I used to be the girl who would word vomit (to use a Mean Girls term) everything she was thinking whenever she was thinking; in fact, I’d be lying if I said that I’ve completely rid myself of these tendencies. While I respect the traits of honesty and loyalty in a person, and do my best to exercise them myself, I’ve also learned how to reign it in and read situations to communicate effectively.
Communication is a skill we learn from just a few months old. When we’re toddlers, our parents begin teaching us how to signal what we need and want, how to tell the differences between right and wrong, and basic manners. For better or for worse, we learn social cues from our peers and adapt them into our schemas of the world.
In our twenties, our communication skills become more important as more of our relationships depend on it. From romance to mentors and networking to more complicated friendships, the way we communicate can take us far or no where at all. We’re coming into contact with people who have life experiences and perspectives that are vastly different from our own. Knowing your way around these differences is key to communicating effectively.
Luckily effective communication is a skill that can be learned. With practice, you will be able to make tactful, yet effective conversation with anyone you meet. Here’s how:
Turn the Questions Back On The Other Person
Not to make us all sound like self-centered individuals, but the fact is that some people enjoy talking about themselves. This is particularly helpful during informational interviews over coffee when you’re trying to find out more about a specific field, but sometimes, no matter how interesting you find the drama called Your Life, others might be bored to tears.
One simple way to help involve people in the conversation is to turn the question back on the other person. For example, when someone asks you, “How are you?” you can answer before asking your companion the same question. This not only ensures that you keep your answers short and sweet, but it also makes the other person feel included and respected rather than listening to you ramble on.
Asking simple questions like, “What do you think?” or “How about you?” allows you to include someone else in the conversation, which effectively prevents the other person from thinking that you just love the sound of your own voice.
Be Aware of Your Environment
When I say “your environment,” I don’t just mean your physical surroundings. I’m also referencing the people and influences around you. This is especially important in the job setting because your actions (including the things you say) reflect not only on yourself, but also on the company, as a company employee.
Let’s say, for example, that the manager who you heartily dislike is not on the weekly schedule for the day and you know that most of your co-workers share your sentiments. Just because your manager isn’t there does not give you permission to blow off steam by complaining about him or her, especially because you never know how the customers around you may be interpreting your comments. There is a possibility that a customer knows your manager personally, which could mean that your less-than-kind comments may get back to them, which could land you in a lot of hot water.
There is a time and place for everything, and regardless of how you feel about someone, your job is to do what is expected of you and meet the customer’s needs, regardless of how you feel about them. There are environments that are more appropriate for certain things than others, and developing a sound way to judge whether or not to engage in certain actions at a particular time. In other words, prioritization is key.
Respect What People Can (And Can’t) Handle
I used to sit blithely and talk friends’ ears off for hours. Sometimes those conversations could include very heavy subjects that would occasionally make my friends uncomfortable. I didn’t really consider their comfort levels, or how much they knew about me, which often led to uncomfortable conversations when I accidentally let something slip that I probably should have kept to myself.
It is important to consider several things when communicating with people, including the circumstances under which the two of you met, their interests, their time constraints. This doesn’t mean that the topics you like to talk about are completely off limits, but it’s good to be aware of.
Culture is also a major factor that needs to be taken into account. For example, I often discuss my interests of psychology and mental health with a good friend of mine who regularly works with individuals with mental health challenges; however, I typically refrain from discussing such topics with a high school friend who was raised in a culture where mental health is still very much a taboo subject out of respect for her extreme discomfort. Instead, I attempt to ask more questions about her life and listen to her answers while keeping the conversation revolving around topics that both of us can discuss without feeling uncomfortable, such as our jobs, dogs, and other common interests.
We all know that there are times when things will not go the way we would like them to, regardless of how much we may have prepared. I used to be the most rigid child on the face of the planet. If things didn’t go my way or the way I thought they were going to, I got upset. I spent most of my energy being angry and wishing I could build a time machine and jump in it.
The truth is that being angry or sad doesn’t offer solutions. Yes, it is important to express your emotions, but if your fixate on having things go your way or the high way, it’s entirely possible that you will overlook an opportunity to reach your goal in some other way, a way that might even yield better results than the ones you expected. Being flexible allows you to look around your environment and be resourceful when life throws you a curveball instead of simply sulking in a corner.
There is no doubt that communicating effectively in your twenties is a challenging process that can give rise to many obstacles as we grow alongside our careers. However, communicating effectively with the people around you can also yield many rewarding experiences.
Communicating effectively allows you to build connections with people from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, and continue to advance in your career.