Of all the soft skills that we are talking about throughout this year, communication is one of the most vital and the reasons are not far-fetched.
Are you in a business for yourself and need better engagement with your customers and business partners? Are you working with people as an employee and want to know how to increase your level of interpersonal relationships in your workplace? Do you care about a more harmonious relationship within your family, among your friends, and in your social life?
Whatever is the reason that makes you want to better engage with other human beings, you are going to have a lot to benefit from this conversation.
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A Personal Story
I was a little above 6 years of age if I am not mistaking and I was living with my family in Uromi, Nigeria. We lived in the village and like many other parts of Nigeria and Africa, our main source of livelihood was farming. It was a subsistence kind of farming, mainly to provide the needed food for the family, like yams, cassava, and some other vegetables. Our harvests were rarely sold, except on a few occasions.
One day, it was reported in the village that a man had entered into the farmland of another person and steal some things. The accused man, of course, denied any stealing, and the case was charged to court in Uromi.
Now, this is the interesting part of the story – my mother was said to have seen the man and was therefore summoned to the law court to testify. If I have to be specific here, that was probably the very first time, a person will ever go to a law court from our house, so it can be understood that the case was making some members of my family be quite apprehensive.
Listen to this part very well: among our people, the Esan of Edo state. Maybe I should say, among Uromi people, it was common for one to narrate a story of what has happened and then conclude with “this is what I didn’t see”.
Pay attention to the last phrase because I am going to come back to it shortly, but first, let me finish the story. I am almost done, so hang on.
Knowing this situation, one of my eldest brothers came to my mother in the midst of the apprehension and warned:
“Mama, now you know that it is the law court you are preparing for. Right…? If you get there, say what you know and don’t conclude with ‘this is what I didn’t see’, else you could go the jail”.
Let’s go back to the phrase, “this is what I didn’t see”. Quite sincerely, I do not know why some Esan people or the people in Uromi decided to come up with that kind of conclusion in a story. I am sure that there must be some explanation for this, but until I get that explanation, this conclusion appears awkward at best, and not so many people are contesting it.
Now, I have another story to share with you. I was much younger this time and I was living with my grandmother in a neighbouring village to my actual village in Uromi.
I remember a number of occasions I went out with my grandmother to see her friends. Maybe we came in a moment that they were eating or something like that. On nearly all the occasions I was offered something to eat, my grandmother never opened her mouth to tell me, “take the food or don’t take the food”.
It was enough to merely look at her face and I could understand her clear message of “acceptance” or “rejection”.
I was only a child and every child in the world with a minimum education does this every single day. This is one of the rudimental principles at the centre of our survival instinct. It is beyond what we can ever be taught in schools and it’s what helps to keep us alive, whether we have any formal education or not.
So, communication is not reserved only for people with formal education. Irrespective of whom you are, your culture, or where you are coming from, you have the fundamental basics of communication skills. If you think otherwise, it’s because you haven’t made enough effort to understand the values in your cultural practices.
This is what I wanted to demonstrate by sharing these two stories with you. Now, what really is communication and how can we benefit from it today?
What Is Communication?
Communication is the act of transmitting meanings from one person, persons, or things to another, through the use of commonly understood signs, symbols, and rules. The main function of all communications is to send and receive messages. Whether this message is cohesive, clearly understood at the receiving end, or needs to be decoded in the case of secrete messages, or partially clear due to lack of good communication skills can be a different argument altogether. But in the end, they are all communications as long as they fulfil the fundamental function – sending and receiving messages.
In the general sense of things, communication skills allow you to understand and be understood by others. And these can be through such techniques as, active listening in conversations, giving and receiving feedback, public speaking, and many more.
Recent studies have shown that communication skills now consistently ranked as one of the most commonly listed skills in new job postings by most employers.
Communication is and has always been one of the most important social skills in human affairs and you need to learn how to master it. And learning how to effectively use your communication skills will help you both in advancing your career and be competitive when searching for a new job.
Sure, this is not only for the purpose of getting a better job but also for your personal use, in your private and professional life. If you are in the business of dealing with people, which of course is true for everyone today, except you are living inside a rock all by yourself, you will profit a great deal from good communication skills. So, make an effort to develop this skill.
In this article, you have seen me using the word “Communication Skills” in plural form because the skills are many. Now, we will consider some of them as active listening, speaking, observing, and empathizing and how each of them can be explored for our own advantages.
As the topic we are treating for the entire month, you will come to understand that communication actually covers a wider scope in our daily lives. And it’s very important that we understand the differences in how to communicate, like having a one-on-one interaction with someone, making a telephone conversation, and via digital communications, like email and social media. These are only a few of the different ways we communicate and we do this on a regular basis.
Now, let’s consider some of the techniques, the ways we communicate, which we can perhaps improve upon for better results.
Active listening, as a communication technique, refers to a pattern of listening that keeps you fully and positively engaged with the person or persons you are communicating with. Active listening is the process of listening attentively while someone else is speaking. Say, for example, you are interviewing somebody or in a simple one-on-one conversation.
