Communication is an essential part of your day. Communicate well and you'll sell your ideas more effectively, deal with discord better, run better meetings. Communicate poorly and you'll leave conversations wondering if anything was accomplished at all.

Productive communication involves more than just two people talking. Communicating effectively requires planning, concentration, and consideration of others. Whether you need to talk with your spouse, hash out a problem with a friend, or land that next big business deal, here are some tips to add power and productivity to your conversations.


1. Stop Talking and Listen

The best way to be a good communicator is to be a good listener. Think of your conversation as a tennis match, with each person taking turns serving and receiving. When it's your turn to listen, give the other party your undivided attention. Don't think about what you're going to say next.


2. Think Before You Speak

Know what you want to say and make your point quickly. By doing so, it is more likely that the listener will remember your message. Know why you're having the conversation and what you want to accomplish from it--before you start speaking. If possible, let the other person know the conversation topic in advance, and keep the conversation focused.


3. Ask Questions

To gain the most from any interaction, find out what people want. Don't ask questions that can be answered with a "yes" or a "no." Ask open-ended questions that will give you more insight into their thoughts and feelings. If you aren't clear on a point they are trying to make, ask for clarification; then restate what you heard and ask them to verify that you received their message correctly.


4. Anticipate Distractions

Nothing you do will make others feel more important than giving them your full attention. Conduct your interaction in a quiet, peaceful location with a minimum of distractions. Turn off your pager and cell phone. If an unavoidable interruption occurs, excuse yourself and return as quickly as possible. If you must end the conversation due to an unforeseen crisis, reschedule it for a later time.


5. Be Mindful of Your Volume and Tone

Your vocal tone gives the listener a snapshot of your feelings. If you want to show respect or affection, soften your tone. If you find yourself feeling impatient or angry during a conversation, listen to yourself to make sure your voice isn't reflecting those emotions. Keep your voice calm and even whenever possible. If a conversation begins to turn into an argument, consciously lower your volume; often your listener will, too.


6. Handle Disagreements
with Tact

Disagreements are inevitable; what do you do when someone disagrees? You can argue--or you can continue to communicate with tact. Tact begins with listening: be sure you clearly understand the issue. Ask questions. Stay calm; think of disagreements as a difference in opinion, not personal rejection. You can understand another's point of view without agreeing with it. Remember that everyone has a right to an opinion; respect that and work at finding common ground. If the differences of opinion are over minor issues, work on a compromise. If the disagreement is a matter of principle, you may decide to end the conversation--or even the relationship.


7. Be Open to New Ideas

Don't assume you know everything about a given topic. Relax and allow yourself time to receive vital input from another person. Listen attentively; consider how new ideas may apply to things you already know. If you find someone does know more than you about the topic, don't be afraid to yield control: new information can add to your knowledge, encourage you to study further, or even change your mind!


8. Take Notes

Always carry a PDA or pen and notepad to jot down thoughts, ideas and items on which you must take action. When you first meet someone, take a moment to jot down key information about the person and the conversation. Make sure you get the correct spelling of their name, and also spell it out phonetically, if necessary: you want to be able to address them correctly the next time you see them. People may not notice when you say their name right, but they sure do notice when you say it wrong!


9. Watch Your Body Language

Studies show that 93 percent of communication is non-verbal. Make good eye contact, stand tall, keep good posture. Make sure your message and your body language match--if they don't, people will more likely believe the body language! If you want to let the other person know you agree with him, don't fold your arms tightly cross your legs or turn your body away. Matching another's body positioning silently indicates agreement.


10. Eliminate "Audible Pauses"

There's no need to fill every second of a conversation with sound. Verbal fluff ("ah," "uh," "um," "like," "you know") obscures your message and reduces your credibility. If you are about to use a non-word, take a breath and hold it a moment before you resume speaking. Use shorter sentences; let your pauses be silent. Becoming familiar with your topic will help, too. Practice what you want to say, but don't sound rehearsed.


More Power to You

Communication and success go hand in hand. The more effectively you communicate your ideas, the better your outcomes will be. Practice these communication tips and apply them every day. When you do, you'll communicate powerfully and with confidence, and achieve the results you desire.



JO CONDRILL ( is the author of 101 Ways to Improve Your Communications Skills Instantly. As a civilian supervisor to the Pentagon, she was so effective at mastering communications techniques that she received the Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service, the Pentagon's highest civilian award.