The 15 Commandments of Effective Communication
Human beings are social creatures. It is impossible to live without interacting with fellow human beings. You get raised by a family, go to school where you have to interact with fellow students and teachers, and have to interact with other people in society.
In the course of your day to day life, you have to interact with your coworkers, clients, other commuters, shop attendants, and so on. All these interactions would be impossible without communication. With communication being such an essential part of life, it is important to ensure that you are an effective communicator.
Without the ability to communicate effectively, you will have a hard time succeeding in any social undertaking, whether that is acquiring a job and keeping a job, getting investors for your project, impressing your crush or meeting your in-laws.
To help you become better at communication and therefore improve the quality of your social and professional interactions, we take a look at the 15 commandments of effective communication that you should always keep in mind.
1. BE A GOOD LISTENER
The first commandment of effective communication is listening. You cannot communicate effectively if you do not know what your audience wants or needs. You cannot put yourself in their shoes to see things from their perspective. Therefore, it will be difficult to sway their opinions since it will be obvious that you do not understand what they are saying and are just preaching at them.
Listening has been identified by the United States Department of Labor Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) as one of the key five competencies and three foundational skills necessary for people coming into the workforce. Listening skills enable employees to build a good rapport with their employers, managers, coworkers, and clients, which in turn enables them to more effectively communicate in the workplace environment. Below are some tips on how to become a better listener:
- Maintain eye contact with the person speaking.
- Do not interrupt.
- Don’t fidget – it’s distracting, rude, and implies you are impatient or have better things to do.
- Listen to understand, not just to respond.
- Read the speaker’s body language, facial expressions, and other non-verbal cues.
- Control your emotions – don’t let you anger, fear, or worry distract you from listening.
- Put aside your bias or prejudice against the speaker as it will interfere with your ability to listen.
2. CLARIFY YOUR IDEAS BEFORE YOU COMMUNICATE THEM
Before any word comes out of your mouth, take a moment to think. A systematic analysis of your idea simplifies and clarifies it. Communication planning is a critical step that many people often skip, which is why their interactions don’t turn out well.
Winging it may look badass in the movies, but in real life, that is how you ruin interviews, business negotiations, job applications, articles, speeches, announcements, appeals for donations from well-wishers, and so on.
Before you start communicating something, take a moment to think about what you want to say and ask yourself the following questions:
- What is my message?
- What do I want to achieve from this communication?
- How do I want my audience to react to my message?
- Who am I speaking to and what is the best way to communicate to them so that they understand me and react how I want them to?
3. PRACTICE EMPATHY
Empathy is one of the key abilities that are used to gauge emotional intelligence. According to TalentSmart, 90% of top performers have high EQs and EQ is responsible for 58% of an employee’s job performance.
Empathy in communication is the ability to understand your audience, their emotions, possible reactions to your message, attitudes, history, and any other information about them that will enable you to craft your message in a way that will not offend them, that they will understand, and that will win them over to your ideas.
When communicating, you should use empathy to predict how your audience will feel when you communicate your message to them. You can then plan the best words and approach to use in your message so as to avoid antagonizing your audience.
If you can see the world through their eyes, you can communicate in a way they can relate to, and you will be able to influence their reactions to your message.
Below are some questions you should ask yourself in order to infuse your communication with empathy:
- Who is my audience?
- What are their beliefs or attitudes?
- What is their history?
- What is our relationship?
- How do they perceive me?
- How are they likely to react to my message?
4. CONSIDER THE CONTEXT
Context is the setting in which the communication happens. It may be formal or informal. It includes other dimensions such as the environment, the social activity, the goals of the group, the individuals involved and their relationships, the social dynamics, and so on.
All these are things you should keep in mind when communicating. Ignoring context when communicating is committing communication suicide. Imagine, for instance, talking to your boss and having a conversation that goes something like this.
You: “Yo, what’s happening?”
Boss: “I am quite fine, thank you. You are late.”
You: “It’s alright, don’t worry about it. I am here now, ain’t I?
Boss: Why were you late?
You: “I was at a party till late in the night, guess I didn’t hear my alarm this morning.”
What do you think will happen here? Of course you are going to get fired, or at least get a warning. If this was your coworker, with whom you are working at the same level, there would be nothing wrong with the above conversation. Communicating this way to your superior, however, is career suicide.
This shows the importance of context; you don’t talk to your boss the way you talk to your coworker. Apply this rule to all every time you communicate and you will see a tremendous improvement in your communication.
Below are a few pointers on how to use context in communication.
- Consider the physical context: for instance, how you talk to your coworker at the office is not how you talk to them if you meet in a club. How you give a speech in a public square is not how you would give it in a church.
- Consider the social dynamics: for instance, talking to a married couple is not the same as speaking to siblings.
- What activity is taking place: how you talk to your coworkers in the office is not the same as how you talk when your office goes out for a teambuilding exercise.
