How often do you communicate with others at school, work, or online? Many of us spend the majority of the day interacting with people through a variety of mediums, and these days there’s so much communication taking place it’s not a bad idea to review best practices. Here are a few tips intended to help keep your communications as effective as possible.

Be empathetic with your audience.

Whether you are interacting with colleagues, business clients, strangers on the subway, or social media users online, knowing your audience can help you communicate effectively. Depending on the demographic, you may want to adjust your tone of voice, vocabulary, attitude, body language, and more.

Be empathetic. Communication is partially about you, and largely about the people you are communicating with. Do you take into account the different points of view of people you interact with? By putting yourself in another person’s shoes, you can better understand why people react the way they do, and can communicate with them in ways that cater to their liking.

Judge their mood. Is this a serious conversation or laid-back chat? If you can tell the audience is angry, upset, or worked-up, you should know to avoid comments that will further the problem. Likewise, if your audience is worried, unsure, or nervous, you should know that some encouraging words will provide a lot of value. If you can relate to your audience, it’s much easier to build trust and credibility with them.

Listen, reiterate, and expand.

It can be hard to be a good listener all the time, but this is a very important aspect of communication. By listening first, you can get a clear idea of your contact’s thoughts and opinions. Wait patiently for your turn to speak. I sometimes have the urge to raise my voice as soon as something comes to mind, but it is important to wait until the speaker is finished talking.

After they have finished speaking, be sure to reiterate their comments – this lets them know you have been paying attention and that you understand the subject.

Next, expand on their thoughts and comments with an original idea, thought, or point of view. Add value to the conversation by both listening and then contributing to the subject matter.

Keep a positive tone.

Your tone of voice communicates a wide variety of feelings and emotions, and can steer a conversation in the right, or wrong, direction. Be aware of the messages you want to convey and use the appropriate tone to help you convey those messages. Even if the circumstances of your communication are negative, try to keep a positive outlook or put a positive spin on things. It’s a lot easier to talk with someone who’s in a (perceived) good mood.

This is just as important during online communications, except the only tools available online are your wording and punctuation. Word your messages carefully, be polite, and use appropriate punctuation. An exclamation mark or emoticon can signal enthusiasm – there is a big difference between “Let’s chat soon.” and “Let’s chat soon!”

Watch body language

Even if you listen and say everything you’re supposed to, bad body language can kill any interaction. Remember to make eye contact – don’t stare down the other person, but make enough eye contact so they know you are into the conversation. If they look to you, give them a look back. As you listen, nod your head or let the other person know you are listening, and that you follow their thoughts.

Also pay close attention to the body language of others, and anticipate what action is best. A lot of information about someone’s mood can be discovered by facial expression and their posture. Look for clues to how someone is feeling, and act accordingly.

Keep it human.

Ultimately, by exhibiting human qualities – empathy, anticipation, and thoughtfulness, we can keep our communications effective. Communicating is about connecting on personal levels and understanding one another and the differences that make us unique. If we can leverage these differences in our favor, there’s no telling where our communications will take us.

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