How to polish communication skills is one of the most pressing questions for students and professionals alike.
And rightly so.
Better communication skills can get you a better job, a better career, and a better life.
But what does it mean to have polished, or ‘excellent’ communication skills?
Well, that means you’re able to express yourself with clarity. That’s it.
But there’s a misconception: most people believe that communication skills mean spoken English. That’s not entirely true. Working on your spoken English should be a part of polishing communication skills, but remember that’s only a part, not the whole thing.
You see, communication is a broad subject, but for this article, we’ll focus on three specific communication skills.
Let’s discuss them one by one.
Listening is the first and the most important communication skill you must master. Why did I say the ‘most important?’ Because it’s by listening that you learn a language, not by reading.
Like most people, I also didn’t know how important listening was as a communication skill until 1995. I was doing a 3-year software course from NIIT. And one morning, in the library I found a videotape titled, “Listening – The Forgotten Skill.” The tape explained that one must master the skill of listening to become an excellent communicator.
“But how could listening be a communication skill?” You ask.
Remember the time when you were a little child? Did you start speaking the day you were born?
No. You listened.
You listened to your mother and father. You listened to your family members, your neighbours, your relatives, and even strangers.
That’s how you got familiar with the language you speak. And gradually, you started recognising different sounds. Over time, you learned to utter words like, “Mamma” and “Papa.”
That’s how you learned. That’s how everybody learns – by listening first.
How to Become a Good Listener
Take time to listen.
We usually don’t listen. And there’s a reason for it. You see, most people (including you and me) believe they are more intelligent than the person they’re listening to.
Just have a look at people – in day-to-day conversations, small talks, social gatherings, and you’ll find that most people are eager to speak, not to listen.
Do You Even Listen?
Next time you’re chatting with a friend, be present in the moment. And listen.
Don’t just pretend that you’re listening, really listen.
Notice the way your friend is trying to convey the thoughts. Observe the pitch, the emotions, the choice of words – everything! Become all ears.
Being a good listener takes time. So, be patient.
Do you find starting conversations hard? Well, you’re not alone. Most of us do.
It’s not your fault.
It’s just childhood conditioning. Try going back to your childhood memories, and you’ll see what I mean.
You see, as a child, you were amazed at the world around you – the sun, the moon, the sky, the trees in your neighbourhood, the butterflies, the people, moving objects – everything seemed to you like magic, right? And you wanted to ask questions and talk about them in general.
At times, your parents did not have time to listen to you – they had work to do. And so, they had to stop you.
“Sorry cutie pie, I don’t have time.”
The thing is that you can’t do much about your past, but you surely can open yourself up so you could get more comfortable in starting conversations. And speaking in general.
Exercises to Help You Open Up
1. Read Aloud
Take a book, a newspaper, or a magazine. Now, stand in a corner and start reading aloud.
Why in a corner? Because a corner reflects your voice to you and that gives you more and more confidence over time.
And reading aloud is really important. Your voice should be double the level of your typical speaking level. What you read is not important, what matters is how loud you read it.
When you speak aloud, you push your limits. And you will get uncomfortable in the beginning, but it’ll go away with time. Do regular practice – read a couple of paragraphs daily. And soon you’ll find your speaking skills improving – your voice getting clearer and your confidence levels rising.
2. Chant “Aum”
‘Aum’ is a powerful word.
And you can use it to give power to your voice by chanting it in the mornings – on an empty stomach.
Sit down in a relaxed posture. Take three deep breaths. Now take a deep breath, as d-e-e-p as you could. And then, while exhaling, chant “Auuuuuuuum” for as long as you can. Repeat at least thrice.
This chanting gives you control over your breathing. And breathing is the basis of your voice. So, the more command you have over your breath, the more graceful your speech shall be.
- Click the ‘Play’ button to learn how to do the chanting.
3. Stretch Jaw Muscles
Normally your jaw muscles (facial muscles) remain tense – they don’t let your mouth open wide enough. And that’s why you feel hesitation while trying to initiate a conversation. The solution is to stretch your jaw muscles.
Here’s how to do it:
Put your hands on your jaw muscles (both the sides of your face), and open your mouth as wide as you can (as if you’re yawning). Stay in this position for 15 seconds. Repeat the process thrice. You can increase the time and how many times you repeat it as you get comfortable.
4. Do Lip Trills
Remember the sound you used to make while playing ‘bike-bike’ – “brurrrrrr?” That’s exactly what you’re going to do in this exercise.
Sit in a relaxed posture.
And start making “brurrrr” sound with your lips still in contact with each other. It’s called “Lip Trills.” You can do the trills for as long as you wish. This simple exercise will make your lips supple and flexible so you can speak with ease.
- Click the ‘Play’ button to learn how to do “Lip Trills.”
You must be a great reader before you can be a great writer.
The more you read, the more impactful your writing shall get. Read at least 5-10 pages of an interesting book regularly. That way you shall be training your mind to develop a reading habit. Now, when it comes to written words, there are two classifications:
- Bookish (Academic)
- Conversational (Day-to-day lingo)
Newspaper editorials are good examples of academic language. Every sentence is carefully crafted to appear formal and professional. That’s what you want to read if your goal is to improve your writing.
On the other hand, novels, magazines, and storybooks are excellent examples of conversational language.
You must try to strike a balance between reading things written in the academic language and the conversational tone. Make yourself familiar with both. Become a member of the local library. That way you shall have access to lots of books. Complete at least, and I mean, at least, one book every month. And if you’re really serious about having excellent writing skills, then you must finish a book each week. Yes, a book each week.
2. Write Diary
Diary writing or journal writing is a great way to improve writing skills. Buy a journal or plain notebook (use it only for writing your daily experiences, and nothing else).
Writing thoughts on paper helps clear the head which gives you a more peaceful mind. And also, clarity of mind.
Don’t worry about what to write in the first few days because most of the things appear difficult in the starting phase. Just write whatever comes to your mind, and within days you shall notice an improvement.
Would you believe me if I told you I was clueless about how to write articles when I was just getting started? Yes, that’s true. Back in 2011 when I started this blog, I had no idea about writing.
But I was determined.
So, one day, I turned my computer on, chose a topic, and started typing. I wrote whatever comes to my mind. And guess what, after the initial struggle, words started flowing.
I kept writing, and within 2 hours, my first ever article was ready.
From that day, I made it a point to write. Of course, I made mistakes, especially grammatical ones.
You see, I’ve had no formal training in article writing. I had studied in a government school in Delhi where English was never a concern for most of the students. But I kept writing and got better every day. I am still learning.
If I can do it, you can too. Just keep writing.