If you’ve ever been in a meeting, you know that communication skills vary from person to person. Some people talk and never listen. Others don’t speak up at all. Some get angry and defensive. Others calmly state their opinions. One thing is for certain: Most people could benefit from learning how to communicate more effectively.

Good communication skills are critical to the success of any business. Effective communication breeds creativity, innovation, cooperation and high performance. Ineffective communication breeds resentment, stalled growth and unhappy people. Becoming an effective communicator means learning to feel comfortable expressing our needs, wants, likes and dislikes—and sometimes, exercising the self-control to remain silent when we would rather speak. It means learning how to speak our minds without alienating others.

As you put these seven steps into practice and teach your people to do the same, your organization will become a place where honesty is valued, people feel appreciated, and everyone achieves their goals more effectively and more quickly than ever.

1. Listen To Learn

Listening shows you care about what someone thinks. When you are tempted to give advice, first ask, “Would you like advice, or prefer that I simply listen?” Often the speaker only needs to speak his thoughts aloud and then draw his own conclusion. As you listen, give the speaker your undivided attention; push all other thoughts out of your mind. Close your office door and switch your cell phone to vibrate mode; concentrate on the present moment. Maintain good eye contact. All these little things add up to showing respect for your listener.

2. Think Before You Speak

Learn to delay your reaction to what you hear. If you feel an urge to react, stop; take a deep breath and count to ten. That pause will allow you to clarify your ideas and present them in an appropriate way. Some silence in a conversation is desirable. 

Always paraphrase what you think you heard and ask if that’s what the speaker meant. If the answer is “Yes” and you still need more information, ask the person to tell you more. Rarely do you walk away from a conversation asking yourself, “Why did I listen so much?”

3. Don’t Be Judgmental

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Listen to understand—you don’t have to agree. People want to feel heard more than they want you to agree with them. Respect the fact that people have a right to hold different opinions than yours.

When you can accept others, your communication skills will improve. The conversation will flow and criticism will disappear. Let others know that you care about them, thank them for sharing with you, and inquire how you can best offer your support. Once you gain the other’s trust, you can move together towards a solution.

4. Build Trust with Honesty

Building trust involves communicating openly and honestly. Set a good example by always telling the truth. Be a person of your word. Honesty and credibility form the foundation for engagement and high performance.

Give your team members opportunities to share their ideas. Establish time for roundtable discussions. When you share information, involve others in dialogue, allow time for questions, and give clear answers. When you say you are going to do something, do it. When you forget to do something you promised, take responsibility and ask what you can do to make it up to them.

5. Give Honest Feedback

Don’t pretend things are going well when they are not. People appreciate sincere feedback; without it, they fail to grow and develop. When you do give feedback, be honest; when you are not, people will sense it. If a person becomes upset at the feedback, try to minimize the discomfort. Realize that upset always involves fear. Address that fear and work on a solution.

6. Admit What You Don’t Know

No one has all the answers all the time. Know when to say, “I don’t know—I’ll get back to you on this.” Then don’t forget to follow up by providing the answers.

Give sincere apologies and admit mistakes. Reveal your human side and others will feel comfortable enough to do the same.

7. Voice Your Appreciation

People who are valued and accepted feel appreciated. Appreciated people are loyal, happy and productive. The person expressing the appreciation will feel good, too. Let each team member know that she matters as a person, and the work she is doing is important. And don’t show appreciation only to your favorite people; “difficult” people typically need the most appreciation, yet they get the least.

Look for more opportunities to use words of kindness, encouragement and gratitude. Write personal thank-you notes to acknowledge good work and success. Offer praise in public, and constructive criticism in private.

Start Fostering Better Communication Today

Set a good example by becoming an effective communicator. Ask for feedback on your own communication skills and be willing to implement positive suggestions for improvement. Be approachable. Be honest. Give your people reason to trust you and encourage them to trust each other, and they will learn to cooperate and work together better as a team, which in turn will create a healthy, happy, motivated and profitable organization.

TESS MARSHALL is a professional speaker,
psychologist and author of
Flying By the Seat of My Soul