Knowing how to communicate effectively is the key to any relationship. Whether you’re giving a presentation at work, working out a disagreement with your significant other, or just having a chat with a friend, knowing how to articulate your ideas—and listen to those of others—is crucial. But though we spend much of our time each day talking to each other, that doesn’t mean we’re all great communicators. Communicating effectively can be surprisingly challenging. So whether you struggle to get your points across or just want to brush up on a few pointers, here are 11 ways to be a better communicator.
1. LEARN TO LISTEN.
Active listening is the basis of all good communication: If you aren’t paying attention to what others are saying, there’s no way you’ll be able to respond effectively. Focus on what your conversation partner is saying, and if necessary, repeat it mentally to make sure you understand the points they’re making.
2. PAY ATTENTION TO BODY LANGUAGE.
Pay attention to your conversation partner’s body language: Are they fidgeting or standing still? Yawning or smiling? Pay attention to your own body language as well—if your words exude confidence, but your body language expresses nervousness, your conversation partner will pick up on that. It’s important both to read others’ body language, and to pay attention to your own stance.
3. OBSERVE HOW OTHERS COMMUNICATE IN DIFFERENT CONTEXTS.
It’s important to understand your audience. If you’re giving a presentation at work, study how others do it (or watch videos of famous lectures by academics, businesspeople, or professionals in your field). If you’re nervous about how to act at a networking event or party, take cues from the people around you.
4. DON’T BE AFRAID OF A BIT OF SILENCE.
Occasional lapses in conversation are natural, so don’t sweat it if conversation lags. Plus, letting pauses occur naturally is a good way to make sure you’re not interrupting anyone’s train of thought.
5. USE ACTION VERBS AND CONFIDENT LANGUAGE.
Even if you’re not feeling confident, you can still sound confident. One good trick is avoiding filler words like “um” and “uh” by slowing down your speech a bit. Another is using strong action verbs—use your resume for fodder and stick to descriptive verbs like “evaluate,” “manage,” and “advise.”
6. ASK QUESTIONS.
Ask clarifying questions: It’ll ensure you understand what your conversation partner is saying, and show that you’re paying attention.
7. FIND COMMON GROUND, EVEN IN AN ARGUMENT.
Finding a shared interest or opinion with your conversation partner is always a great strategy—it’ll make the conversation more enjoyable for both of you as well as show your conversation partner that you’ve got something in common. But finding common ground in an argument can be just as important. If you disagree with someone, try to find a related point that you do agree with—it’ll show you’re trying to understand their point of view.
8. BE PREPARED AND KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.
Knowing your subject matter will put you at ease and make it easier to communicate your ideas to others. If you’re preparing for a job interview, make sure you are familiar with the position and the company; if you’re giving a presentation, know your stuff!
9. IF YOU WANT TO SUBTLY CHANGE THE SUBJECT, FIND A VERBAL BRIDGE.
We all occasionally end up in a conversation that’s not going in a direction we like. Finding a polite way to change the subject can be tough, but one good trick is finding a “bridge.” This can mean finding a topic somewhere in between the current one and the one you’re interested in or involve using a more general phrase that will help you shift the topic. For instance, phrases like “Yes, but,” “What I can tell you is,” or “The important thing to remember is,” all let you subtly shift the focus.
10. FIND THE BEST WAY TO FRAME YOUR STORY.
Whether you’re giving a lecture or telling your friend a funny story, it’s important to figure out how to frame it to make it interesting and engaging. Identify your hook (What makes your story interesting? Why would others care about it?) and pick a framing device: Are you taking your listener on a journey? Explaining a theory? Or making an argument for something? It’s important to clearly define early on where your story is going.
Though it’s important to be self-aware during an important or stressful conversation, ultimately one of the most effective communication strategies is just relaxing, and acting like you would normally—while, of course, remaining professional.
Wells Fargo Advisors considers the firm, their advisors and their clients as equal partners with no hierarchy. This not only makes for smooth and easy communication, but also ensures they put their investors’ interests first. Learn more at joinwfadvisors.com.
Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC, Member SIPC, is a registered broker-dealer and a separate non-bank affiliate of Wells Fargo & Company.
New research shows that helping others may be the key to happiness.
By Lisa Farino
Few of us are immune to the frustrations and challenges of daily life—family problems, conflicts at work, illness, stress over money. When we get depressed or anxious, experts may recommend medication and/or therapy. But a newly emerging school of thought suggests that a simple, age-old principle may be part of both the prevention and the cure: Help others to help yourself.
There’s no shortage of research showing that people who give time, money, or support to others are more likely to be happy and satisfied with their lives—and less likely to be depressed. Could helping others be the key to weathering the inevitable storms of life?
