Opinion | Improve your communication skills

By Rachel Starcevich, Columnist

If you’re a person who finds it challenging to write effectively, speak well and listen attentively, you might have lousy communication skills. But you aren’t alone.

This is a widespread problem; once we get into the habit of bottling up our emotions and ideas or, on the flip side, talking over or disregarding other peoples’ emotions and thoughts, it’s almost impossible to stop or even identify we’re doing it until we are called out on it. However, the ability to express our thoughts and feelings is a necessary skill for everything from professional to personal relationships, and many of us have trouble doing so.

Excellent communication skills are vital for a variety of reasons. For one, communication skills, written and oral, are becoming increasingly important to employers. But beyond work, communication is necessary for any type of relationship. For friendships, romantic relationships or any other kind of social connection to prosper, all parties must be able to express themselves freely and effectively and listen when their counterparts are doing the same.

Communication skills, good and bad, are learned. Spoken ones generally come from observing friends and family members growing up, while written ones are mostly taught in school. Unfortunately, some people have to grow up with parents and teachers who don’t allow them to express themselves freely, and that’s where the problem lies.

When a young person’s individuality and feelings are not welcomed, that stays with them through every social interaction they have as an adult. But while you can’t change what happened in the past, you are fortunately able to unlearn the behaviors you were taught in your childhood.

The first step, as with any negative behavior you may want to change, is to accept the fact there is a problem with your behavior. As I’ve mentioned, it isn’t always your fault for acquiring a bad habit, so there’s no need to be down on yourself to admit there’s a problem. However, ignoring the fact won’t make it go away.

Next, you’ll want to identify active steps you can take to improve. One thing you can do is make sure you are understood when you speak, and make sure you understand others when they speak. This involves thoroughly explaining yourself to make sure other people grasp what you’re saying and asking questions for clarification when someone else is speaking to you. This can be frustrating because it can seem like you’re constantly repeating yourself, but it’s a good habit when engaging in conversation with someone to avoid any conflict or misunderstanding.

Another thing you can do to improve your communication skills generally is to be as open and as straight-to-the-point as possible when speaking or writing. In short, get to the point, but don’t leave out any crucial details. It’s easy to get stuck beating around the bush when trying to express yourself through written or spoken words, but this can distract from the main point.

There are things that everybody can do to improve their communication skills in a general sense, but not everybody needs improvement in the same ways. Maybe you’re a good writer, but you have trouble expressing yourself verbally, or you’re a great speaker but find it hard to actively listen when it’s someone else’s turn to speak. Whatever the case may be, there is always room for development.

Listen to people when they point out a flaw in your communication skills, and more importantly, listen to yourself when you feel like you aren’t being heard or someone isn’t hearing you. Success in every aspect of your life relies on it.

Rachel is a freshman in DGS. 

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