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Make your words matter: 7 tips for effective verbal communication

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Crystal Spraggins, SPHR

Management guru Peter Drucker is credited with saying, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said.” 

There’s certainly some truth to that. Sometimes what a person doesn’t say is as important, if not more important, than what he does say.

And that’s proof we could all stand to learn some tips about how to get our points across more effectively, rather than relying on our nonverbals to do the job for us. After all, good communication only happens when the receiver gets the message the sender intended to relay.

Here are 7 ways to help make that happen.

  1. Think before you speak. It’s what Mom said—it pays to think before you speak. When you think before you speak, you give yourself a chance to transmit a message that’s clearer, more precise, and potentially less confusing or contradictory.
  2. Listen more than you talk. If you’re constantly speaking (or thinking about speaking), there’s no way you can be listening or even picking up the nonverbal information your conversation partner is expressing. And if you aren’t listening, then your communication can’t possibly be effective.
  3. Let your yes mean “yes,” and your “no” mean no.  This principle is especially important when giving instructions. Being wishy washy or going back and forth between options without providing clarity will drive your staff batty and contribute to muddled communication that could result in undesirable outcomes.
  4. Ask clarifying questions. Asking questions to test your understanding of what someone else has said is a tried and true way to ensure that you’ve correctly (or not) received a message as transmitted.  
  5. Take a time out. If a discussion is going nowhere fast—because both parties are too emotionally vested in the outcome, or because this isn’t a good time for one or both parties to talk, or whatever the reason—it may be time to halt the conversation with the intent to pick it up later.
  6. Write stuff down. With so much to distract us and less and less time to process information, who can possibly remember everything? And why should anyone have to? Go ahead and write stuff down. There’s no shame in it.
  7. Don’t interrupt. You can’t talk and listen at the same time, and interrupting is rude and off putting, which tends to inhibit free-flowing conversation.

As the saying goes, talk is cheap. But your words don’t have to be. Make them count by following these 7 tips. 

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