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Effective Communication Skills: 10+ tips for speaking up at work, school, or wherever.

Have you ever wanted to communicate better? Do you feel insecure when speaking in public? Is it hard for you to write? Do you not know what to say sometimes? In this article, we will tell you what are effective communication skills, what types there are and where can you apply them. Furthermore, we will give you tips on how to improve them.

Effective communication skills

Effective communication skills: Definition and purpose

Communication skills can be defined as a set of skills that enable a person to communicate properly. According to Hymes, the creator of this concept, effective communication skills consist of knowing “when to speak, when not, and what to talk about, with whom, when, where, in what form“.

We interact constantly with other people and we can’t stop expressing ourselves. Therefore, mastering these skills is fundamental to our personal and social development. We use them when speaking, listening, reading and writing.

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Nowadays it’s hard to get away from our computer screens and mobile phones. Communication is constantly changing and we have to quickly adapt to it. Even so, no matter with what you communicate, you need to use effective communication skills.

We all know how upsetting misunderstandings are. We also know or can imagine the uncomfortable feeling when someone doesn’t pay attention to us when we speak. Sometimes, it’s inevitable that what we say is not interesting or that there are errors in the communicative process. However, here we will give you some guidelines to encounter those situations as little as possible. Discover how to improve your communication skills.

Effective communication skills: Applications

We can’t stop communicating, even if we try. A single gesture betrays us. In fact, even when we are alone we talk to ourselves. Finding the right words and thoughts comes in handy in all aspects of life. We will mention three main ones.

1. Effective communication skills at work

People who work harder or better don’t always receive all the attention. Sometimes the main thing is how ideas are sold to the boss and the power of persuasion. Effective communication skills allow us to develop influential techniques and reach a greater audience.

At the professional level, it is essential to know how to deal adequately with peers, make good decisions even in stressful situations or under job stress. This is one of the reasons why effective communication skills are increasingly valued.

They are almost as important as mastering other languages or handling various computer programs. A person with good communicative skills stands out above the others in several areas and is the most prominent candidate in job interviews.

Specifically at work, effective communication skills are highly valued as well as assertiveness. Communicating what you need in a polite and respected way is very important in corporation settings.

2. Effective communication skills in education

We can train these skills from childhood, the best and most appropriate way to develop these skills is in our natural environment. Communicating well improves our personal relationships and our well-being. It makes us feel competent.

It is essential to include these skills while teaching. If we make sure that our children are capable of effectively communicating then we will make sure they become resolute and satisfied adults.  Likewise, we will be able to improve our communication with children. In order to educate in communication, we also have to be good communicators. It is impossible to convey this knowledge well if we are not good role models to imitate.

3. Effective communication skills in everyday life

We need these skills to communicate constantly. For example, to tell our roommate to wash the dishes, give bad news to a friend or send a postcard to our relatives. From the smallest to the most complicated interaction, we are in constant demand to effectively communicate ourselves. Communicating well saves time, effort and makes life more enjoyable.

Everyday effective communication skills what us come complex settings. It’s like a trial run for complicated situations for us to see our mistakes and work through so we can communicate effectively in other areas of our daily life.In

4. Effective communication skills in a difficult conversation

We all have conversations that we feel are difficult to tackle, here are some things to keep in mind when dealing with this issue. Miscommunication is very common because even though we might be in a conversation speaking the same language, our interactions are more complex than you could imagine. The next video explains how miscommunication is very easy and how to avoid it.

a) Deliver more positive than negative feedback

Postive statements are those that come across as supportive, appreciative, encouraging, meanwhile negative ones are those that are critical, disapproving and contradictory. Our brain tends to focus on the negative aspects more than the positive, therefore, it’s important to deliver around five to six times as many positive statements to every negative statement. This comes in handy not only for work settings but personal relationships as well.

b) Facial expression

Remember that emotional intelligence is all about reading another person’s emotion and empathizing. For effective communication skills, it’s important to focus on their facial expression. Smiling is important for social interactions when delivering feedback try to keep your facial expression as positive as possible and always looking for cues of how the other person might take it.

c) Stress the importance of working together to solve difficulties

When speaking about a problem always try to describe the situation without any evaluation, identify your feelings regarding the situation (don’t place blame) and suggest solutions that can make it better (avoid arguing about who is right or wrong).

d) Eye contact

Psychologists describe resonance as a person’s ability to read someone else’s emotions. This is mainly done through eye contact, it allows for people to create a connection and helps with feedback.

e) Be authentic 

Even though there are many tips on how to effectively communicate in complicated situations the critical aspect of all is that you should always remain authentic. If you come out as someone other than yourself your efforts will backfire.

f) Be Compassionate

Treat every conversation, regardless of context, as an opportunity to connect with another person who has their own needs and pain. Everyone, at some point, goes through tough times, sad times, etc. By remembering the human experiences we all share, you will find that you are able to bring kindness and compassion into the conversation.

