For all of us who spend time carefully picking out our words: it turns out words are the least important element of face-to-face conversations. Communication skills are not so much what we say, as how we say it. In fact, our words barely register in the listeners brain. This doesn’t mean that the words aren’t important; rather it’s how we successfully set the stage for those words that determine how and whether they are heard. “Effective communication is based on trust, and if we don’t trust the speaker, we’re not going to listen to their words,” writes Huffington Post bloggers Mark Waldman and Andrew Newberg on their new book, Communication Strategies.
So what are the most important communication skills to establish trust?
1. Gentle eye contact
“Gentle eye contact increases trustworthiness and encourages future cooperation, and a happy gaze will increase emotional trust,” write the authors. The most important of communication skills is to maintain eye contact–while avoiding staring, which comes across as aggressive can make others feel uncomfortable.
2. Kind facial expression
The subtle facial expressions that cue others in on our emotions are largely unconscious. People can pick up on faked smiles and will react with suspicion. Try putting yourself in a kind, happy frame of mind first. Your inner state will glow through and make others more receptive to your words.
3. Warm tone of voice
If your tone of voice doesn’t match what you are saying, your listener will experience confusion. This can weaken trust, communication and cooperation. Speak in low, slow tones to communicate your compassion.
4. Expressive hand and body gestures
Speech evolved from hand gestures, and much of our comprehension is still linked to visually drawing or acting out our words with our hands. Gesticulating is also key among communication skills as it signals animation and involvement in the conversation.
5. Relaxed disposition
Your stressed body language will tell your listener that something is off and trigger defensiveness. A defensive mind is the hardest to persuade. Relax and try calming exercises such as taking three deep breaths if you start to feel too worked up.
6. Slow speech rate
“Slow speech rates will increase the ability for the listener to comprehend what you are saying, and this is true for both young and older adults,” writes Waldman. “Slower speaking will also deepen that person’s respect for you.”
A listeners brain can only recall about 10 seconds of dialog. Try speaking in short bursts with only one or two points at a time. This will lead to what Power of Two calls “Braided dialog,” when both speakers work together to intertwine their thoughts and increase comprehension and mutually satisfying outcomes.
8. The words themselves
Last but certainly not least are your words. Now that you’ve set up the emotional and physical tone for the conversation, your spouse is ready to listen to and absorb what you have to say. Make sure you’re saying the right thing! PO2 has a some communication in marriage tips such as how to approach sensitive subjects and avoid hidden negativity in your conversations. Check ’em out!