Text messages, emails, social media posts, instant messages—so much of our communication occurs via digital formats these days. Even for those of us who used to communicate primarily in face-to-face settings or via phone, basic communication skills can become less habitual and require some extra effort. Young professionals, whose communication skills developed largely in virtual contexts, often require training and coaching in skills that were once intuitive. Here are a few critical communication skills to practice and encourage in those you are mentoring and leading:
1) Smile. Of course, you do not need to smile throughout an entire conversation, but it is important to use facial expressions and body language that indicate engagement and interest. At the beginning or end of a conversation, this may include a strong handshake. Throughout the discussion, appropriately smiling, nodding, or leaning in during important points indicates you are listening.
2) Maintain eye contact. Digital communication allows for multi-tasking. An interruption while writing an email or a distraction while texting, seldom affect the quality of the interaction. However, in face-to-face communication, appearing distracted or allowing interruptions (like checking a text message!), indicates there are other more important priorities than what you are hearing. Maintaining eye contact and ignoring distractions around you shows the value you place on the person and conversation before you.
3) Pause. Often, while listening to others, we are already thinking of what we need to do next, or preparing our response to what they are saying. As soon as they stop talking (sometimes before!), we start sharing our perspectives. Make it a practice to allow a pause when others finish talking. You may discover they are only thinking and have something more to add. It also communicates that you are listening and absorbing what they are saying. As a result, they may feel comfortable sharing more in-depth information that you would miss out on otherwise.
4) Ask questions. Miscommunications are a frequent part of interacting with others. Usually, they result from insufficient information. Ask follow-up or clarifying questions to be sure you fully understand other perspectives and expectations. This is especially important in face-to-face communication since we cannot reread a conversation the same way we can a text message or email. Relevant and insightful questions also indicate your investment in the conversation and can help further the discussion!
As teachers, leaders, and parents, one of the best ways to help the young leaders and kids around us grow in their communication skills is to model them in our own lives. Practice these communication strategies and others consistently and make them a part of your expectations of those you lead. See the change that occurs as active and healthy face-to-face communication becomes the norm in your team, family, or work context!
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!