Effective communication skills in everyday life

10 Characteristics of a person with effective communication skills

1. They are observers

In a way empathy allows us to infer the mental states of others. Good communicators know how to anticipate the reactions of others, recognize them, and modify their speech accordingly.

2. Can understand the context

People with effective communication skills are characterized by being curious about the world and adapting to the individual, social and cultural differences. Imagine that you are traveling to an Asian country and you notice that its inhabitants feel uncomfortable talking to you. It is probably because they consider disrespectful to stare into their eyes.

We do not have to go that far to assess the situation. It is important to always take into account your surroundings when assessing the best way to communicate.

3. Have high self-efficacy

They see obstacles as challenges. Believing in our possibilities makes it easier for us to focus on what we have to say without being distracted by our insecurities. It is normal to have certain doubts (and convenient when learning to improve ourselves), but there are appropriate ways to value more the perception that we have about our abilities.

4. They are respectful

A person with effective communication skills is able to talk to people with whom he disagrees and not lose their temper or patience. This is complicated if we argue about politics, religion or football. How many times have we seen people lose their tempers over nonsense? Good communicators accept the other person’s point of view and give their arguments kindly.

5. They are emotionally intelligent

They worry about what their interlocutor feels. They are assertive and empathetic. They know what questions they have to ask, how to address them, and when it is best to keep quiet.

6. They are organized

They order their thoughts before explaining them. They think before they speak and are not afraid to admit that they don’t know something. Both speaking and writing require that we order our ideas consistently. This way we will make it easier for our interlocutor to follow our argument and find our words more attractive.

7. They are creative

They tend to tell stories to generate emotional bonds with their listener, create the right metaphors, look for witty and memorable examples, etc. They are flexible and know what is best for each occasion.

8. Have good references

They examine other’s communication skills and take the best out of each encounter. They learn fast and perfect their techniques. If this is not something you tend to do, put it into practice as an exercise to achieve effective communication skills.  

9. They are not afraid to be wrong

We can’t have everything under control, no matter how effective our communicative skills. Excellent communicators are not great for their perfection. They are great because they learn from their mistakes, they don’t give up and take their mistakes with humor. Failures are inherent in the communicative process.

10. Practice, practice, and practice

It is true that there are people who seem to have a supernatural ability to communicate. However, this potential is wasted if our communicative skills are not exercised. A little rehearsal never hurts. Practice enough to make sure your communicative skills are effective. 

Types of effective communication skills

1. Grammatical or linguistic skills for effective communication

Language knowledge is important for this skill. This consists of integrating every aspect of the language, form, and meaning, maintaining a bidirectional relationship.  It includes the phonetic level (intonation, rhythm, etc.), lexical-semantic (vocabulary) and grammatical (structure of words, how they combine, etc.). It is the basis of communication, without it, we could not even understand ourselves.

2. Sociolinguistic ability 

To use this ability correctly we must be able to understand different expressions depending on the situation. Language is time-based, therefore it’s important to always have context. We can tell the difference between listening to a couple say “silly” affectionately and hear the same term when two people criticize another. Learn more about how we listen.

3. Fluency skill for effective communication

It includes different skills, from interpreting messages and transmitting various types of speeches in different circumstances. The content of the speech must be coherent and cohesive. We put it into practice when we tell (orally or written) a group of friends about our weekend through an orderly and logical structure.

4. Strategic skill for effective communication

It allows communication to be effective and enables mistakes to be repaired without breaking the course of the conversation. It involves a great deal of tactics to fill long silences or correct misinterpretations. It also includes non-verbal language. For example, it consists of redirecting the conversation what the argument gets heated without being too abrupt.

10 Tips for effective communication skills

1. Analyze yourself

Look for people in your environment who broadly convey what you want to say and examine their style. You will be more aware of what you do well and how you can progress. Soon you will carry out this process automatically. Try to not be too severe on your self-evaluation or self-appraisal, because it will only make you more nervous.

2. Be simple

Many times “less is more”. This is no exception. Do not waste time with huge expressions or bombastic terms. They will stifle the communicative process and do not always look good. This does not mean that we have to stop expanding our vocabulary. We simply have to know when to use the exact word and do it naturally.

