Most of us are horrible communicators.

We worry about what others will think, so we hesitate and dance around uncomfortable subjects. We get distracted when other people talk to us by things going on around us and in our heads. We practice what we’re going to say instead of paying attention or acting like we care about the point of view of the person we’re supposedly “communicating” with.

Obviously, these things aren’t true about all of us all of the time, but almost everyone can probably think of a situation where they’ve acted in precisely this manner. Whether the conversation was with your significant other, friend, boss, teacher, or colleague, acting in this manner is not a good way to communicate effectively.

Unfortunately, many of us have our communication styles so ingrained that we don’t even realize the bad habits we’re engaging in. That’s why we wanted to draw attention to this problem and leave you with five tips that can help you to communicate better – and make your life easier!

Listen and let them know you’re listening.

When someone is talking to you, do your best to actually concentrate on what they’re saying and trying to understand their point of view. Turn off – or lower the volume – on that part of you that keeps thinking of the things you want to say, and work to minimalize distractions. If necessary, you can even ask them if you can go somewhere else to talk because there’s too much going on around you.

But that’s not enough. If you truly want to have a good conversation where both of you feel like you’re part of it and that the other person cares, you need to use physical cues. Look each other in the eyes, and emotionally engage in what they’re saying – smile or laugh at jokes, frown at negative things, and nod or shake your head when it’s called for. Reacting tells someone you’re actually hearing their words.

Plan ahead.

This might seem to contradict the tip about listening instead of just waiting for your turn to speak, but it doesn’t have to. If you need to talk to someone about something specific, think about what you really want to say before you approach them. Some people even write out their conversation or practice with other people if they feel like it’s important enough.

By doing this, it will help you to get to your point in a faster and clearer manner and keep the person you’re talking to engaged. You’re also less likely to get emotional and blurt out things that you don’t mean if you go in with a set plan. And who knows, if you plan well enough, you might even be prepared for their response!

Take care with your tone.

Sometimes we don’t realize that the tone of our voice can change the meaning of our words, so it’s important to take care when talking to someone. “May I speak now?” comes across completely differently if the speaker is calm and composed instead of frustrated or angry, and if the listener interprets the tone this way, it can put them on the defensive and turn a civil conversation into an argument.

Parrot back.

If you want to make sure that the person you’re talking with knows that you’re listening, or if you aren’t exactly sure what they mean by something, one great way to find out is to paraphrase what they’ve just said or “parrot back.” Here’s an example: “So it sounds like you’re saying that you need me to finish both my report and John’s report by this Friday.” This shows your listener that you’re trying to be conscientious and, even if you misinterpreted their words, will win you points – and if you didn’t understand correctly, it gives them a chance to clarify and prevent mistakes.

Ask questions.

Maybe you don’t want to parrot back because it feels unnatural, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t ask questions. In fact, asking questions is one of the best things that you can do to communicate more effectively, because most of the time confusion results more from misinterpreting or misunderstanding someone than blatantly ignoring or not listening to them.

Follow these five tips and you’ll be well on your way to having clear and effective conversations.

Aileen Pablo is part of the team behind Open Colleges and InformED, one of Australia’s leading providers of distance education. When not working, Aileen blogs about education and career.She is often invited as a speaker in Personality Development Seminars in the Philippines.If you are interested in featuring her works in your blog, you can find her on Google+.

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