Effective communication skills are an essential part of socialization and forging meaningful connections with other people. Without them, one can easily miss important details, and misunderstandings can quickly drive a wedge between people.
You can use these skills in just about any facet of your life to build healthier friendships and relationships. Developing social and communication skills is an investment that will continue to pay dividends through the rest of your life.
It can be difficult to feel vulnerable or really connect with someone if you have problems with socialization, such as shyness, social anxiety, or depression. The good news is that these are things you can learn and practice until you get better at them.
Skills such as…
1. Focused, Active Listening
People tend to dislike feeling that they don’t have your full attention in a conversation. A simple thing to do that can put you head and shoulders above other conversationalists is to simply pay attention. Put away the phone, turn off the television, and pay active attention to the person you are conversing with. Eye contact demonstrates to your partner that you are interested in what they have to say. It shows them that they are your focus while you are engaged in conversation.
This is an important thing even after you’ve grown accustomed to a person. By not actively listening, you are non-verbally communicating to them that what they have to say is not important or meaningful to you. That is a bad thing, because if they feel like you don’t care, they are going to stop talking to you.
Not every conversation needs to be laser focused though! Just the ones where you are discussing matters of importance or getting to know one another.
2. Leave Your Worldview Behind
The great thing about meeting new people is that you get an opportunity to tap the perspective and worldview of someone who has lived a different life than yours. The problem is that we don’t always listen to hear, we often listen so that we can reply.
We impose our own worldview on what this other person is telling us, looking to find fault in their perspective or reasoning. That’s not always a bad thing. It’s good to retain some skepticism while listening, but that doesn’t mean you need to express it.
A lot of times, we find fault in another person’s perspective, not because they are trying to mislead us, but because we’ve had different life experiences that affect the way we perceive the world. That’s a great thing! It means you can learn a whole lot if you’re curious and ask genuine questions to better understand why that person sees the world the way they do.
As you listen and converse, try not to impose your personal beliefs on what the other person is relating to you. Simply try to listen and hear what they have to say.
3. Don’t Interrupt
Patience is an important part of meaningful communication. Nothing is more frustrating than a person who constantly interrupts to interject their own thoughts before you’ve had a chance to finish expressing yourself. Interrupting another person is always poor form, and some people will take it as an insult. Why? Because it implies that you know that person’s thoughts better than they do, that their thoughts are not worth hearing or considering. Not a great way to establish rapport.
Have patience and let the other person express themselves how they need to.
4. Ask Questions
Don’t understand what the person you’re conversing with is trying to communicate? Ask questions!
Asking questions demonstrates that you are comfortable with acknowledging that you don’t know things, as well as clarifying the subject matter at hand. Plus, people like to talk about themselves. Asking questions about the person’s point of view, or for additional details, can help you better understand what they are trying to communicate.
There is a balance to strike here. Don’t be afraid of silence. A conversation doesn’t need to be a staccato assault of verbal back and forth. A silence is only uncomfortable if you choose to acknowledge it as such. You may feel it is, but you don’t have to externally voice this observation or try to fill the silence. The other person may just be reflecting on the current conversation. Give them the freedom to think for a bit.
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5. Conversation Is A Two-Way Street
Remember, the point of a conversation is to exchange information and ideas with the other person. Nervousness, anxiety, or social awkwardness can cause a person to speak too much or focus solely on themselves. The goal is to have a flow of back and forth where both parties meaningfully contribute to the conversation, so one person doesn’t feel overwhelmed.
It can feel uncomfortable to feel like you’re talking too much, but there is an easy way out! Simply remember the previous point and ask a question. A question allows you to gracefully exit a train of thought and prompt your partner to talk.
Additionally, a person that is overbearing in their conversation style may just be dealing with their own nerves. Eye contact and a warm smile go a long way toward helping that person feel comfortable.
6. Be Aware Of Your Body Language
A person’s body communicates a lot of information in the course of a conversation. Not only should you pay attention and be aware of your partner’s body language, but you should be aware of your own. We’ve already touched on eye contact and smiling, which are both important body language cues. Just remember: communication is not all about verbalization.
Other cues to make note of are your posture, crossing arms and legs, the speed at which you talk, and how loud you speak. Some people are just naturally quiet and that’s okay, but you need to speak loud and clearly enough to be heard. It’s common for a person to speak quickly if they are nervous or uncomfortable. Sometimes we need to make an active effort to slow down.
Posture is important because a person may think you’re disinterested if you’re slouched or leaning away from the conversation. And crossed arms and legs tend to be interpreted as defensiveness.
7. Divulge A Little Personal Information
Most people aren’t looking for a stale, impersonal conversation. Of course, there is a right and wrong time for deep conversations. It’s fine to keep subject matter at a surface level if you’re in a general conversation. But when getting to know someone, it’s okay to go a little deeper and talk about personal interests like hobbies, favorite books or movies, or what you did last weekend.
That’s about where it should end until you develop a deeper rapport and trust with someone. Dumping too much personal information is a good way to push people away.
8. Practice, Practice, Practice
Effective communication skills are exactly that – skills. They are things that can be learned and developed through regular practice. Practice you must, because reading about them is only going to provide a platform of knowledge for you to operate from. You will need real world practice and application to make the most of them.
You won’t get it perfect from the start, and don’t feel like you need to change everything at once. Pick one facet of your socialization and work on it until it becomes second nature. Once you get that one down, pick another, and another, and another. Before you know it, you’ll be a fluent conversationalist.