3. Be natural

Have you ever thought that a person is not being themselves while talking to you? Sometimes we try to look and express ourselves like other people. This does not mean that we are lying but rather adapting. Imagine a person on a first date. You may be unsure and seek acceptance from your companion above all else. You may try to show that you have knowledge or characteristics that please your potential partner. Although we have the best intention in the world, this is forced and unconvincing. It is essential that you trust yourself and feel comfortable communicating well.

4. Be nice

It may seem obvious. However, sometimes with the rush, stress or bad mood, we forget to smile. It is hard for us to speak by transmitting positivity rather than by frowning. Not all circumstances require us to maintain cheerful behavior, but we can try to be as empathetic as possible. Develop your social skills. You will notice the benefits of being kind in both how others relate to you.

5. Adapt to your listening partner

Each person has their own reality. We differ in our sociocultural level, contemplate different points of view or have a different mental representation for the same word. This can lead to misunderstandings.

These mistakes can be avoided if we observe the listeners reactions and act accordingly. If you see that they are not understanding, look for explanatory examples. On the other hand, don’t let anything left unsaid if in doubt ask if your communication is effective. 

6. Try Relaxation Techniques

An important exam, presentation or a person who makes us nervous can dimish our communicative skills. It is normal that we find ourselves restless in these circumstances. Still, there are ways to stay calm in stressful situations. For example, you can count until you feel better. It may seem silly to you, but it serves to focus on something else and get some distance from the problem.

7. Look for inspiration

Search and read more about effective communication skills. You can research topics such as body language, storytelling or neurolinguistic programming (NLP). Search the Internet for experts in your field and see how they communicate. On the other hand, literature can be another source of inspiration, in addition to producing great satisfaction.

8. Remember the power of images 

If you have to make a presentation rely on visual resources. Use photos, illustrations or graphs to boost your ideas. You can rely on color psychology to create a more emotional bond with your audience. You will reinforce your words and the audience will remember them better. Just remember that the power will always rely on words.

9. Enjoy communicating

Communication is not just a medium, it can also be enjoyed.  Not everyone loves to write stories or expose a delicate subject to hundreds of people. However, our communicative skills can also be comforting as telling a joke or giving a hug. Improving them will make these experiences even more satisfying.

By the way, this process will be more gratifying if we are not doing more things at the same time. This can not only be irritating to the other person. It will also diminish our attention and will not let us appreciate the conversation to the fullest.

10. Listen

Practice active listening, be empathic and try to get your interlocutor to feel understood. Knowing how to listen is as important as being grammatically flawless or having a broad vocabulary. That way you will not stop learning and you will enrich your interpersonal relationships.

11. Ask for feedback

Receiving honest feedback from peers, family members and even bosses will help you become an effective communicator and improve your skills. It is the perfect way to discover areas of improvement that might be overlooked.

12. Engage the audience (if its a group setting)

Every person has a different attention span, imagine all of those attentions spans combined. Keep this in mind when applying effective communication skills in group settings. Be sure to make your speech interactive by asking questions, allowing others to speak, etc.

13. Manage you time

Remember you are not giving out a monologue. Effective communication skills are all about time management and giving others the opportunity to speak as well. If you are giving a presentation and need to restrict information into a time frame, remember to always keep in mind your key points in order to communicate them effectively.

14. Be concise

Remember to always be direct, simple and to the point when trying to apply effective communication skills. Focus always on getting your point across keeping in mind all the other variables mentioned.

15. Be curious

Ignite your curiosity! Keep up to date with the news, your interests, etc. This will help you engage people and your effective communication skills will be great!

Watch to see more tips for effective communication skills by Celeste Headlee.

Thank you very much for reading this article. Will you exercise your communicative skills? I invite you to practice and comment if you liked the article or want to know more.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Ainhoa Arranz Aldana, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Tongue Twisters and Communication: How the Brain Learns Languages

Have you ever wondered how the brain learns languages? Why are we able to communicate so easily? How is it that we can formulate sentences, speak, and comprehend what others are saying in split-seconds? A majority of us think that language is only controlled by our lips, mouths, ears, and hands. However, what most people don’t know is that language originates in the brain. Specifically, our language faculties are located in certain areas of the left hemisphere cortex in healthy adults. A fun fact to know is that the science of neurolinguistics studies the physical structure of the brain as it relates to language production and comprehension. Read more to find out how the brain learns languages!

