shutterstock_173495336Everyone could use a little help with communications skills from time to time. The same is true for the work environment. Since we all have limited time to communicate, we should try to make the best of it. When you talk with people, you define your relationship with them. Choose your words carefully and you will build trust and a positive reputation. Try using these principles to steer conversations.

Respond, don’t react. Weigh your words before you speak. Don’t assume that you know everything about a situation before you respond. Ask questions and listen. Many conversations at work, especially involving situations where something has gone wrong, are met with reaction first – like trying to pass responsibility for a mistake to someone else – and sometimes a thoughtful response comes later. Be one of the good ones. Take time to understand the situation, and then respond.

See the influences. Many factors outside the conversation can affect how you and your conversation partner speak. Recognize if, for example, you are ready to snap at someone because you are stressed about another situation. Analyze what may be influencing the other person too. This exercise can also help keep tension lower, and the conversation will be more productive overall as a result.

Create the right first impression – The first words you speak will set the tone for the conversation and how the other person views you. Ask questions, be genuine, and please don’t go on about yourself for thirty minutes before you let your conversation partner fit a word in edgewise. This is a two-way street; don’t be a sideways bus.

Seize opportunity. Choose the response that will leave the other person with the impression that you want them to have. If your goal is to appear grounded, knowledgeable in your field, and a problem solver, lead your conversation partner with that impression. Don’t be cocky, but be comfortable in your confidence. Remember that others may be watching the conversation, or the other party may talk about your conversation with them later. One conversation can influence the way many people see you.

Close the conversation. Always end on a positive note. Follow up after an important conversation. Check in to clarify any possible misunderstandings, ask questions or reinforce your message. Thank the other person with whom you had a positive encounter. Send a note of apology if you didn’t handle the encounter well, and use that note as an invitation for a second conversation.

Approach each conversation with the right attitude and it will be easier to choose the best words and convey the right tone. It can take some practice, but with a little diligence you can have solid, positive communications that leave the right lasting impression.