25 Sure Ways to Improve Communication
Bill Cottringer

“The greatest problem with communication is the illusion it has taken place.” ~George Bernard Shaw.

Communication is the main currency in the today’s Information Age, but sadly, miscommunication is our number one failing problem. Good communication involves quality thinking and it can be achieved with a plan and a little effort. Here are twenty-five practical ways to improve your communication and achieve more success in what you are trying to do at work, home or play.

1. Start with the assumption there is much more miscommunication going on today than communication. This refreshing admission is the only starting point to improving communication. If you can’t be honest about how bad communication has gotten, then you are missing the starting point for actually improving your own communication.

2. The prerequisite of good communication is good thinking. First, take some time to clarify your own mind about what you think to be true about what you want to communicate. Then engage in thinking about important things like—what you want to say and why, how to say it for the best impact, and what not say which will result in the most misunderstanding and miscommunication.

3. Good communication is mainly about good listening (or careful reading as the case may be). When you listen or read more closely and carefully, you are more likely to understand what is meant and be in a much better position to ask the right questions or respond in the best way.

4. The majority of communication today is written and that is where the most miscommunication goes on. This is because non-verbal communication has to be assumed from written words rather than validated in person in real time, and we all know where assumptions get us. In the majority of miscommunication going on in written form, misunderstanding gets no airtime to correct. This problem will take some creativity to overcome.

5. Knowing your audience can help improve communication significantly. The key is to know your audience well enough so that you can customize the communication better with the right style and content, honesty and openness, length, humor, details, language, sophistication, comprehension level and all the other things that help you connect better.

6. Always aim for the simple—not on this side of complexity, but rather on the other side of it. That is where peak communication most often occurs. And, arriving at the truth of something and then speaking it quietly usually has a dramatic effect.

7. You can’t ever make improvement in communicating better unless you ask for and use relevant feedback about how well or poorly you are doing, to make appropriate course corrections. But, this will be easier if you accept the beginning admission in # 1 above.

8. Try to leave the emotions out of electronic communication because they can rarely be accepted in the spirit they are being sent. Thoughts drive emotions and behavior, so think you way through the communication, minus the emotions that are distracting to making the needed connection.

9. Sometimes communication can improve by not saying something you would prefer to say even though you know it probably won’t do any good. This is true when someone is unclear in their own mind about what they are trying to say or are wrong in what they think. The criticism has more power left unspoken.

10. On the flip side of this sensitivity about what not to say, it is a real art to be able to talk openly about the “elephant in the room” in a cautious, prudent way, leaving everyone wishing they had had enough nerve to say the thing.

11. If you are not clear or sure of what you are trying to say, at least offer that propaganda or better yet, take the time to figure out your purpose and then proceed with more clarity and certainty.

12. Be very careful about adding to the communication minefields things like confusing ambiguous words, poor grammar, spelling mistakes, typos, overly long sentence structure, disorganized chronology, etc. because these distractions are very annoying and get the audience off target with the message. They interfere greatly with making a connection with the audience.

13. Be brutal with re-writes, phone conversations or in-person communication to learn to only say what is cost effective if every word costs you a dollar to speak or write. We all have way too much information in e-mails alone to digest with any real meaningfulness, so do your part in lightening the overload. Everyone is short on time and the motto “be brief, be brilliant and be gone” conveys great respect for others’ time.

14. Use words that blast visual meaning instantly with graphic pictures that can’t possibly be miscommunicated, misunderstood or not make your point. Can’t you just see the impossibility of trying to herd chickens and cats on a moving flatbed truck or trying to roll molasses up a sand hill?

15. When all else fails start with writing down a good outline that helps organize your main ideas so you can develop them in enough detail that they make good sense. This kind of effort will usually improve getting your important thoughts and ideas across more clearly.

16. With very important conversations, e-mails or letters always let some time pass between what you need to say rather than what you want to say at the heat of the moment. And never be afraid to get a trusted second opinion. The best writers and speakers always test drive their material.

17. Increase your vocabulary daily by taking the word quizzes in Reader’s Digest of browsing through an on-line or hard copy of a Thesaurus. Using words with their correct meanings cuts down on a lot of unnecessary miscommunication.

18. Learn the importance of perceptions and perspectives. Write or wrong, these are reality and the reason why a person thinks and communicates the way he or she does. When you are more aware of perceptions of yourself and the perspectives of others you are communicating with, there is much more understanding and understanding always facilitates better communication.

19. Collect good quotes and use them strategically to emphasize your important points. When you can succinctly summarize a couple of paragraphs into one short sentence of high impact, you have done much to help reduce the information overload which is a huge obstacle in communication.

20. We all have beliefs, mostly wrong, which we seem willing to argue to the death over. Be brave and shed those wrong beliefs with an open mind to attract better ones which help improve miscommunication.

21. When you cultivate important virtues like patience, empathy, tolerance, tentativeness and acceptance, your communication will be doubly more effective and fun.

22. Learn to develop your own signature style of communication, like great actors and actresses do in the roles they play. Fit you communication style to your personality and character traits that make you unique.

23. By communicating your beliefs, thoughts and feelings in a likeable manner, you will make huge gains in improving your communication. This is done by good listening and being positive, agreeable, honest, accepting, funny, relaxed, genuine and non-judgmental.

24. Politeness has seemed to have been lost in electronic communication without the formalities of names and general sensitivities and niceties. This seemingly unimportant part of communication may be detracting in not so small a way and getting your important message heard and understood.

25. Know when to stop talking or writing. There is no 25th communication tip so why try to make one up?

Consider applying several of these suggestions and reap the results of more successful communication.

“A man's character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.” ~Mark Twain.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice-President for Employee Relations for Puget Sound Security, Inc. in Bellevue, WA, Adjunct Professor at Northwest University, member of IACP since 2003, along with his hobbies in being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living in the peaceful but invigorating mountains and rivers of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, “You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too” (Executive Excellence), “The Bow-Wow Secrets” (Wisdom Tree), “Do What Matters Most” and “P” Point Management” (Atlantic Book Publishers), “Reality Repair” (Global Vision Press), Reality Repair Rx (Authorsden), and “If Pictures Could Talk,” coming soon. Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 454-5011 or ckuretdoc@comcast.net