Effective Communication Strategies

Practical tips to use in a variety of situations Aree Bly

Photo: iStock.com/cagkansayin

How do you communicate effectively with others? It’s one of the simplest things on the surface, yet one of the biggest challenges people face. Even when communicating with someone who shares your background, career and work experience, it can seem like you are not speaking the same language at times.

Communication is all about exchanging information (data). It is necessary when working on a team and when dealing with a challenging situation. Good communication creates trust, clarifies goals and expectations, and increases productivity. Here are some tips you can use in a variety of situations.

Communication Preparation

First, clarify your goals. Know what you want to get out of the conversation before you start it. Then, choose the appropriate communication method. There are so many ways to communicate today, but we often get stuck using one approach. Decide which method—in-person, by phone, via email or instant message—will be best for the conversation at hand. When in doubt, pick up the phone.

It is courteous to provide a heads up for tough conversations. Ask permission to talk about a difficult topic, and find a time that works well for both parties.

Don’t underestimate the power of peer review. Yes, even for communication, it can be helpful. If you are not sure whether your point is clear in an email or other communication, have a second set of trusted eyes review it before you share it. Or in preparation for an important conversation, practice your pitch on someone else first.

In the Conversation

Assume nothing. Ask questions and follow your curiosity. Go into the conversation with the intent to learn something about the situation that you did not know previously.

Invite emotions into the conversation. This can be hard, but it is important to understand the emotional impact of a situation on a person. A situation that may anger one person may cause frustration in another or be viewed as an exciting challenge for a third. Knowing the emotional state of the other people involved can help determine how you should proceed.

Be concise. Don’t use so many words that the true message gets buried.

Small changes in the words you use can have a big impact. Rather than saying “should,” try using the word “could” instead. Or ask what the team “might” try rather than asking what the solution “is.” These subtle shifts can create a foundation for finding creative solutions.

Offer both positive feedback and suggestions for change where needed, and communicate both sides consistently. Creating a culture of regular communication helps make sure everyone is on the same page.

Follow Up

After an important conversation, follow up to restate what you heard. This is the best way to make sure the other person knows you understood them correctly. It’s also important to keep the lines of communication open. There may be additional questions or new ideas that arise once everyone has a chance to further digest the initial communication.

After tough conversations, review what worked and what didn’t. Look for ways to improve for the next conversation. Asking for feedback can help you get better at communicating with others. Check with peers, managers and team members to get their input on where you might be falling short in your communication.

The bottom line is that communication is a skill. Remember that it takes practice to build it. Experiment and find out what works for you.

Aree Bly, FSA, spent 25 years in a successful actuarial career, working at both consulting firms and health insurance companies. Today she is an alignment coach and focuses on helping others lead and succeed by identifying and then navigating through their values, strengths and skills.

Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries or the respective authors’ employers.

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