Being a More Effective Communicator

Being a More Effective CommunicatorThis week we welcome back guest writer Stephanie Nweke to talk about learning to become a better communicator, a crucial skill for any lawyer.

“Communication” is a word we throw around all the time, especially when it comes to the job search. At one point, I used to think that communication meant my ability to get in front of a crowd and give a presentation on a topic I wasn’t passionate about. But I’ve learned that’s not an accurate depiction of communication. What does it actually mean to have good communication skills, and why is it that communication is a skill that seems to pop up in every application? In this post, I explore six different aspects of effective communication and how to incorporate better communication into our everyday lives.

1. Listen

It’s difficult to communicate with someone if we don’t understand what exactly they’re saying and why they’re sharing information. Many times, we listen to respond, instead of listening to gain perspective.

A helpful way to ensure that you’re on the same page with the other person is to repeat back what you heard and ask clarifying questions. This lets the other person know that you’re listening and that you care to understand their perspective.

2. Manage Your Body Language

Sometimes it’s easier to hold our tongue than it is to manage our nonverbal cues, or our body language. Scoffing, rolling our eyes, sighing deeply or loudly, or unnecessary fidgeting can disrupt a conversation, especially if the topic is sensitive or contentious.

Tone of voice is also important. Being a blunt, matter-of-fact person doesn’t excuse coarseness or disrespect. I’m not saying we should become robots who are void of emotion—as it is natural to have certain reactions in conversation. I’m saying we have more control than we think over our nonverbal expressions. Certain expressions can disrupt the flow of communication in a conversation, which can later lead to confusion, misunderstanding, and hindering empathy and problem-solving.

3. Take Full Responsibility for Your Actions

The older we get, the more responsibilities we have, and the less excuses we can sensibly make. Sometimes, offense is the biggest elephant in the room during a conversation. It can be easier to resolve the conflict by starting with a sincere apology. The “I’m sorry you feel that way” apologies don’t cut it because it still pushes off responsibility for negative words and actions that caused the other person’s negative response.

In my personal experience, I’ve learned to resist the urge to explain the intentions behind my action because it may be interpreted as me justifying my action, which waters down my apology. I have to be straightforward in admitting my wrong, and I simply make the apology. Every mistake is an opportunity to learn something new.

4. Balance the Negative with the Positive

Whenever we’re upset at someone, it’s easy to magnify the person’s wrongs. We tend to let the negatives outweigh the positives, which isn’t always fair. I‘m not saying that we should ignore legitimate concerns, but depending on your relationship to the person, we should also consider the things we appreciate about them in light of our emotions about a given situation.

This helps to approach a context with more sensitivity and can give a more complete picture since nothing ever happens in isolation.

5. Ask for Useful Feedback

Getting feedback in any context can be intimidating. But every great product, every successful person or movement got to where it is today because of feedback. Feedback is helpful because sometimes we aren’t aware of certain things. Useful feedback is a set of tangible takeaways and pointers that you can think about and put into action.

It helps to sit down with a close friend or a trusted mentor to talk more in depth about the areas of improvement they might have noticed about you. Cultivating this safe space helps you to listen closely, ask clarifying questions, and get guidance on how to better approach certain situations. And that my friends, can be priceless!

6. Practice

It’s one thing to read or receive advice on communication skills. It’s another thing to actually work on them. The more effort we make to effectively communicate with people, the more comfortable we become in our ability to effectively relay and understand information.

We practice communicating everyday with our classmates, coworkers, and family members. We can merely choose to be more intentional with the words we say and the actions we take. There are multitudes of personalities and traits in every context that are difficult to deal with. Let’s face it, we all have that one family member that we can’t stand to talk to.

But, no one is a perfect communicator, and we can’t always control the things people say or do. The most important thing is that we learn about ourselves and seek to continually improve our ability to communicate, which is ultimately a lifelong skill.


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About Stephanie Nweke

Stephanie is a second-year student at the University of Houston Law Center. She is also the co-founder of Blademy, an online platform where Black millennials come to learn new skills, land better jobs, and reach their full potential. Stephanie is interested in the intersection of law, business, and technology and wants to create more access to the legal profession for first-generation and minority students.

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