If you were a rock, improving your ability to communicate would not be in your list of priorities. However, as a human being in a world together with other human beings, good communication is one of the most important skills you can develop.
Become more empathetic
Empathy is a mode of cognition that allows you to be attuned to all sorts of little complex psychological nuances. By developing empathy you can understand behaviours, views and values far removed from your own and you can also experience the emotional state of another.
Yet, often, people confuse sympathy with empathy. Sympathy shows that you care about a situation that someone else is going through. It’s all about what you feel. Empathy, however, involves the ability to resonate with the other person’s feelings. It’s all about what they feel.
So how can you improve your ability to be with another human being and feel their feelings? The answer is practice, practice, practice. You can give your empathy a boost by doing little things every day such as asking yourself how you feel in any given situation. The simple act of asking this question to your psyche will immediately activate your sensitive side—you’ll be more in tune with your emotions.
And if you keep doing this one small thing, you’ll eventually be able to feel emotions that are not your own; before you know it, you’ll be resonating with the person in front of you. Congratulations! You’ve just unlocked your potential for empathy.
Listening is hailed as the holy grail of interpersonal communication, and for good reason: without it, communication becomes very difficult. And you don’t want to just listen; you want to empathetically listen. You don’t want to be that person who talks and talks but doesn’t listen to anything the other person says. It’s a good way to have no friends.
It takes effort to actually listen to people if you’re not used to it; you have to concentrate more of your mental capacity on the listening act. Furthermore, if you want to empathetically listen and not just get the objective facts from the other person, you have to train yourself to feel your feelings and listen at the same time. This can be difficult to do if you’re nervous or suffer from social anxiety, but the benefits are remarkable.
One of the ways you can be a better listener is simply by asking questions. Questions move the conversation along and put the spotlight on the other person.
Body language is important
Body language is a huge part of communication. In fact, studies shows that 55 percent of communication is done through body language, while 38 percent is tone of voice and 7 percent is the actual words spoken. Developing empathy and listening skills will automatically make you unconsciously move your body in ways that are perceived as positive by other people.
An exception to this rule is posture—sitting down in front of the computer for long periods of time or routinely carrying heavy backpacks can cause spinal distortions and bad posture habits. Apart from the fact that poor posture may eventually lead to chronic pain, it also puts you in a poor light if you’re constantly slouching.
Honesty is the backbone of relationships
Relationships (romantic or otherwise) will fall apart if one party lies about the important things. Remember: you can speak truth without being cruel; that’s where empathy comes in. Things can be said in a gentle way. You don’t necessarily have to burn bridges—and if they do get burned despite your efforts, then so be it. You spoke your mind and you were honest with your feelings. If the other person still can’t handle the truth, there’s nothing else to be done.
Lying is a slippery slope. Small lies turn into big fabrications. You can go your whole life pretending that everything is OK when it really isn’t, and you might think that nobody else is really picking up on it, but almost everyone possesses some capacity for empathy, and even if your friends can’t exactly tell what it is that you’re hiding from them, an unconscious part of them realizes that something is up.
Be honest. It will give you true peace of mind.
Be a good storyteller
The best communicators always seem to have an interesting story to tell. Being a good storyteller is not necessarily all about having a way with words; often, these people simply lead interesting lives, so when they finally sit down to talk about all the fun stuff that happened to them, they’ll share it from their heart because they’re passionate about it.
This passion is infectious and stimulates other people. They pay attention and are drawn to this person and their story. The individual who leads a very boring life with no real stories to tell, even if he is a good listener, honest, empathetic and with good body language… it’s difficult to latch onto this person because he or she is lacking substance. As it turns out, living life to the fullest makes you a better communicator.
Improving your ability to communicate may seem difficult, but it’s one of the most important things you can do with your life. The time is going to pass anyways; why not use it to develop your ability to relate to your fellow human beings?
Tiago eats lentils every day (and so should you; they’re delicious) and teaches English in several languages on his website at English-Ingles.com. He hopes that you’ve enjoyed reading his article as much as he enjoyed writing it.