It might seem like good communication strategies are timeless, but in actual fact they are constantly evolving. In an increasingly globalized world, not to mention rapidly shifting virtual landscape, what qualified as effective five or ten years ago–even last year–may not longer be relevant. Here are ten of our tips for crafting good communication in 2021.
1. Be as interested as you are interesting.
It’s not about being the most articulate person in the room. It’s about creating a space where reciprocity can safely grow. That means not pausing your speech because you know you should, but because you are genuinely interested in what the other person has to say, asking follow up questions, and echoing back what you hear the other person saying.
2. Be sensitive to people’s needs.
Being socially perceptive means not only noticing when someone seems tired, bored, anxious, pleased, etc., but shifting the direction or nature of the exchange to accommodate that observation. If you’re not sure, or to demonstrate you’re paying attention, you might directly ask how the person is feeling.
3. Make it easy for others to build on your point.
You might ask if you were clear, request feedback, solicit opinions, or offer to go deeper into any part of your point. People likely have questions–we’re often not as clear as we think we are–so creating a small opening will help people add to the discussion.
4. Make conflicts and complaints about your needs.
If you have a problem with someone, frame it in terms of your needs, not their shortcomings. This will help soften the blow and motivate them to change their behavior. When you talk about someone’s behavior, try to refer to specific actions, not the person’s whole character.
5. Ask people to say their point differently.
Many of us are too proud to say we don’t understand, or simply don’t know how to ask for clarification. If you’re confused, try asking the person if they can say what they said a different way. Doing so benefits both parties, as you’ll probably get clarity on your own thoughts by rephrasing as well.
6. Meet people where they’re at.
If the person you’re talking to knows nothing about the subject at hand, try to scaffold your communication so that you meet them at their level of understanding. This doesn’t mean dumbing down what you’re saying; it means digging into what they might know about peripheral subjects or even abandoning the subject and finding common ground.
7. Seek to understand.
People are complicated. It’s easy to make assumptions. And we’re frequently wrong when we try to guess what others are thinking. When you need to know more, or there’s a conflict at hand, cultivate curiosity and try to understand where the other person is coming from.
8. Express your needs and, if needed, repeat.
Sometimes we express our needs to people who immediately challenge them, whether it’s making an excuse for not being able to meet them or dismissing what we’ve just expressed by making it about their needs instead. In these cases, simply calmly repeat your need. If it’s not heard, ask if the other person would like to reconvene when they are able to meet your needs.
9. Set boundaries verbally.
It’s easier to disappear on someone, and of course everyone has a right to respond however they like, but relationship repair can only happen when boundaries are clear to you and the other person. They probably will not guess why you disappeared, and it may not be so terrible to set boundaries verbally–most of the time we don’t give people a chance to prove their receptiveness and flexibility. Plus, after you assert a boundary once, it becomes much easier the next time.
10. Ask what you want the exchange to be about.
Before you begin the exchange, or even during the course of it, ask yourself what you want to get out of it. Not what you want to get out of the other person, but rather what kind of energy or outcome you want to create in the space between the two of you. Doing so will help guide the exchange in the right direction and prevent you from getting sidetracked or preoccupied with judgments and false perceptions.