Communication is a critical skill that is essential for success in the insurance industry. It is also a skill that can be easily transferred to many different industries. No matter what job a recent graduate gets out of college, effective communication skills are crucial to their future success. This article focuses on building essential communication skills.
The ability to communicate effectively with all levels of colleagues and clients is one of the most important skills you can have to lead to success. In today's high-tech and high-speed world, communication is more important than ever. Being a savvy and confident communicator will be a driver to success throughout your career.
Developing and refining communication skills is an ongoing process that requires attention throughout your career. There are many facets to good communication skills. Let's look at a few particularly important ones.
Being a good listener is one of the best ways to be a good communicator. Public speaking is considered an essential ability for those who want to advance in their career, so we tend to pay a great deal of attention to our ability to speak. However, we often overlook that listening is just as important as speaking, if not more so.
There are a lot of great sayings about listening that emphasize that you learn more by listening than by talking.
"A man can learn a lot if he listens, and if I didn't learn anything else, I was learning how much I didn't know."—Louis L'Amour, The Daybreakers
"We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak."—Epictetus
"They think too little who talk too much."—John Dryden
"Talk low, talk slow, and don't say too much."—John Wayne
With the focus on communicating via devices, listening is often overlooked. Genuine listening has become a rare talent. It helps build relationships, solve problems, ensure understanding, and resolve conflicts. Effective listening leads to fewer errors and less wasted time.
Listening serves several possible purposes that vary based on the situation and the nature of the communication. Some of the purposes include the following.
To specifically focus on the message being communicated, avoiding distractions and preconceptions
To gain an accurate understanding of the speaker's point of view and ideas
To critically assess what is being said
To show interest, concern, and concentration
To encourage the speaker to communicate fully, openly, and honestly
Remember that listening is not the same as hearing. Hearing is just a physical process. Listening requires more than that. Listening requires focus and effort. It means paying attention to what is being said and to how it is being said (i.e., the use of language, tone of voice, nonverbal signals).
The following are some ways to hone your listening skills.
Be in the moment.
Think of times when you have been talking with someone, yet they seem distracted and not really listening. How did this make you feel? Did you feel annoyed or frustrated? Then think of times when someone has been talking to you. Did you give them the impression that you were fully engaged and hearing what they are saying?
When you are in a conversation with someone, you should be fully present and in that moment. If there is a distraction, and you can't fully engage with them, then let them know and plan a time to talk when you can really listen.
If you are fully engaged, then you will be paying attention not only to the words but the tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. This may provide information that is as important as the words.
Practice active listening.
Listening is not a passive process. As the listener, you should be as engaged in the process as the speaker. Too often, we get so caught up in thinking about how to reply when someone is talking that we don't fully listen. This often conveys that you are more interested in what you have to say than listening to them. So, practice active listening.
Active listening means being fully involved. This means paying close attention to what the other person is saying, asking clarifying questions, and rephrasing what the person says to ensure understanding. If you focus completely on what the person is saying, you can better understand what they are trying to say and can respond appropriately. You will notice that it gets much easier to focus on their words when you aren't worrying about how you will respond.
There are some key active listening techniques you can use to help you become a more effective listener.
Give the speaker your undivided attention.
Show that you're listening through your body language, facial expressions, and encouraging the speaker with small verbal comments like "yes."
Provide feedback by asking questions to clarify certain points and summarizing the speaker's comments.
Defer judgment until the speaker has finished each point, and do not interrupt with counterarguments.
Respond respectfully with candid, open, and honest questions and feedback.
Good communicators enter conversations with a flexible, open mind. People who are naturally curious are always looking for new learning opportunities. They see conversations as an excellent way to learn something new. They are open to the idea that their way of seeing things may not be the only way. They see conversations as opportunities for their own development. So, listen without judging the other person and without jumping to conclusions. View every conversation as an opportunity to learn.
It's not just about the words. If you exclude email, a significant amount of direct communication is nonverbal. You convey strong messages with your body language, eye contact, hand gestures, and tone of voice. We can gather a great deal of information about each other without saying a word. When face-to-face with a person, you can detect enthusiasm, boredom, or irritation very quickly. This also is true over the telephone and in an email. You can learn from the other person's cadence and tone of voice.
When face-to-face, be conscious of having a relaxed, open stance and a friendly tone that makes you appear approachable. This will encourage others to speak openly with you. Eye contact is also important. Looking the other person in the eye shows that you are focused on them and the conversation.
In every conversation, it is important to be conscious of what nonverbal signs you might be conveying and how that is impacting the communication process.
Effective communication requires that you be articulate, coherent, and clear. Good verbal communication means saying just enough—don't talk too much or too little. Practice conveying your message in as few words as possible. Say what you want clearly and directly, whether you are speaking to someone in person, on the phone, or via email. Rambling on will lead your listener to either tune you out or be unsure of exactly what you are trying to communicate.
Communicating in an understandable manner is important. The use of acronyms, buzzwords, and jargon can be off-putting and confusing, particularly when the listener has no idea what those words mean. Know your audience and plan your message accordingly.
It is important to be confident when communicating with others. Confidence is not a learned skill. It is a state of mind. It shows others that you believe in what you are saying and gives you credibility. It can be a fine line to walk because you want to avoid the appearance of arrogance or aggressiveness. Using good listening skills can help convey the appropriate degree of confidence.
Developing confidence in your communication skills takes time and practice. Some tips to help build confidence include the following.
Plan and prepare.
Think before you speak.
Be succinct and do not ramble.
Take your time.
Stay present, and don't focus so much on what you are going to say next that you miss the conversation.
Be aware of your body language and what it is conveying.
The most effective technique for improving your confidence in communication skills is simply doing it. Practice, practice, practice. There are also numerous resources, from Toastmasters to Dale Carnegie courses to an unlimited number of courses, workshops, and training, available both in person and online. Find what works best for you.
Picking the Right Medium
In today's world with its numerous options for communication, it is important to simply know what form of communication to use. Communication comes in a variety of types, including oral, written, and nonverbal. While having a variety of methods can be useful, it is important to know which ones to use and at what time to maximize your success.
When selecting the medium to use, think about the person with whom you wish to speak. If you know the person, think about how they communicate and tailor your communication to that method. Another consideration may be how busy they are. If they are a very busy person, you may want to convey your message through email. People will appreciate your thoughtful means of communication and will be more likely to respond positively to you. If you are unsure how a person wants to communicate, then ask.
It is more difficult when you don't know the person. But you can get clues from how they communicate with you. If you send an email and their response is a phone call, then you know that they generally prefer to communicate in that manner. Again, if you are in doubt, simply ask how they would like to receive information or inquiries from you. People will appreciate your consideration.
Employers value employees who can communicate effectively. Effective communication is about more than just exchanging information. It is about successfully relaying your ideas and opinions, but it is also about engaged listening. Being able to express your point of view clearly and succinctly is important, but being able to listen to others is essential to the communication process. Having empathy to see the other person's point of view, encouraging others through effective communication, understanding how other people prefer to communicate, and being clear and concise in your communication can enhance your communication skills. Remember that communication skills must be developed and refined throughout your career. Being cognizant of good communication skills and consistently practicing them will earn you respect and opportunities that will help you build a successful career.
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