How the Brain Learns Language

Some scientists have argued that language is what distinguishes humans from all other animals on the planet. Other scholars ask if humans are really the only species to possess language. Of course, other animals communicate with one another, like bees, who send each other messages through their special dances. However, human language is more than just communication. Rather, it is a complex system of brain processing that involves auditory messages used as symbols to convey meaning and function in this complicated world.

Looking Deeper into the Structure of the Human Brain

When discussing the brain as a language organ, some physiological and structural characteristics of our brain must be understood:

  1. Human brains have a contralateral neural control arrangement – this means that the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body.
  2. Each hemisphere has somewhat unique functions, making them asymmetrical. For example, the right hemisphere controls spacial perception, while the left hemisphere controls abstract reasoning and physical tasks that require a step-by-step progression. The left hemisphere is also responsible for language control, which takes place inside the perisylvian area, and this ability is usually fully developed by the time we reach the age of puberty.

Now, why does language originate from the left hemisphere rather than the right? Since the left hemisphere controls patterns that progress step-by-step in a single dimension, it is more apt to control language than the right, which performs complex multi-step tasks. Language is a linear process – sounds and words are uttered one after another in a definite progression, not in multiple directions all at once. In neurolinguistics, this is called monolineal progression. Evidence that language is activated by the left hemisphere comes from PET scans and studies on individuals who suffer from brain injuries.

How the Brain Learns Languages

According to Noam Chomsky, a famous linguist of the late twentieth century, we are all born with a language instinct or language acquisition device (LAD). This is our innate capacity to acquire an extremely creative system of communicating with each other. It seems to be a human genetic trend that everyone possesses: nearly all children exposed to language naturally acquire it as if by magic. Most researchers believe that the LAD is the result of a complex interaction of many genes in the brain that work together to produce and interpret language.

However, it must be noted that the natural ability for humans to acquire language normally diminishes near the age of puberty, which is known as the critical age for fluently acquiring a native tongue. Researchers believe that this phenomenon is connected with the lateralization of language in the left hemisphere. Studies show that children actually use both left and right hemispheres to process language because these brain areas are undeveloped for the time. As children age, their brain structures mature, whereupon the responsibility of language is shifted fully to the left side of the brain. If individuals lose the chance to learn language during their early years before adolescence, then their hemispheres miss the opportunity to mature and develop correctly. Therefore, people who are not exposed to proper language communication during childhood usually are unable to learn to speak a language fluently in adolescence and adulthood. A real-life example of this is the story of Genie Wiley, a feral child who was locked in her dark bedroom for the first thirteen years of her life, tortured by her parents. Because she was not exposed to any form of direct language communication, when she was found at age 13, she was unable to learn language and speak fluently. Her overall abuse resulted in severe consequences that affected her overall ability to interact with others later in life.

See more about the Genie Wiley case below

Aphasias

Injuries of specific parts of the left hemisphere responsible for language acquisition can result in aphasias, or speak impairments. This is caused by damage in the region of the sylvian fissure, in the perisylvian area. The following two types of language loss are associated with harm done to particular sub-regions of the perisylvian area:

1. Broca’s Aphasia

In 1861, Paul Broca discovered Broca’s area, which is located in the frontal portion of the left perisylvian area. This seems to be involved in grammatical processing, specifically concepts like singular vs. plural and tenses. It processes the grammatical structure of sentences rather than the specific units of meaning – instead of focusing on the content of the language, it emphasizes on how words are put together. Broca’s Aphasia involves a difficulty in speaking, whereby it is also known as emissive aphasia. Broca’s aphasics are able to comprehend written and spoken language but have great difficulty in responding in any coherent way. They tend to utter only isolated words without using conjunctions or full sentences to relay their thoughts.

2. Wernicke’s Aphasia

In 1875, Karl Wernicke discovered Wernicke’s area, which is found in the lower posterior part of the perisylvian region. This controls comprehension, as well as the selection of content words. If this area becomes damaged, grammar and function words are preserved, but the content is mostly destroyed. Therefore, Wernicke’s aphasia involves a difficulty in comprehension – people afflicted are unable to extract meaning from language. It’s also known as receptive aphasia because these people are unable to respond at all to those they are conversing with (contrast with Broca’s aphasia, where patients can understand but have difficulty in replying). Wernicke’s aphasics tend to speak incessantly and will utter volumes of grammatically correct nonsense with relatively few content words or with jibberish words like “thingamajig” or “whatchamacallit,” instead of real content words.

