of their messaging: “how” and “what” they speak about.

7. When things go wrong:

Sometimes, all your expertise, empathy, clarity, etc. don’t have the desired effect. How to prevent a message from going bad, which might happen, once in a while? First of all one should never forget that the first goal of a successful interaction is to build a bridge with the ones you are communicating with. As such, be ready to have a Plan B, so you can quickly change the tone on the fly, and regain the connectivity to the ones  you are speaking with. Some  strategies might be to use humor, stories, analogies, great questions, or any relevant data. Once in a while,  you can also make brave statements, that should be used in a wise way.

Great communicators are able to speak to others in an authentic and empathic way, that places the focus on the process of interaction, and on the engagement of the opinion of others. The ultimate goal of communication is to be able to help others by meeting their needs, understanding their concerns, and adding value to their world, by being aware that their world is ultimately your world as well.