One thing the Covid crisis hasn’t changed is how we all want to be taken seriously in our working lives. Whether in person or through a computer screen - the drive to communicate effectively at work remains the same.
In the office and in the virtual space, effective communication comes down to a lot more than just the words we speak. Everything from the tone of our voice, to our facial expressions and the body language that we display, are playing a very important role in how we’re communicating. This is why we’re suddenly hearing so much about ‘Zoom fatigue’ - we’re all trying a lot harder to communicate effectively.
To combat this, we need to understand how non-verbal communication impacts our overall message and helps people to connect to us. Once armed with such powerful tools - we are not only be able to deliver more powerful conversations and presentations (more on this in our next blog) but get our message heard. And better yet, these skills will be useful across a range of business situations - like meeting face to face, video conferencing, presentations and even recording video messages.
So here they are!
Our top 5 tips to communicate effectively at work and in business.
1 - Body Language
Our bodies communicate in a similar way to our mouths and we need them to be speaking the same language. It’s not all about gestures and waving our hands about wildly. We need our body language to convey our energy to go upward and outward rather than inward and downward.
The easiest way to understand this is to try it for yourself. Sit or stand with your head down and your shoulders forward. Not only does this make you feel less in control and confident but it will also make it harder for people to connect with you. It doesn’t assure the listener that you are committed to the message or that what you are saying can be trusted.
The opposite of this is upward and outward energy. We push our shoulders back, lift our head up, make eye contact and display an outward and upward energy. This posture shows confidence and encourages those around us to engage with us. Outward energy can be united with gestures to make a powerful combination. Gesturing helps our audience to visually understand our messages and picture the stories we are telling. Gesturing is also important for ourselves, it sends signals to our brain that we are enjoying ourselves and it stimulates the imagination to come up with new ideas. Gestures are a win - win situation!
To make it easier to push our energy upwards and outwards, as well as leave the space for gestures, it helps to position your camera or laptop at eye level. It’s difficult to be looking up when facing down.
2 - Facial Expression
We all know how important eye contact is for effective communication but simply staring at the person you are speaking to is not enough. A straight and constant stare can actually do the opposite and make you seem a little scary. Eye contact is about having bright and engaging eyes. We should widen them and move our eyebrows to suit the message we are delivering. This represents to the listener that we are actively engaged in our message and committed to sharing it with them. It can also boost your confidence because strong eye contact communicates that we know our subject matter and our words can be trusted.
Next, we have smiling. Smiling, like unbreaking eye contact, can be off putting if it doesn’t look genuine. Fortunately, the best way to smile is to make sure that it hits our eyes. Humans are actually very good at identifying fake smiles because a genuine smile comes with creased eyes. Psychologists call it a Duchenne smile.
A Duchenne smile involves contraction of both the zygomatic major muscle (those muscles that raises the corners of the mouth and get sore when we’ve had a good laughing session) and the orbicularis oculi muscle which raises the cheeks orbicularis oculi muscle which raises the cheeks and forms small crinkles around the eyes. The Duchenne smile has been described as "smizing", as in smiling with the eyes.
Smiling with our whole face is even more important in 2020 with some face to face communication reduced whilst wearing a mask. Why? Because it causes smile crinkles around the eyes. Mask wearing makes effective communication even more difficult as it creates a barrier between us all. It makes all the non-verbal communication and effective tone even more critical.
Smiling sends a positive cue to our audience, communicates our openness, and puts our audience in a positive state of mind. Not everyone finds smiling natural but practice makes perfect and if you don’t smile as a habit then practice having a warm and open expression. It can even help to practice in a mirror.
It may not always be appropriate to smile while communicating at work. Sometimes the content and information we are delivering is sombre and serious. However, having a cold and poker-straight expression is not necessary in today’s business world if you want to build lasting relationships.
3 - Tone of Voice
Tone of voice is about how we sound and our vocal range. We need to have enough variation in our range to sound interesting and keep people engaged. Speaking in a monotone and using a very flat tone when speaking can make listeners switch off and not be fully involved in the conversation. We need to add flair to our tone in order to ensure people stay actively listening.
Adding emphasis to key phrases and words highlights the importance of them. This can be done by adding regular pauses to give the listener time to absorb and digest what has been said. Adding in highs and lows so that our speech adds flavour and interest to what we are saying.
Secondly, we can change the volume of our voice to express serious situations. Speaking loudly to add theatrics or speaking quietly to entice people to listen, rather like you are whispering a secret in the playground. The speed of our delivery can also shift the energy of our message and how people react to it.
4 - Content is King
At London Speech Workshop we talk about content as having ‘spice’! What we are referring to there is that speech needs to be packed full of juicy words and dripping with flavour. Think of it like your favourite lunch - no one likes a bland meal! We need to pepper our content with lots of words and phrases to bring our stories and messages to life. For example, instead of saying
‘A woman walked past my window slowly’ we could say
‘A very tall and athletic woman, with long, red hair and skin like a china doll glided gracefully past my window this morning”
The added detail in the second sentence gives a more interesting perspective on a rather mundane occurrence. Your listeners will want to know what comes next and be fully committed to continuing to listen.
It’s not necessary to be an adept story teller but by adding just a little detail, we can make the way we speak unique to us, and give our listeners something they have never heard before. It will even have them coming back for more!
5 - Connect To Your Values
By connecting to your values and bringing them into your speech it adds authenticity and gives your listeners the opportunity to fully connect and commit to the business conversation or even the business as a whole. The reason why we want to be taken seriously in our professional life is that we want people to buy into what we are representing, what we stand for and we offer to the business. Using those values as the foundation for your messages strengthens the connection with those receiving your directive and information. After all, communication is really about just that, building effective and lasting connections with those around us.
So there we have it. Our top 5 tips for communicating effectively in business.
Remember - - these top tips are great not only for offline and online but also for how you communicate effectively with your manager and across a variety of business situations.
We hope you find them helpful and that by using them you improve your communication at work.
Find out more about The Serlin Method™ for effective communication and how we can work with you here.
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