More on How the Brain Learns Language

The healthy human brain uses both areas in unison while speaking and processing language. Adults use the neurons of Wernicke’s area to select sounds to listen to, and the neurons of Broca’s area combine these units according to phonology and syntax to produce utterances.

To speak a word that is written on paper (i.e. reading aloud), information first goes to the primary visual cortex. From there, the information is transmitted to the posterior speech area, including Wernicke’s area. From Wernicke’s area, information travels to Broca’s area, and then to the primary motor cortex, whereupon we speak aloud the words we have comprehended from paper. This similar pathway is utilized when we want to repeat words that are heard, but in this situation, information first goes to the primary auditory cortex and then to the posterior speech area.

What Happens When Your Brain Learns A New Language?

According to recent research by Swedish scientists using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electrophysiology on lab participants, learning a foreign language can increase the size of your brain. Young adult military recruits learned Arabic, Russian, or Dari intensively, while a control group of medical students studied hard on their sciences without learning any new language. The MRI scans showed that specific parts of the brains of the language students developed in size, whereas the brain structures of the control group remained unchanged. The areas of the brain that grew were linked to how easy the learners found the languages, and brain development varied according to performance. Some learners increased the sizes of their hippocampus, while others had an increase in size of the motor region of their cerebral cortex.

Although the implications of this research are not very clear as of yet, they might eventually lead to advances in the use of technology for second-language learners. For example, other researches have used the same ultrasound machinery employed during pregnancy sonograms to explain to language learners how to make sounds by showing them visual images of how their tongue, lips, and jaw should move with their airstream mechanisms and the rise and fall of the soft palate.

Other research, done by Kara Morgan-Short at the University of Illinois at Chicago, used electrophysiology to examine how the brain learns language. She taught second-language learners to speak an artificial language. One group learned through explanations of the rules of the language, and the second group learned by being immersed in the language. While all of the participants learned something from each artificial language, it was the immersed learners who had brain processes like those of native speakers.

Brain imaging research might eventually allow us to shape language learning methods to our cognitive abilities. It can possibly tell us whether we learn best from formal instructions that highlight rules, immersing ourselves in the sounds of the language, or maybe one followed by the other.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Babies’ brains rehearse speech mechanics months before their first words

Babies’ brains rehearse speech mechanics months before their first words

Babies’ brains rehearse speech mechanics months before their first words

Baby sounds are cute and funny, but they also represent important developmental milestones in speech, motor, social and cognitive development. A new study shows that despite the lack of comprehension indicated by all that incoherent babbling, when infants of a certain age hear speech their brains kick into gear to try to figure out the mechanics of how to talk.

The study by the University of Washington researchers and published on July 14th, 2014 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that baby brains start laying down the groundwork of how to form words long before they actually begin to speak, and this may affect the developmental transition.

“Most babies babble by 7 months, but don’t utter their first words until after their first birthdays,” said lead author Patricia Kuhl, who is the co-director of the UW’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. “Finding activation in motor areas of the brain when infants are simply listening is significant, because it means the baby brain is engaged in trying to talk back right from the start and suggests that 7-month-olds’ brains are already trying to figure out how to make the right movements that will produce words.”

In the experiment, researchers recruited 57 babies who were 7 months old and 11 months old then put them in a scanner to measure brain activation through a noninvasive technique called magnetoencephalography. Each baby listened to a series of native and foreign language syllables such as “da” and “ta” as researchers recorded brain responses. They listened to sounds from English and Spanish.

Researchers observed brain activity in an auditory part of the brain called the superior temporal gyrus, as well as in Broca’s area and the cerebellum, cortical regions responsible for planning the motor movements required for producing speech.

This pattern of brain activation occurred for sounds in the 7-month-olds’ native language (English) as well as in a non-native language (Spanish), showing that at this early age infants are responding to all speech sounds, whether or not they have heard the sounds before.

In the older infants, brain activation was different. By 11-12 months, infants’ brains increase motor activation to the non-native speech sounds relative to native speech, which the researchers interpret as showing that it takes more effort for the baby brain to predict which movements create non-native speech.

This reflects an effect of experience between 7 and 11 months, and suggests that activation in motor brain parts is contributing to the transition in early speech perception. However, it’s been unclear how this transition occurs.

“Infants’ brains are preparing them to act on the world by practicing how to speak before they actually say a word,” said Kuhl.

These results also emphasize the importance of talking to kids during social interactions even if they aren’t talking back yet.

“‘Parentese’ is very exaggerated and when infants hear it, their brains may find it easier to model the motor movements necessary to speak,” Kuhl said.