The CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner, cites communication as the number one skill gap in the workplace currently. Everyone is living behind computer screens; skills such as coding and automation are heavily emphasized.
But communication still matters — a lot. Technology takes out the emotions and social cues in interactions. What’s left is an extremely important aspect of our lives, overlooked.
Several years ago, I taught English in South Korea. Even though I majored in Communication at my university, what I learned abroad proved more valuable.
My English classes consisted of students anywhere from sixteen to eighty years old. They came from all walks of life: a high school kid that knew every curse word imaginable because of playing League of Legends to a distinguished heart surgeon. Variety never seemed to lack in my classes.
My time teaching presented me with two issues: conveying ideas to people whose first language wasn’t English and holding their attention, regardless of their interests, for an entire hour.
But having no experience in teaching, I went with trial and error. When I realized that my students weren’t remembering things, I pivoted my techniques. If I noticed the class wasn’t engaged, I needed to shift my lesson plan quickly.
I stumbled but made my way through the eight months there. And what resulted was a deep understanding of subtle but powerful ways to communicate with people.
While teaching English might be a nuanced form of communication, the skills to do so are not. They still focus on conveying information or an idea. And humans have universal ways of doing just that. The techniques I gathered are ones I still use today, both with my friends and in work-settings.
Let’s talk about the several subtle, but powerful techniques for improving one’s communication that anyone can start doing today.
You become more relatable when you match people’s tones
Your voice sets your presence in a conversation. That presence either creates a connection or a barrier.
If a student of mine was a girl in high school with a sweet, high pitched voice, I found that she felt more comfortable when I slightly shifted my voice to match hers. Same went for the group of college guys that would come into my class together. Meeting them with a lower, relaxed voice got them to open up more.
The effect is called mirroring, matching someone’s tone and other habits. Research has shown this technique to foster rapport between two people.
Tone-matching should be used subtly, though. Changing your voice too much can come off condescending. But when used just right, a person will subconsciously feel they can relate to you better.
Storytelling helps people remember better
If I listed thirty items and asked you to recall them, chances are you’d forget the majority. That’s because these items are arbitrary; they have no rhyme or reason.
When those items are placed within a story, context is added to them. No longer are they random objects; they’re associated with mental images created in your mind that help you better remember.
So when I taught my students about idioms, we’d use the phrases in real-world context along with painting a silly picture of what “raining cats and dogs” would look like.
Shorter is better — there’s no need to be convoluted
You may think the more details, the better, but that’s not the case.
When you add unnecessary words to your message, the idea can get lost. Over-explaining is only necessary because you haven’t figured out a concise way to state what you want. If you’re getting lost or rambling in your own story, chances are the person that’s listening isn’t going to be able to grasp the message either.
Make sure to keep your ideas short and sweet. If you’re able to make your message concise, then there’s no room for misunderstanding.
Slow down, this isn’t a race to the end
When we get excited, our tempo for speaking increases. We’re so revved up by our ideas, that we don’t even realize that we’re talking at 1.25 times the average speaking speed. Speaking too quickly can come off as many things: aggressive, insincere, or off-putting.
Teaching English made me slow down my speaking a lot. Given my students weren’t native English speakers, my average speaking tempo was too fast for them. But even after coming back to the states, I found that paying attention to my temp is still helpful.
If you’re explaining a complex idea with a lot of jargon, slow down, so the information has time to permeate the minds of the people you’re speaking to. If you have to give an elevator pitch with limited time, ramp up your temp a bit to make sure you convey your idea.
Just make sure to find the sweet spot; there are downfalls of speaking too slowly in general. The last thing you want is to come off as unsure or lacking energy.
There’s a perfect middle spot that’s important to stay within. That way, you’re capturing people’s attention without your speaking pace distracting from your message.
Be aware of your body language
My English classroom was a typical high school setting: those odd desk-chair contraptions, English posters around the room, and wooden desk for yours truly.
I had an option: either sit behind my desk or roll my chair out to be closer and more open to my students.
I found that when I chose the latter, my students were more interactive with me. Not only that, but on the days when I got better sleep, and therefore sat up straight and more alert, they also were in a better mood.
Body language is essential when communicating with people. Slouching makes you look unsure. Having your arms crossed over your chest can come off as critical or closed-off. Make sure to stand-up right. Play around with hand gestures that feel natural. When you make someone feel more comfortable around you, they’re more receptive to what you have to say.
Every day we interact with a variety of people, and they all have one thing in common: the need to communicate.
Though we don’t realize it, there’s power behind effective communication. It’s why people lead countries and individuals incite movements around the world.
And it doesn’t take much, just a few subtle tweaks. But the results are powerful and can greatly improve your communication.
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