You can show to the person that you are actively listening by paraphrasing and reflecting back on what the person has said, and without prejudices about opinions and points of view.
In my career, I have done thousands of interviews. On some occasions, I have had to do with people whose points of view I do not share. But, I don’t necessarily have to show that or start contesting the opinions of my interviewees. In fact, I had to clarify to some critics one time that as a personal rule when working on interview projects, say I am doing research or have asked for an expert point of view, whether it’s controversial or popular opinion, I try to be neutral as much as I can. I usually let my audience form their own opinions according to their sensibilities and level of understanding. And this has helped me a lot in improvising my active listening skills.
People who are very good at active listening are generally well-regarded by others, whether it is in the area of business, among co-workers, or simply in a social environment.
You too can start today. Become an active listener by focusing on the speaker, avoiding all forms of distractions, and concentrate solely on the conversation at hand. You will learn a lot of things in the process, including the unsaid feelings and sentiments people might be trying to hide.
You see, nearly all of us are guided by simple rules, and when we are triggered at the right spot, we usually do reveal what is hidden in our hearts. This is why expert psychologists and professional interrogators do not really need your permission to open your heart and see through it. Now, let’s move on.
Adapt Your Communication to Suit Your Audience
People and situations are always going to be different. If you haven’t noticed this, you simply need to pay more attention and you will realise it. So, to make the best use of your communication skills, it’s very important that you consider your audience, their level of understanding, and sensibilities.
- In what context are you communicating?
- What is the common language, representations, and symbolism?
- What are the tones and the most effective format to communicate in the situation?
Do you remember the story I earlier told you of my mother’s preparation to testify in the law court in Uromi?
Within the contents of family background or within her friends in a regular social gathering, she could easily go away with ending a beautiful testimony with “this is what I did not see”. Even though that will be contrary to popular linguistic conventions, she would fully be understood to mean “that is what she has seen”.
Like I have said earlier in this article, communication is a little deeper than what it naturally appears on the surface and this made it possible if not outrightly interesting to bury a secret code within otherwise simple statements.
It’s enough for you to think of how many enslaved Africans in the Americans were able to transmit a lot of coded messages among themselves even in the presence of the European enslavers. They could plan and execute revolts, map out escape routes and transmit it among themselves with otherwise simple, unsuspected conversation and a few sketches.
Think also of the tones and tones of coded messages that were transferred between the Russian KGB agents, the American CIA, and other secrete services in the cold war era.
Sometimes, they could have appeared as very simple words and numbers, but behind them were powerful messages that could have evaporated millions of people and destroyed cities in a nuclear war.
“Be extremely subtle even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate,” said Sun Tzu in The Art of War, the ancient Chinese military treatise and one of the most read books among western military tacticians, corporate business executives, and political leaders.
Communication is everything. I think I have said that before in our January episode of this podcast. I here repeat it because it is the truth.
Friendliness in Communication
Now, been friendly may be referred to as the ability to show a warm and approachable character in your personality. Sorry to say, some people are just not approachable and easy to relate with and you don’t want to be like that.
You don’t want to have a hostile character in your personality because that will earn you nothing like a professional or a simple individual in society. Apart from not being hostile, you also need to have the disposition and a great level of respect for other people.
The question is simple and it’s about the golden rule – how do you want to be treated? Start by treating others as such.
Such friendly characteristics as honesty and kindness can help people to build trust in you and what you represent. Never forget that.
During the September 2016 presidential debate, between the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, Hillary accused Trump of lacking the temperament for office. And this will later be demonstrated throughout his four years of presidency.
If you want to understand what that means, simply look at the archive of president Trump’s tweets, his press conferences, and how he had comported himself among world leaders.
As if that was not enough, few days to the end of his tenure, the 45th president of the United States overly exasperated his temper and got himself blocked across different social media platforms.
Listen, this is the president of the United States, the most powerful human being on earth. And you don’t want to blame all these simply on the opposition. Do you?
Now, on the 6th of January 2021 after the attack on Capitol Hill, president trump made a speech that was nothing to write home about, and this leads to his second impeachment. And now guess what?
After the impeachment vote, he made another speech, addressing the same situation in Capitol Hill and this time, a much better speech towards the unity of the country, like every responsible leader should know how to do. But it was already too late and probably did not reach the hearts of the wounded people who wanted a leader that can unite all of them against enemies, both domestic and abroad.
Now, this is the takeaway. If President Trump has said what he later said, say the same day or two days after the January attack, the vote for his second impeachment would lack the moral backing to pass.
So, been effective in your communication is very important, and being friendly should not be an option if you want to win people and have a positive impact.
That is where we will end today’s conversation and I hope you have gotten some value from it. Subscribe to our Mailing List to be notified of our next publication and don’t forget to leave your comment below. I remain Obehi Ewanfoh and talk to you soon