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14 Secrets of a Great Communicator

by Sarah Wilkinson, Class of ’17

To be a stand-out in your industry, you have to be a great communicator. Lindsey Pollak offers tips in her book, Becoming the Boss that can help ensure you’re on your way to being a successful communicator.

  1. Get the Basics Right

There’s nothing worse that meeting someone and then forgetting their name two seconds later. Except being the person whose name you forget, perhaps. Pay attention when people introduce themselves, and if you don’t catch a pronunciation, ask for clarification. Getting someone’s name right from the start is essential to the relationship you’ll build. Also be careful to assume gender, especially when you need to refer to someone in writing. You can always ask for someone’s preferred pronouns in person, or see what language they use to describe themselves on their LinkedIn.

  1. Eliminate Filler Words

Are you someone who says “um” or “like” a lot when you talk? If you’re not sure, you can ask someone who will be honest with you, or pay close attention to yourself the next time you talk out loud (especially if it’s to someone you look up to, like a boss or professor). It can be difficult to get rid of these verbal crutches, but it’s important to try if you want to be a great communicator who is taken seriously. Other filler words to beware: just, actually, and almost.

  1. Avoid Upspeak

Tone is everything in communication. Pollak offers this example:

“I need the report by Friday.”

This is straight forward, and expectations are clear.

“I need the report by Friday?”

This is an example of upspeak, when statements are phrased as questions. This is just confusing for everyone involved, and it makes you seem less confident in yourself and your authority to request something, like that report.

  1. Limit Cliches

If you want to be taken seriously, avoid using clichés at all costs in your office communications. It makes you seem unoriginal and maybe even a little apathetic. Some examples:

  • “Can I pick your brain?”
  • “Push the envelope.”
  • “Think outside the box.”

People are immune to clichés, and when you use them they stop listening to you or gathering value from your words. People are more likely to pay attention when you use original language, even if it takes a little extra time to generate.

  1. Be Concise

Attention spans are shrinking. Anything over 140 characters is considered fluff; well, that might be a bit dramatic. But the truth is that to be an effective communicator, you need to make sure you’re including only the information you need to get your point across. When writing emails, go back and reread them before you send, cutting out anything that is superfluous. When you’re conversing with someone in person, you can tell when you’ve lost them when they stop nodding their head or giving verbal “mmhmms,” at which point you know you weren’t concise enough.

  1. Show, Not Tell

If you’re talking to someone about what your nonprofit does, it’s not very effective to rattle off statistics of why your services are needed in your community. It’s more effective to give real world examples of why your services are so essential. Pollak gives the example, “The number of hungry children in our community could fill the Rose Bowl. Twice.” This is a much better way to communicate and the other person will likely respond in a more engaged way, and take more away from the conversation.

  1. Make Eye Contact

You should aim for making eye contact with someone 50 percent of the time you’re talking to them. Eye contact is especially critical when you first meet someone. If you’re in a meeting or a small group of people, point your toes and your body towards the person who is talking; this is a great way to show your engagement.

  1. Stand and Sit Tall

Strong posture is an important way to appear like you have authority and should be taken seriously as a communicator. Whether sitting or standing, be sure your back is straight and you’re making strong eye contact. Don’t cross your arms, as this makes you appear closed off, and avoid touching your face or fidgeting when others are talking to you. When sitting, lean forward rather than backward, as this will show that you are an engaged listener.

    1. Admit You Don’t Have All the Answers

Especially when you’re in a leadership position, you might feel like you’re expected to know the answers to everything. Relax: no one has all the answers. The key to handling a situation when you don’t know an answer is to do one of the following three things:

  • Refer – You might not have the answer, but hopefully you’ll know someone else who does. Pollak gives the following example of what to say: “I am not an expert on that topic, but I’d like to refer you to my colleague Maria, who can get you the right answer.”
  • Defer – Say, “I’ll get back to you,” and be sure to tell them exactly when and in what way you’ll contact them with the answer. The most important part of deferring is remembering to keep your promise.
  • Infer – If you think you might be able to answer the question if only you understood what the person’s needs were more clearly, feel free to ask, “Can you tell me more about what you need?” If you still can’t answer the question, either refer or defer it.
  1. Be Diligent

The best communicators (and more interesting people) are those who stay curious and read or seek out information both in their subject areas, but also outside of them. Knowing something about everything things makes you a great conversationalist, and also someone who’s likely in a better position to see the big picture when making important decisions.

  1. Face Conflict

If something is happening in the office – an argument between co-workers, a boss who won’t stop reprimanding you for small things, a team member who is constantly surfing the web during work hours – the best thing to do is confront the situation head on. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s usually only made worse by letting the problem grow uninhibited. Confronting conflict will also give you a positive reputation for being a problem solver.

  1. Laugh

Whether you’re the boss or not, it’s important to be able to laugh, and hopefully tell the occasional joke. People tend to feel comfortable when they laugh, and by creating and participating in an environment that encourages laughter, you/your employees are going to be more comfortable. This will build morale and bolster relationships between coworkers. Just be careful that the occasional laugh doesn’t become an excuse to not get work done.

  1. Show Your Passion

I’ll let Pollak speak on this one:

One of your jobs as a leader will be to persuade people to support your vision and strategies. You will have a much easier time doing this if people can see and feel that you truly, deeply believe in what you are advocating. In other words, they want to see your passion.

And even if you’re not a leader in your organization, being passionate will only make you a stronger, more committed person in the office. Your boss might just take notice for the next time promotions are being given.

14. BE DISCREET

Be careful not to discuss confidential matters with people who aren’t supposed to know, and be sure you can’t be overheard when you’re sharing that information with someone who is allowed to have it. Don’t participate in the rumor mill, and keep notes in your mind about the colleagues and connections you have who openly talk about others in front of you. Know that you need to be cautious with these people. Being discreet is more important than ever as it gets easier to share sensitive information with mass crowds of people over social media.

Look out for part nine of this blog series, which will talk about the three essential laws of 21st century management. Be sure to check out last week’s post about becoming a Twitter expert.

Sources: Becoming the Boss by Lindsey Pollak; find more information about Pollak here.

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