Humans are social creatures. Every day we utter hundreds—even thousands—of words for a variety of reasons: to educate, to entertain, to bond, to problem-solve. But are we communicating our ideas clearly? How can we have more successful conversations?
Let’s take a look at some of the top strategies for effective and healthy communication.
Practice the power of listening.
Best-selling author, speaker and activist Bryant H. McGill once said: “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Active listening helps the speaker feel comfortable, which helps them more clearly communicate their message. It also sets a respectful tone to the conversation and increases the chance they’ll return the favor.
Here are some ways to be a better listener:
- Maintain good eye contact
- Frequently smile/nod to affirm you’re interested and engaged
- Focus on the speaker and the message—not what your response will be
- Eliminate distractions (e.g., put away your phone, turn down background noise)
- Resist the urge to interrupt or interject during pauses
- Ask thoughtful, open-ended questions (e.g., “how,” “what,” or “tell me more about…”)
- Summarize or paraphrase what was said—this confirms you understood the message and validates the speaker’s feelings/ideas
Be aware of body language.
According to renowned psychologist Albert Mehrabian, 55 percent of how we perceive someone comes from their body language—not their words. And studies have shown that when someone’s words and body language don’t match, the audience is more likely to trust the latter. Here’s a look at how our body can help, or hinder, communication:
Gestures are body movements used to emphasize, clarify or complement speech. Purposeful movements related to the message can help foster comprehension for the listener—particularly for those with a hearing loss.
Clenching your jaw, pursing your lips, furrowing your brow—these can all communicate stress, anger or dislike. Eye contact is simple yet strikingly effective: It can convey confidence, sincerity, interest and respect. Avoid looking down or away, which can imply insecurity or deceit.
Arms folded across the chest can make you look defensive or disinterested, while resting them at the waist or across your lap is more welcoming. Minimize fidgety habits such as jiggling your leg or tapping your fingers—these distract from the message and can communicate insecurity or impatience.
Choose your words wisely.
Words have two meanings: the literal and the connotative. Be mindful of the words you use to convey your message. Words can elicit specific feelings or attitudes depending on the audience, context, and the word’s cultural history. Other keys to effective communication:
Use familiar, easy-to-understand words. Be descriptive and specific. Avoid anything too vague or that could be interpreted multiple ways.
Sometimes your core message—and your audience’s attention span—can get lost in a sea of lengthy descriptions and fluffy phrasing. Narrow the focus to essential details. Avoid over-explaining or repeating yourself—these can make you sound condescending or bossy.
Pay attention to your audience.
People vary widely in terms of personality and communication style. ‘Mirroring’ is an effective communication technique that involves using body language, style/tone, etc. similar to that of the person with whom you’re speaking. For example, if someone is animated and funny, you could use lots of gestures and sprinkle in some jokes. Mirroring is a powerful way to build trust and bond with your audience.
Throughout the conversation, watch for nonverbal cues and feedback. Use that information to adjust your message, body language or tone.
Communication Strategies for Hearing-Impaired Individuals
While the techniques above are helpful for all people, those with hearing loss may benefit from additional strategies specifically tailored to their needs.
Are you dealing with hearing loss? Here are some ways to move toward more meaningful communication:
Be upfront about your hearing loss.
Many people may not be aware of your hearing loss. Begin conversations by informing others about your hearing difficulties and how they can help make the conversation go smoothly.
Be specific about what you need.
If you hear better with your left ear, for example, you could ask them to sit/stand on that side. You can also ask them to speak more slowly so you can read their lips to help fill in the gaps.
Optimize the listening environment.
Many people with hearing loss have trouble understanding words in noisy environments. Turn off background noise from the TV or radio, or move to a quieter location when possible—such as stepping aside from the group for a one-on-one conversation, or moving to a less crowded section at a restaurant.
Missed words and misinterpretations are a part of life—especially for those living with hearing loss. Softening these social mishaps with a little humor can keep everyone at ease and alleviate awkward tension.
Fuel your brain (and body).
Listening can take a lot of brain power for those dealing with hearing loss. Get plenty of sleep/rest, eat a diet rich in nutrients and exercise regularly. These healthy habits will help boost your concentration so you can listen—and communicate—more effectively.
Take advantage of today’s hearing solutions.
While no device can completely restore hearing, hearing aids can significantly improve your ability to hear and comprehend speech. Features such as directional microphones and direct streaming from smartphones make it easier to communicate and stay connected in our active modern world.
If you’re worried about how your own voice will sound when wearing hearing aids, take note: Miracle-Ear’s GENIUS™ 3.0 hearing aids feature innovative Voice Recognition technology, which detects and learns your unique voice, then processes it separately from other sounds. This dual processing method makes your voice, and the sounds around you, sound incredibly natural.