Is there any other skill in life more important than the ability to communicate effectively? Not in my opinion. And evidently, not in Stephen Covey’s either. In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the leadership guru comments on the importance of communication:
“Communication is the most important skill in life. We spend most of our waking hours communicating.”
So, how can we become better communicators? Below are 10 COMMANDMENTS OF COMMUNICATION I try to remember and follow.
1. Thou Shalt…Have No Other SKILL Before Me.
In your mind, place communication into the category of “SKILLS THAT PAY THE BILLS”. It’s important. Like “Tiny Elvis” on Saturday Night Live says, “It’s HUUUGE, MAN. IT’S HUUUUGE!” The better you are, the higher you go! Like any skill, it must be learned, though. It’s not automatic. Think of it this way: If you’re a farmer, you don’t sit down on your stool and wait for your cow to back up to the bucket so you can milk it. It’s no different with the skill of communication. To get better, you’ve got to be intentional about acquiring this skill. You’ve gotta go after it in order to milk it for all it’s worth! (I hear the groans on that joke:)
2. Thou Shalt…Communicate Messages With Powerful Images!
Did you know that people think in images? That’s why word pictures are so effective. One person described communicating as “the process of exchanging mental images.” For example, when I say the word, “God”, I have a certain mental image that comes to my mind. When you say the word, “God”, you also have a specific mental picture that comes to your mind. Effective communication starts when we find common ground on what we both are ‘seeing’ when we talk about God; or any other subject, for that matter. If you paint pictures with your words, pictures people can see in their imagination, your communication will become more memorable. Sometimes, just using a simple visual-aid enhances your ability to “get through” in your communication.
This past weekend, I gave a talk on “The Meaning of Life”. I’m teaching the wise sayings of a man named King Solomon. Before the talk, I made sure everyone entering the room was given a bottle of bubbles. I had everyone blow bubbles together. I explained Solomon’s view that sometimes life can feel like “trying to catch floating bubbles”; frustrating if not downright impossible! That simple visual-aid made the message easier for my audience to grasp and remember. You can do that kind of thing as you’re communicating, too!
3. Thou Shalt Not…Take The Name of Murphy’s Law In Vain!
Recall Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong it will go wrong! Apply this to communicating and it says, “If anything can be misunderstood, it will be misunderstood!” Before you communicate, ask yourself two questions: “How could the other person possibly misinterpret what I’m about to say?” and “What can I do to minimize the possibility of misunderstanding?”
4. Thou Shalt…Remember Timing, To Keep It Holy!
Timing is critical. The right message at the wrong time = failure. The right message at the right time = success. Before you communicate, ask yourself, “Is this the best time to communicate this message to this person (group)?” How can you use timing to make sure your message “is received”?
5. Thou Shalt…Honor Your Audience!
The fastest way to ruin a communication is to dishonor the person(s) you’re communicating to. Where did we ever get the idea that we could make people do better by making them feel bad? Criticism builds walls, honor builds bridges. Honor is power! Find a way to authentically honor the other person(s) as you’re communicating.
6. Thou Shalt Not…Kill The Flow of Communication!
I’ll give you a 3 word method for killing communication: just don’t respond! That’ll do it! Just ignore their communication. Refuse to listen. Discount in your mind what they’re saying and you will effectively shut down communication. Obviously, we don’t want to do this. The best way to keep communication lines open is to BE RESPONSIVE. Listen to them. Respond to them. Respect them. Don’t talk down to them. Communicate with them as if they are your equal; because they are!
7. Thou Shalt Not…Commit Inaccuracy!
Credibility in communication is vital. Without credibility, people may listen to you but they won’t believe you. What is credibility? Credibility is how much the other person(s) believes you and has confidence in you. A sure way to lose credibility quick is to make inaccurate statements. If people think you’re not telling the truth, or that you just don’t know what you’re talking about, they’ll tune you out. Avoiding inaccuracy takes preparation. Make sure you’ve spent time word-smithing statements, checking facts, re-checking sources, stats and statistics.
8. Thou Shalt Not…Steal The Other Person’s Thunder!
Great actors know when it’s their time to shine and when it’s not. One part of great acting is to let the other person “have the spotlight” while you support them through your presence. Great communicators allow others to “have a great moment” in the communication. Let’s face it, if the other person you’re communicating with isn’t participating or adding to the conversation, both of you aren’t necessary. You might as well talk to the wall. You don’t always have to ‘shine bright like a diamond’ (Sorry, Rihanna!)
9. Thou Shalt Not…Forget What’s At Stake Every Time You Communicate!
Every communication is an attempt to give meaning to life. And just as in real life, there are real consequences attached to our communications. What’s at stake in this communication? Why is it important? After all, if it’s not important, why make the effort to communicate? When you know why you’re communicating what you’re communicating, you become more passionate and involved with it. You bring “more of yourself” into your communication. Great communicators always leave a little bit of themselves with the other person(s) they’re communicating with.
10. Thou Shalt…Study Great Communicators!
My father-in-law always tells me, “Brad, there’s a big difference between reading a book about horseback-riding, and being in the saddle!” Reading books is one way to learn about communication, but “getting yourself in the saddle” is better. Read books on Communication. Read the biographies of Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Martin Luther King, Jr., Franklin D. Roosevelt and other historic communicators. But don’t forget to just start communicating in order to hone yours skills.