5 Simple Rules Every Effective Communicator Follows

Don’t be overbearing.

“Communication makes the world go round. It facilitates human connections, and allows us to learn, grow, and progress. It’s not just about speaking or reading, but understanding what is being said — and in some cases what is not being said. Communication is the most important skill any leader can possess.”
- Richard Branson

We all use our communication skills on a daily basis. The problem is that most of us suck at it and, unfortunately, fail to appreciate its significance. No matter how smart, collegial, or well-liked you are at work — unless you are able to convey your point in a meeting with your client, team, or boss, your contributions will go undervalued. It may sound harsh, but it’s a fact.

Some of the most important lessons I’ve learned about being an effective communicator came from law school and my foray into the legal world. Every single day I cultivate meaningful relationships with my clients, negotiate efficiently with opposing counsel (most of whom are 30+ older than me), and work in collaboration with my colleagues. It’s not easy, and sometimes I still stumble and panic through my sentences, but I am markedly different than I was five years ago. While much of this involves trial and error, there are certain rules that effective communicators follow. Here are my favourite five that stretch across all professions.

1. Say Less than Necessary

In The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene writes, “Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.” We have the tendency to overshare. When we are excited, we feel the need to hash out every single detail. When we feel that we are losing our audience, we feel we need to justify our opinion. Resist the urge. Regardless what the other person thinks, they are likely to follow-up your remarks with a question or expand your thoughts with their own. Saying less than necessary ensures you are giving your main argument the spotlight it deserves.

2. Acknowledge What the Other Person is Saying

A conversation is a two-way street. When the other person finishes speaking, it is helpful to start off with, “That’s a good point.” or, “I see where you’re coming from.” It validates the other person’s thoughts and demonstrates active listening skills. The worst thing we can do is talk at someone — not to them. Also, the more respect you show to the other person, the more likely that they will consider what you’re saying seriously.

3. Acknowledge What You Don’t Know

We receive immense pressure to master everything. We are supposed to be well-versed on the latest international crisis. We are supposed to know what our friend posted on Instagram half an hour ago. We are supposed to know what outrageous thing Kim Kardashian did last night. It’s exhausting. Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know — but you’ll figure it out. It shows refreshing honesty and establishes trust and demonstrates integrity and self-awareness.

4. Share the Occasional Anecdote

Stories resonate with people. If you start to notice during your conversation that the other person’s attention is waning or they are having difficulty understanding the point that you are trying to convey, share a powerful story. At the end of the day, the entire Art of Communicating is informative, persuasive and concise. Choose an important story with a powerful lesson. It will stick with them long after your meeting.

5. Show Levelheadedness

Effective communicators must be open-minded and willing to engage in critical discussion about contentious issues. The point of conversation, most of the time, is to progress forward to some shared goal — not to necessarily ram your opinion down someone’s throat. No one likes condescension. No one likes an inflated ego. A conversation is a temporary relationship. Treat the other person with respect and you’ll notice that you can get much more done.

The bottom line is that the key to being a great communicator requires a hard audit on your interactions with others. You not only have to be knowledgeable in what you’re speaking about but also concise, engaging and charismatic. Don’t be afraid to try out new stories, mannerisms and various techniques. You may look silly now but in a year or two you might just be your employer’s most valuable asset.

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this story, you should check out www.jenonmoney.com where I write about money, work, self-development, and more. — Jen

This originally appeared on Quora.

Productivity, craftsmanship, and the pursuit of excellence at work. Writing now at jennifertchan.substack.com.