- Consider the chain of command or authority: know who to accord the highest respect. Respect has levels – that’s why the conversation above is appropriate for a coworker but disrespectful to a superior.
5. BE CONCISE
One of the cardinal sins people commit when communicating is being long-winded. While the popular notion that our attention spans in the smartphone era are now shorter than a goldfish’s is being busted as a myth, it is no secret that no one is fond of circumlocution, especially when the speaker or writer is padding his message with unnecessary words to hide the shallowness of his ideas.
Effective communication should be carried out swiftly. Always aim to get straight to the point and you will have no problems. Conciseness is the basis of clarity, provided you provide all the important details.
Below are some tips that will help you become more concise in your communication:
- Know what you want to say before you say it.
- Identify the most important components of your message, those that cannot be left out.
- Identify keywords that carry enough weight to communicate whole ideas so you don’t have to keep repeating yourself. You can define these keywords for your audience.
- Control your urge to go off on tangents, for instance telling a story that is not related to your message.
- Where your message can be quickly encoded in an anecdote, proverb, or poem, do it.
- Where possible, discourage your audience from posing questions before you are through passing your message. This depends on context: while you can enforce this while giving a speech, it would not be possible in an informal conversation and might even appear presumptuous.
6. GIVE THE OTHER PERSON A CHANCE TO SPEAK
Communication is a two way process. You don’t want your audience to think you are lecturing them (unless the context is a lecture hall, with you being the lecturer). When people have no voice in a communication, they become defiant, bored, or apathetic.
According to a study on allocation of speech in conversation, listeners can cause a rambler to stop monopolizing a conversation by being quiet.
So next time you are hogging a conversation and realize that your conversation partner is unusually quiet, it’s time to pull them back in with a query for feedback.
Below are examples of questions you might ask to urge you partner to get involved in the conversation.
- “What do you think?”
- “What’s your opinion on the matter?”
- “That’s my point of view, what is yours?”
- If it’s an email or other written communication you can add this at the end:
- “I look forward to your response.”
- “I am interested to hear your reaction.”
7. BE RESPECTFUL
Communication cannot prosper in an environment of distrust and rudeness. Respect is the fresh air that ensures a healthy relationship between you and your audience, facilitating effective communication.
Respect shows that you value the other person. Here are some tips on how to be respectful when communicating.
- Acknowledge your audience. Don’t just barge in. Say hello if it’s a face-to-face meeting. Start with a salutation, if it is an email.
- Don’t use sarcasm or cutting remarks.
- Practice empathy. Know what will hurt their feelings and avoid saying it. Tact and grace are the keywords.
- Ask for their feedback to show you value their opinion.
- Use the most acceptable language in that particular context.
- Do not use vulgar words.
- Know what is appropriate and inappropriate – for instance, knowing when something you want to say is sexist or racist or simply inappropriate given your relationship with the person.
8. DON’T GIVE UNSOLICITED ADVICE
This is one of the hardest commandments to keep. Everyone believes their point of view is the best possible way of perceiving the world. Since everyone is unique, there are lots of points of view going around.
Naturally, disagreements are inevitable. If you want to be a successful communicator, keep your “free advice” to yourself, unless the context demands it or your audience asks for it. An example of a context that requires advice-giving is a lecturer with his students or a parent with her child.
Unsolicited advice is often unwelcome and people do not usually pay any attention to it, though they might nod and say it’s brilliant.
Following this rule will require serious impulse control. Your entire body might be willing you to “throw in your two cents”, but ignore it. Focus on the big picture; communicating your message effectively and getting the reaction you desire.
9. CREDIBILITY IS NON-NEGOTIABLE
In their book Made to Stick, authors Chip and Dan Heath list seven core principles that you can use to make your idea/message sticky/viral/appealing. One of these principles is credibility.
A credible idea is one which your audience will believe to be true. If an idea appears untrue, audiences will shun it.
If your aim is to win over your audience or, influencing them to adopt your point of view, you should carefully work on your message and presentation to ensure it comes across as truthful. Below are some tips on how to make your message more credible:
- Pepper your presentation with statistics and facts. In addition to helping you give more convincing arguments, this will show that you did your research. When people see that you came prepared, they are more likely to trust you.
- Where appropriate, add personal anecdotes to make the message appeal to your audience on an emotional level. It makes them trust you, root for you, and want to be on the same side as you. It also injects a raw authenticity to your message, which is golden when it comes to effective communication.
- If you have relevant credentials, ensure your audience is aware of them. For instance, you are more likely to trust a nutritionist who tells you certain foods are unhealthy than a plumber who says the same thing.
- Build authority in your topic, so whenever you say something related to the topic, people will trust what you say. This is a long-term strategy.
10. APPEAL TO EMOTION
Another of the seven principles for making ideas viral as presented by Dan and Chip Heath is emotion. Emotion (pathos) is also one of three modes of persuasion, together with logos (logic) and ethos (authority), as identified by Aristotle.