Carolyn Schwartz, a research professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, didn’t start out looking at the value of helping others. Instead, she wanted to see if receiving monthly peer-support phone calls from fellow multiple sclerosis sufferers would benefit others with the disease. But over time, a surprising trend emerged. While those receiving support appeared to gain some mild benefit, the real beneficiaries were those lending a supportive ear. In fact, those who offered support experienced dramatic improvements in their quality of life—several times more so than those they were helping.
The benefits of giving aren’t limited to those who are ill. When Schwartz later looked at more than 2,000 mostly healthy Presbyterian church-goers across the nation, she found that those who helped others were significantly happier and less depressed than those who didn’t.
This phenomenon is nothing new. Paul Wink and Michele Dillon found a similar pattern when they looked at data collected every decade on a group of San Francisco Bay Area residents beginning in the 1930s. Those who volunteered and engaged in other forms of giving when they were adolescents were much less likely to become depressed, even as they got older.
New research suggests there may be a biochemical explanation for the positive emotions associated with doing good. In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, participants’ brains were monitored by MRI scans while they made decisions about donating part of their research payment to charitable organizations. When participants chose to donate money, the brain’s mesolimbic system was activated, the same part of the brain that’s activated in response to monetary rewards, sex, and other positive stimuli. Choosing to donate also activated the brain’s subgenual area, the part of the brain that produces feel-good chemicals, like oxytocin, that promote social bonding.
Why doing good works
These results may seem surprising, especially since our culture tends to associate happiness with getting something. Why should we humans be programmed to respond so positively to giving?
“As Darwin noted, group selection played a strong rule in human evolution. If something like helping benefits the group, it will be associated with pleasure and happiness,” explains Stephen Post, Ph.D., a research professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University who co-authored the book Why Good Things Happen to Good Peoplewith Jill Neimark.
While evolution may have primed us to feel good from giving, it may not be the only reason helping others makes us feel better. Since depression, anxiety, and stress involve a high degree of focus on the self, focusing on the needs of others literally helps shift our thinking.
“When you’re experiencing compassion, benevolence, and kindness, they push aside the negative emotions,” says Post. “One of the best ways to overcome stress is to do something to help someone else.”
Even better, feeling good and doing good can combine to create a positive feedback loop, where doing good helps us to feel good and feeling good also makes us more likely to do good.
“Numerous studies have found that happy people are more helpful,” says Dr. David Myers, a social psychologist at Hope College and author of The Pursuit of Happiness. “Those who’ve just found money in a phone booth are more likely to help a passerby with dropped papers. Those who feel successful are more likely to volunteer as a tutor.”
When giving isn’t good
While doing good is generally good for the doer, Post stresses that there are two important caveats. First, the caregiver can’t be overwhelmed. There’s ample research showing negative mental and physical consequences for givers who are overburdened and stressed by their duties—or who do so much they don’t have time to have fun and take care of themselves.
In addition, while helping others can be a great antidote to the mild depression, stress, and anxiety that is a normal part of the ups and downs daily life, Post emphasizes that it’s not a cure for severe depression. “If you are clinically depressed, you need professional help,” Post says.
But for people who aren’t severely depressed and who give within their limits, helping others can bring joy and happiness—and better health and longevity too.
Some people wonder if these positive benefits make helping others an ultimately selfish act. “If the warm glow and ‘helper’s high’ that people experience when they help others is selfish, then we need more of this kind of selfishness,” says Post.
How to help others—and yourself
Incorporating kindness into your daily life isn’t difficult. Here are five easy things you can do to help others—and yourself:
- Volunteer. Research shows that people who volunteer just two hours per week (about 100 hours per year) have better physical health and are less depressed. To find volunteer opportunities in your area, visit Volunteer Match or contact your local church or school.
- Informally offer help to family, friends, and neighbors. Lend a needed tool, bring dinner to someone who’s sick, feed pets for neighbors on vacation, or offer a ride to someone who lacks a car.
- Donate. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money. Toss change into coffee cans at cash registers or support local organizations by buying a raffle ticket. Look for opportunities to give within your means. You’ll help make the world a better place and make yourself feel better too.
- Listen. Sometimes all others need is someone to lend a sympathetic ear to make them feel heard, cared for and loved.
- Make other people (and yourself) smile. The easiest way to make other people happy is to act happy yourself, even if it’s not how you feel. “Sometimes we can act ourselves into a way of thinking,” says Myers. “So like the old song says, ‘Put on a happy face.’ Talk as if you have self-esteem and are outgoing and optimistic. Going through the motions can awaken the emotions.”