The Communication Conundrum: Re-Learning How to Speak

Interviews can be terrifying if we do not know quite how to speak to people

As we get older and leave school, we realise quickly that the way we speak to our friends is not going to cut it in business or higher level situations (such as talking to lecturers at University – although it may work with some of the ‘I’m down with the cool kids’ types).

Why this isn’t even mentioned among all the useless crap we get taught at high school, I’m not sure, but if we work on the way we talk to different groups and levels of people, we can become effective at communicating our point.

Speaking in different situations, to different types of people is taught in many Asian cultures (such as Japan), but isn’t really mentioned much here (Australia), we’re just kind of meant to….know…how to do it. However, it doesn’t come easy for some people. We’ve all met the guy who waltzes into the room and controls it with his easy way of speaking, and the girl who just seems to get stuff done, this is not university taught. Some people are just better at speaking than others. It’s really that simple.

Others (usually introverts), really have to use their minds and strategic skills as they communicate with others. It’s so important to know how to do it, as in a job interview, people will hire personable candidates over experience, as they know that the job itself can be taught, whereas communication skills are much, much harder to teach.

While it’s incredibly unfair (why should a quiet person be hired over a talkative person just because they communicate in different ways?) it is unfortunately the way of the world. When you are starting out, practice with family or friends to understand what to say at those critical moments in an interview. It might feel naff but it will really help you feel more at ease when those same questions come up on the big day.

Talking to friends at school is so different than talking to managers or lecturers, and different again than networking. Even here in Australia where our hierarchy level is very low, it is still imperative to show respect by being polite and friendly. Think about words before using them. Learning this earlier would help kids feel more comfortable in their inevitable business dealings. A communication skills class with an engaging teacher would hold a lot more weight than a week’s work experience at a hair salon sweeping up hair all day (that did not teach me anything).

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Western countries have very low power distance – this means in businesses, any level of person can talk relatively comfortably with any other level. Eg: A manager with a secretary. 

Reading about these skills, in books and articles, will make you aware of any problems you may not have thought of before (I recommend How to Win Friends and Influence People). Be sensitive to people’s criticism, if your friend says you’re being a bit harsh, don’t respond with ‘huh that’s just the way I am’ – no one ever learns this way, let it sink in and look back on your actions. Not everyone is the same.

Delaying your reaction and keeping calm is a huge element of communication. You don’t always have to respond right away. Listen and absorb the information before formulating a response. Now, this is much, much harder than it sounds. Next time you’re angry about something you will probably forget this and lash out, but if you can hold back, even a bit, and think about your own actions, you’ll be able to move forward with your personal development.

Remember, humility is pointless if the lesson isn’t properly learned. You can say sorry 100 times but are you actually learning? Make sure to sit down and review what you need to improve on, and perhaps create a situation in your head where you may initially react, how will you calm down and not let it affect you?

It only gets easier with practice, you’ll suck at it at first, let yourself suck. Keep trying. I still suck at it, it’s about practicing in everyday life. Learning how to not get angry or irritated at little things or freak out about things that mean nothing.

Restraining information when you are in control of it is also an incredibly powerful tool. Let people tell their stories, and be genuinely interested, you don’t have to always finish the story with “oh my god that’s like that one time…” – if you’re not already friends with that person, the less you talk and the more you listen, the better. Learning how to keep a conversation going in this way is an extraordinary skill to have, learning how to pull a question out of each subsequent answer, to keep the other person talking, while revealing not too much about yourself? Amazingly difficult. Asking key questions that expand on that person’s story will really make them feel important.

person-woman-hand-smartphoneThe best speakers are good listeners

Smartphones are withdrawing us into ourselves. While introverts absolutely love it (ignoring smelly strangers on the bus? I’ll take it), extroverts can be frustrated and not know why. If extroverts do not communicate to anyone else all day it’s incredible draining for them. Whereas it does not affect introverts as much. Extroverts living alone should make an effort to give a family member or friend a call daily if they are not having enough human interaction.

Communication is like a muscle. Many of us have actually become worse at speaking over the years because of technology (I know I am definitely in this camp). Re-learning how to talk once we get to university or the workplace can be a huge shock, as the communication level is completely different and it’s actually essential to speak sometimes (no you can’t skip that presentation), we cannot live our whole lives ignoring everyone. To achieve our own personal success we have to bite the bullet.

Private people often have trouble opening up. Just relax, if something very private about yourself comes out to strangers just laugh it off (I need to take my own advice here) – they will likely forget it as soon as it came out anyway, and by making a big deal of it, they are actually more likely to remember the information. Smile and nod. Just smile and nod. 

Fake it till you make it. It’s terrifying sometimes, but it’s so important. Practice situations in your head or with family members or friends if you have to be in an unfamiliar environment. By skipping it because or nerves or pre-conceived ideas (or anxiety) you could be missing out on a huge opportunity for yourself – whether it is to get that new job or make new friends. If you have people in your life who are good communicators ask them questions – like “hey, what would you say in this situation?” – I’m sure they’d be only too happy to help.

At school, we can often have the same friend group for years. Once you get out, it’ll be changing all the time. You will make new friends at work or Uni, some of them you’ll keep for life, however some of them will flow in and out, and that’s ok. Some people are only meant to be in your life temporarily.

Don’t be scared that you’re different, or that you will become different. You will talk differently to people when you’re 40 to when you’re 20. How did you get there? Life experience. If we use active strategies during that time, we can be a master communicator by the time we are ready to run the boardroom. However it does not matter how old you are, there is always time to improve the way you speak to people.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Joleene Moody says:

    Fascinating read. I’ve been out of school for a while, but I imagine these shifts are crucial.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Citrus & Sun says:

    This post is so true, and it’s very scary!! I personally rediscovered talking on the phone with my long commute in the job that I started 3 years ago, and it has changed my relationships SO much. I feel like I am closer with my friends and family, and it just feels good to actually talk and laugh and hear them talk and laugh on the other end in return!! Nothing replaces actual communication through speaking!!

    Liked by 1 person

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