Appealing to emotion can at times feel manipulative, but it is often effective and even necessary. Case in point: if two people give a speech and one uses dry facts and the other humanizes his speech with stories from his own life, who is the audience more likely to relate with?
If you guessed the latter, you are absolutely correct. While facts intimidate and awe us, emotions connect us with the speaker. Use the following tips to inject some emotion in your communication.
- Tell stories. Stories touch us on a deeper level than facts ever can and make us relate with the message.
- Use empathy to demonstrate how well you understand their point of view. When you show people that you understand how they feel, they are more inclined to give you an ear – the best orators know and practice this technique.
- Use examples or anecdotes from your personal life to humanize yourself and make you relatable to your audience. When they can understand who you are, they are more likely to trust your opinion.
- Use metaphors, similes, and other stylistic devices to make your message come to life in your audience’s mind. If you can paint a picture with words, people will remember your message more vividly and will relate easily to it.
11. BE SINCERE
In your endeavor to attain the results you desire from any communication, it is easy to forget the big picture and tell your audience what they want to hear. This is definitely manipulation.
Manipulation may work in the short term, but once people realize you were toying with their minds, they will be repelled by your methods and you lose all credibility. You can see how this plays out in advertising and politics, and how audiences react after it becomes apparent they were being manipulated by cunning operators.
If your message is of real value, trust that it will appeal to your audience without any need for lies and misinformation. If you want to come across as sincere, you should:
- Fact-check the information you pass on to your audience. If it is revealed that your message is based on false information, your credibility will be thrown into question and the validity of your entire message nullified.
- Be truthful when you are delivering bad news. Do not water it down. Be clear, and do not beat around the bush. Provided you are tactful, the truth is always better than a half-truth.
- Be genuine when apologizing. People can sense when you are putting on an act. The same is true for when you express gratitude.
- Avoid using excess flattery. Give genuine compliments and people will like you. Flattery might seem charming in the moment, but it often leaves a bad after-taste and makes you seem untrustworthy.
12. PRACTICE POSITIVITY
Nobody likes to be continuously criticized. If you see only that which is wrong with your audience, you will put them off. You may not even voice your thoughts, but people will sense what you think about them through your body language.
Before you communicate your message, ensure you are not feeling or thinking negative things about the person you are communicating with.
This will prevent you from conveying your negative energy through your body language, other non-verbal cues, tone of voice, and choice of words.
You should also avoid sarcastic remarks. Instead, think of something you do like about the person you are communicating with and share it with them as a compliment.
If you disagree with the other person, try to find common ground where possible. Above all, craft your message in a way that is not offensive to the other person.
13. CONTROL YOUR EMOTIONS
Emotions are a double-edged sword. On one hand, when you are passionate, people will give you their attention and trust you. On the other, if you lose control, you might say or do the wrong thing and antagonize them.
Before speaking, take a pause to collect your thoughts if you realize you are emotionally riled up. Know which emotions are appropriate for the context. For instance, sorrow would be misplaced when giving a speech oration at a wedding, as would be joy at a funeral.
If you find yourself starting to get worked up, breathe in and out slowly, and speak very slowly. Being deliberate in this way will help you regain control of your body and mind.
14. BE MINDFUL OF THE NONVERBAL CUES YOU CONVEY
Nonverbal cues such as tone of voice and body language are key for effective communication. However, they can also be a double-edged sword.
If not controlled, they can convey emotions you would wish to keep to yourself. Below are some tips on how to enhance your communication with nonverbal cues.
- Use facial expressions like smiles, grimaces, winks, and glares where appropriate.
- Nod or shake your head to emphasize certain points.
- Use hand gestures sparingly. Hand gestures can be powerful if used at the right time, but sometimes speakers gesticulate absent-mindedly, which distracts the audience.
- Avoid pacing as it is distracting.
- Change your tone of voice to add drama to your presentation – for instance lowering your voice or suddenly shouting for effect.
- Maintain an upright posture. Do not slouch.
- Be mindful of your emotions to avoid betraying negative feelings with your nonverbal cues.
15. KNOW WHEN TO BACK DOWN OR COMPROMISE
Sometimes when communicating your message, the feedback the other person gives may influence an alteration of your opinion. In such a situation, do not be ashamed to back down or to adjust your opinion to accommodate the new information.
For instance, when you realize the person you are communicating with has a better argument, let them know that their point of view makes sense and ask them to clarify further. Ask questions to confirm that their point of view truly is better than yours.
Once you are convinced that they have the better argument, graciously let them know you have decided their opinion is the better one. If you do not wholly agree with their opinion, point out the parts you do not agree with, and work together to formulate a better overall argument.
As a human being, communication is a natural part of life, and the better you are at communicating, the better you will be at navigating social interactions. Without proper communication, cooperation with others becomes difficult, sometimes even leading to conflicts.
Luckily, anyone can learn how to be an effective communicator. If you by abide by these 15 commandments, you will have no problem communicating effectively, both in social and professional contexts.