Effective communication is crucial for online learning, and it’s one of several soft skills appreciated in the workplace. Video chats and Internet access allow us to work remotely in certain careers. Additionally, mobile apps make online education accessible and convenient for working adult students. While technology can connect us in so many ways, it can also create detachment and our people skills may suffer.
How Do We Communicate?
A 1970s study by UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian found that 55% of people’s communication occurs through body language and 38% occurs through vocal tone, pitch and emphasis. It also concluded that only 7% of communication occurs through a person’s verbal content.1
While many have disputed this study,2 what if body language and tone are more essential to communication that the words we speak or type? What does this say about our communication skills today – especially we’re conversing on social media or through texting? How do we better connect with people both online and offline?
Working on Interpersonal Skills
- Actively listen to those around you.
When engaging in face-to-face conversations, remove yourself from all distractions. If you have a cell phone with you, set it aside. Effective communication works better when you pay attention to the person speaking to you. Online, if you are unsure of what the other person is saying, ask for clarification. You can even repeat or reiterate what the person said or typed to help ensure you’re understanding the information.
- Ask engaging questions instead of talking about yourself.
It’s in our nature to talk about ourselves and research suggests that this is because it makes us feel good.3 One way to better connect with others is to show interest. Ask questions about the other person instead of centering the conversation on you. For example, you might ask who the person’s hero is or what activities he or she enjoys.
- Watch your tone of voice or writing. Be aware of the pitch of voice or how a person might interpret your writing when engaging in a conversation. Stressing (or capitalizing) certain words more than others may make the person on the receiving end interpret what you’re saying as condesceding.4 Remember, inflection (or emphasis) matters and you don’t want to unintentionally come across as rude or arrogant.
- Listen with your eyes, not just your ears (in person).
Communication isn’t just about the words spoken. When someone speaks to you, the facial expressions used can help to reveal what is being said. The context of a text message or an email can be confused when you only see the written words and don’t hear the sender’s voice or see his or her facial expressions.5 But when you speak to someone face to face, you can hear the tone of the person’s voice and see his or her facial expressions.
- Pay attention to nonverbal cues (in person).
Correctly identifying nonverbal cues can help you determine whether or not you want to redirect a conversation tor ask intentional questions to figure out what is not being said. For instance, a person who avoids eye contact during a conversation can indicate that he or she is lying. Or, the person may lack confidence about what is being discussed. Tapping one’s feet is another indication that the speaker lacks confidence in the subject discussed.6
So, if you’re striving to advance in your field, or pursue a new profession after completing your degree, an awareness of these cues can help to build relationships and form trust among employees and managers.
- Be consistent with who you are online and in “real life.”
It’s reasonable to be cautious about what you post online. However, remain true to yourself. Creating a facade could create unnecessary problems when someone who follows you online – or even reads your public posts – meets you in person. You don’t want to give off the wrong impression to a prospective employer or business connection. When you’re honest, genuine, or even vulnerable, and you reflect your true identity, trust can be built online and in person.6
Listen to others, show interest, and be courteous. Practice some of these skills and you may be surprised by how your communication improves online and in person!
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1. Mehrabian, A. (1971). Silent messages (pp. 43). Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company. Accessed September 20, 2019. https://www.worldcat.org/title/silent-messages/oclc/217063
2. NeuroData Lab. “Experts say… Is communication really only 7% verbal? Truth vs. Marketing.” Medium. Published November 16, 2018. Accessed September 2, 2019. https://medium.com/@neurodatalab/experts-say-is-communication-really-only-7-verbal-truth-vs-marketing-9a8e7428fd0f
3. Boardman, Samantha. “Why We Love Talking About Ourselves Simply put, self-disclosure is gratifying.” Psychology Today. Published March 7, 2017. Accessed September 2, 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/positive-prescription/201703/why-we-love-talking-about-ourselves
4. Boss, Jeff. “5 Ways to Be a More Effective People Person.” Entrepreneur. Published July 22, 2015. Accessed September 2, 2019. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/248652
5. Krampe, J. “How to Speak Well… and Listen Better.” Success. Published August 30, 2017. Accessed September 2, 2019. https://www.success.com/how-to-speak-well-and-listen-better/
6. Hall, John . “10 Simple Ways To Improve Your People Skills And Build Relationships.” Forbes. Published March 20, 2016. Accessed September 2, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnhall/2016/03/20/10-simple-ways-to-improve-your-people-skills-and-build-relationships/#2809ba78d518
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