What do you call your mother? Here's what you might hear in the US:
You're talking to your colleague, boss, or team member at work, and you notice that they don't seem to get what you're saying. It might be your accent, but more times than not it is the way you are communicating. Navigating the maze of professional and social communication interactions can be confusing for the non-native English speaker, and even just for those whose strengths lie more in their technical expertise than their people skills. Here are five common mistakes you can fix to improve your success in communication.
NUMBER ONE: EASE IN
For most interactions, it's not best practice to start the interaction with the main purpose. Rather than telling someone to do something directly, for example, make sure you start with a greeting, compliment, or social question. Your colleague or team member will be more willing and ready to complete the task you are asking them to do if you've had a social exchange first. Even a short hello will smooth the way for your listener to engage with you.
Example: You need your team member to give you some completed work.
The Error: "Get me the numbers for last quarter."
The Fix: "Hi Jim, do you have last quarter's numbers ready for me?"
NUMBER TWO: GET TO THE POINT
While it’s good to ease in, you also need to be cautious to not take up too much time. If your communication partner wants to have a longer conversation, great, but if you are the only one talking and you could share the same information in one sentence rather than 5, keep it simple. People are busy and don’t want to feel trapped having to politely listen while you lecture. Watch for body language cues (lack of eye contact, crossing arms or turning away) that show your listener would rather move on.
Example: You want to tell someone about something you learned.
The Error: "Susan, I found a great website. I was looking for an analysis tool for our analytics team to use in conjunction with the current tools and so first I . . . " (ten minutes later, still talking about details of this topic)
The Fix: "Hi Susan, how are you? Can I tell you about a website I found that I think you'll find useful? It's an analysis tool - I can send you the link and if you'd like to talk about it more, we could meet for coffee and look at it together."
NUMBER THREE: WATCH YOUR RATE
In some cultures (including some American subcultures), a fast speaking rate is associated with intelligence. People will speak very quickly and with very few pauses in order to seem knowledgeable or show their expertise on a topic. While a fast rate is not necessarily a problem, if you have speech that is more difficult to understand due to your accent, your word choice or another reason, speaking too quickly can compound the issue. In addition, a lack of pauses can make it difficult for your listener to process all of the information, ask questions or comment and participate in the conversation.
Example: You want to teach your team member a better way to do something.
The Error: "You need to use a different browser because the one you're using doesn't load as quickly and tends to crash for websites that use Flash, which is a headache by the way because it always needs to update and most people don't keep their updates current for their PC's . . . (continues without pausing)"
The Fix: "Hey Amir, I see you're using Safari. Is that your default browser?" pause and wait for response, continue. "Can I show you a better option?"
NUMBER FOUR: WHAT IS YOUR BODY LANGUAGE SAYING?
Different cultures use different body language to show interest, respect, or give feedback cues. You may be sending a different message than you intend to depending on your body language, or you may be revealing your true attitude when you'd rather keep it to yourself. Understanding body language is key to appropriate interactions, both as the speaker and the listener.
Read More About Body Language Here
NUMBER FIVE: USE REPAIR STRATEGIES
Even the best communicators can have misunderstandings occur. Sometimes, your listener simply wasn't paying attention and missed what you said. Maybe you used a word or expression they didn't know, or maybe they didn't know what topic you were on and the missed some key information. Whatever the reason, knowing how to identify and repair communication breakdowns is an important skill for any good communicator. Watch for cues that your listener didn't get it (facial expression, body language, off-topic or incorrect response). Don't simply repeat yourself, try re-phrasing, asking a clarifying question, or asking your listener to tell you paraphrase what you've said to make sure the message was clear.
Example: You want someone to call you back on your mobile phone.
The Error: "Call me back on my mobile, you have that number right?" (no response, or confused response)
The Fix: "Oh, I think I wasn't clear. Can I give you my cell phone number to call me back? Can you tell me the number to make sure we have the correct information?"
Being proactive as a communicator and looking for ways to be culturally and socially appropriate in your business and social interactions will make you more successful in getting what you need with your colleagues, team member and employers. Good communication opens doors in your career and improves your professional social life. Rather than feeling frustrated by your interactions, take a look at what you can do on your end to improve your communication skills.
Ever wonder if the spread of English globally is helping those in non-English speaking countries or hurting them? In a review of the recently published book Why English? Confronting the Hydra, the Financial Times looks at the question of education in English and whether it is yielding positive results. In the book, scholars and English teachers examine the methods of instruction around the world and point to research showing that while early second language learning and eventual bilingualism in native language and English can clearly have a positive impact on children, a focus on instruction only in English and not the child's native language can have a negative affect on learning and literacy. Read the full article here.
Americans use small talk to make new connections, interact with strangers, and begin interactions with friends and co-workers. Being able to use small talk comfortably is an important skill when communicating in all types of situations with Americans. Here are some basic considerations to help you be a more effective communicator:
Americans use small talk with anyone, regardless of social standing or circumstances. It’s appropriate to engage in small talk with strangers, co-workers and higher-ups at work and in business. It may seem too casual to engage in light chatting with someone to whom you want to show respect, like a boss, an executive from another company, or someone who is interviewing you for a job, but it is actually a necessary step in showing you are a confident communicator.
Small talk is positive, light, restricted to certain “safe” topics, and balanced between talking about oneself and directing the topic to the other person. Usual small talk topics include the weather, entertainment (movies, books, television), travel, food and sports. Topics to be avoided are politics, religion, money, sex, family problems, or anything potentially controversial.
When and Where:
Use small talk when first meeting someone, or beginning an interaction with someone you already know. Respond if someone starts a small talk conversation with you, and start a conversation yourself when waiting for something to begin, when you are introduced to someone new, or when you would like to speak with someone about something else. Opening with small talk will put the other person at ease and allow you to make a connection in order to have the conversation you need afterwards.
Using small talk demonstrates that you have good communication skills and cultural understanding. It enables you to make connections for more important communication. It allows you to get to know someone and have them learn about you. It puts others at ease and gives you a starting point for interactions.
Practice and have a plan. If you have a few comments and questions ready, you will feel more confident when it is time to engage in some small talk. Start with “how are you?” or an equivalent (how’s it going; how have you been?). Be ready with your answer (I’m fine; I’m doing well, thank you; things are going well, thanks). Comment on the weather, ask a question about the other person, or introduce a topic you enjoy talking about. Have a short list of possible complements to give the other person based on what you know about them. Have a few comments about your surroundings or neutral topics ready.
Small talk may not be your favorite thing to do, but it should be a skill you feel comfortable with. Knowing how to use it effectively will increase your confidence and have a positive effect on your communication in social and business interactions. For recordings and practice conversations, consider a subscription to our online practice site.
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