4 Ways to Instantly Improve Your Communication

How healthy is your workplace?  And what about your personal and professional relationships?  How healthy are they?

No matter what shape they are in, I can tell you this:  You can ALWAYS make them healthier.

And the key to that health is your communication skills.

As poet laureate John Barrymore said, “We are as sick as we are secret.” In other words, you can’t have a healthy workplace or a healthy relationship without the right kind of communication.

Here are four things you can do right now to quickly and dramatically improve your communication effectiveness.

One caution, however.  Don’t dismiss these four strategies by saying they’re nothing more than common sense.  I find too many people who have a lot of common sense but seldom turn it into common practice.


1. Acknowledge the fact that you do have communication breakdowns.

Yes, you.  Quit blaming everybody else when communication breaks down.  We’re all a part of the problem.

The research that says about half the time when you’re talking the other person doesn’t get your exact meaning.  And when you’re listening to someone else, you misinterpret some of what you’re hearing about half the time.

So get beyond the WHO question … who’s at fault when there are communication problems.  And get on with the WHAT question … what you and the other person can do to improve the communication.

That would have helped a great deal in one university class on “Emotional Extremes” for psychiatry students. The professor asked, “What’s the opposite of joy?” One student replied, “Sadness.”

“The opposite of depression?” the professor asked another student. “Elation,” he replied.

“The opposite of woe?” the prof asked a young woman from Texas. The Texan replied, “Sir, I believe that would be giddy up.”

That’s funny.  But all too often it’s not funny when there are misunderstandings floating around your workplace or in your home.

If you’re interested in solving that problem, you might want to bring me into your next speaking opportunity to speak on The Power of Partnership:  6 Keys to Better Relationships and Greater Teamwork.  You can get more information by clicking on this link.


2. Use lots of eye contact.

Yeah, I know we live in an electronic age filled with emails and virtual meetings.  But whenever possible, opt for face-to-face interactions.

Paula Kerger, a television network executive, says, “The next generation of leaders needs to be encouraged to work with colleagues face-to-face and not hide behind e-mails.”

Of course, different cultures place different emphases on “proper” eye contact, but in most business circles … eye contact is important and valued. As the old expression goes, we trust people who “look us in the eye.”

So you wonder … where exactly should you look? Look people in the eye … not at their shoulder, chest, hips, or around their head to see who else is in the room. Or if it’s a bit more comfortable, look at the bridge of their nose.

When you meet or greet people, make a special effort to look them in the eye. When they come into your office or place of business, try to establish eye contact, even if you’re talking with someone else in person or you’re on the phone. Make a concerted effort to look people in the eye when you shake their hand.

When you’re speaking to a group, look at individuals — in their eyes — and hold their eye contact for two seconds. Your eye contact will appear much more genuine than scattering your eyes across the group from side to side.


3. Pay attention to your vocal tones.

It matters. It really does. Dr. Albert Mehrabian says 38% of a message’s meaning comes from tone.

You know from experience that some people’s tones tend to irritate you. You may have even said, “It’s not so much what she said as the way she said it that gets me.”

To make the problem worse, if your tone does not match your words, they won’t believe your words.  Or they’ll simply keep their distance.

So you’ve got to know how people react to your tone.  And if you don’t know, for heaven’s sake, start asking a number of people how your tone comes across.  It will be one of the most important questions you will ever ask … in the process of advancing your career or improving your relationship.


4. Clarify, Clarify, Clarify.

You can’t assume the other person understands you. Every word in our language has several different definitions in the dictionary. So the chances of the other person picking the same definition for every word in your conversation are about nil. It’s not going to happen.

To avoid communication misunderstandings, IF YOU’RE THE SPEAKER, ask the other person to tell you what he heard you say … in his own words. You’ll be able to spot almost instantly whether or not you’re on the same page.

That’s what one overweight patient should have done. His doctor said, “I want you to eat regularly for two days, and then skip a day. Repeat this procedure for two weeks, and the next time I see you, you should have lost at least five pounds.”

When the patient returned, he shocked the doctor by having lost nearly 30 pounds! “Why, that’s amazing!” the doctor said, “Did you follow my instructions?”

Weakly the patient nodded, “Yeah, but by the end of each third day, I thought I was going to drop dead.”

“From hunger, you mean?”

“No,” responded the patient, “from skipping all day!”

Likewise, IF YOU’RE THE LISTENER, you have to clarify what you are hearing.

Paraphrase. Say something like, “If I hear you correctly … or … What I think you’re saying is … or … Are you trying to say…?” It will tip off the speaker as to whether or not he’s getting through.

Communication is difficult. Misunderstandings are rampant. As J. Gustav White notes, “Our language is funny — a fat chance and a slim chance are the same thing.”

But you’ll have a better chance of communicating effectively … if you use the four tips I just outlined.

As I tell the people who attend my two-day, off-site boot camp, my Journey-to-the-Extraordinary program, “If communication is not one of your top priorities, all of your other priorities are at risk.”

PS:  My next Journey-to-the-Extraordinary program will be in April, 2018 in the Kansas City area.  Space is strictly limited and registration will open soon.  If you want to learn more about the program and how it will transform your life, career, and relationships, go to


Dr. Zimmerman’s Tuesday Tip, Issue 909 – 4 Ways to Instantly Improve Your Communication