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It has never been so important to master the art of communication. In times of pandemic, when text messages via applications, emails, or social media posts have become a means to transmit knowledge, data, ideas, and opinions in a more intense way, it’s fundamental to have the necessary competence to communicate in the most effective way possible.

A lot has been said about the competencies expected from a good professional, mainly now that many have been fired and are job searching in a market funneled by the near future uncertainties. Attractive résumés, a relevant experience background, important certifications, or a strong networking on LinkedIn will be useless if the professional does not have the minimum ability to be understood either speaking or writing.

Life carousel keeps turning and demands quick reactions all the time, not giving us the chance to stop and think critically about ourselves. It is crucial to analyze our abilities as well as our limitations and development needs in a competitive and demanding market, especially in times of social distance. An email that is carelessly written or a text message sent in a hurry, poorly constructed, or typos, can take away a possible interview or even the chance of being hired. The first impression, in this case, can be the one that will stick and remain.

That’s why it is paramount to bring ourselves to a halt and reflect on how we communicate and become aware of how it can affect our professional career. Asking questions is an efficient strategy to think over any matter. Questions help us develop critical thinking. We are often encouraged not to ask, but to answer and do it quickly with not much prior reflection. Asking the right questions allows us to find ways and solutions because we can identify the causes and problems that need to be recognized and solved. An attitude of self-criticism will inevitably take us to changes and, consequently, to growth. It works for life!

Therefore, I will list here some questions about communication so you can do this self-reflection exercise. They are questions that can point where your problems to communicate are and awakens you for the need to solve those problems and become more communicatively effective. I suggest you read the questions before reading the comments after each one, thinking firstly of your answers to them, and only then read the comments below.

WHAT ARE MY GREATEST FEARS AS I COMMUNICATE ORALLY OR IN WRITTEN FORM?

Lives on Instagram, work meetings or job interviews on Skype, classes on Zoom, and videos on Youtube; we have never been so exposed to so many eyes in the world. Stuttering, insecurity to speak, memory blanks, the fear of making mistakes and being judged, wrong word agreement, a bad word choice, or a mispronounced word. All that, and much more, can be a nightmare to someone willing to speak publicly, or even privately. However, one cannot allow the fear of making mistakes to prevent them from communicating. Rhetoric and writing are abilities that anyone can train and develop. We cannot let that fear stop us. If I have to prepare a report or write an article, I cannot be afraid of making mistakes. I should take the risk and look for the necessary tools to accomplish the task the best way possible. If I don’t know what to do, I should ask for help from someone who does and, that way, start to develop the habit of expressing myself without any fear of judgment.

WHAT ARE MY LIMITATIONS WHEN I TALK ABOUT AN IDEA OR A PROJECT?

What do I lack when I build a line of thought and express it? Do I lack knowledge about that area, specific vocabulary, or grammatical mastery? Do I lack time to reflect, build a line of thought, and do it? Do I lack an outlined structure? Where can I find help to do it? Planning is the main idea here. If I know I will have to make a presentation or write a report, I should prepare for it – gather all the necessary information, get to know about all the context, align my thoughts with all that information, access the tools that will help me along the process, and plan everything that will be said and/or written. Speaking or writing will be the last step in this process.

HOW MUCH TIME DO I INVEST IN READING AND WRITING?

Reading is an activity that enriches human beings’ minds and souls. Whether for entertainment, study, or even professional matters, this exercise gives us definitive tools for life that will never be taken away. Whenever I read, I get informed and transported to other environments. I get to know different cultures, learn things that I have never been taught before, and expose myself to new realities. More than acquiring a broader world knowledge, I learn new words and a bit more about my language. I can archive expressions in my mind that will be useful to me in the future when the situation asks.

When I go through this constant reading habit, I can improve my writing skills. We are a generation that does not handwrite anymore. Practically, almost everything is done electronically and shortening words more and more. However, no matter how synthetic and modern the world may look, you will always be more valued when you know how to send a written message with excellence. It does not matter how short and simple the text may be. It should present correct spelling, right punctuation, sentences well structured with cohesion and coherence, paragraphs in an ideal size, beginning, middle, and end. The first message sent to a contact on WhatsApp, for example, might be able to reveal a lot about yourself just by the way you wrote it. Observe the way you write. We learn how to write writing – that’s what I always say to my students.

DO I THINK BEFORE SPEAKING OR WRITING?

Because of this fast world we live in, we face anxiety, which makes us reactive, with not much planning and reflection. Depending on the way we are emotionally feeling, what we say can turn into a disaster. And the word cannot be taken back. Once said forever said. Therefore, it’s vital to develop strategies of quick reflection for that moment immediately before you speak. Those minimum fractions of seconds between the moment your brain processes an idea until it gets to your lips becoming audible words are precious. A short pause or slower and deeper breath can help you prepare for what is going to be said. There is a disadvantage in speaking: there’s not much time to think about it. An immediate answer is expected. But a little calmness and self-control might help you think before speaking.

On the other hand, writing offers us a lot of advantages. Despite the type of text, it’s common to have time to choose what to say, build a line of thought, write, delete, revise, edit, etc. However, it also demands reflection.

DO I REVIEW WHAT I SAID OR WROTE?

Just like the preparation to speak and write is crucial, review after it is also useful. As I previously said, unfortunately, a word that is said cannon be taken back. But it is possible to analyze what was said, mainly if it was recorded on audio or video media, to reflect and correct future talks. Where did I fail? Which other words could I have chosen? Do I have to improve my articulation, were my volume and intonation pleasant? Was the speech register adequate? Was I wordy? What can I improve?

In writing, we have more opportunities to revise and edit what we produced before a final publication. Yet, even after publishing, depending on where it is published (on Facebook, for instance), it’s possible to edit, correct mistakes, add or delete information, or even enhance the text.

CAN I ADJUST MY REGISTER DEPENDING ON THE OCCASION?

The different kinds of environments and events demand an adjustment to communication. The way I speak to my client cannot be the same way I talk to my best friend. Noticing these nuances and adjusting our language to this range of interactions will be essential to effective communication. Can I use slangs? What sort of words should I use or not in each situation? Which specific vocabulary do I have to know to use in a job interview, for example? Is there any communication strategy I ought to observe in a business meeting? What are the formality levels each event requires? Everything needs to be taken into account when I want to be an excellent communicator of ideas, projects, and opinions.

WHAT DO I NEED TO DEVELOP TO IMPROVE MY COMMUNICATION SKILLS?

Many elements need to be reckoned and worked to help your communication competencies. Do I speak in a voice pitch that is comfortable and understandable? Can I sum up my ideas in a clear way? Do I have a solid knowledge of the subject I’m talking about, based on evidence? Can I articulate the consonants and vowels well, not causing any misunderstanding to the other speaker? Do I have a diverse, advanced vocabulary range, able to avoid unnecessary repetition so that my speech is not monotonous and uninteresting? Can I master grammar, and does my speech show confidence and credibility? Am I a good listener? Can I listen to other people with attention, not interrupting them until they are over, even not agreeing with them? Do I have any vices of language or use too many monosyllables? Can I be persuasive and convincing enough, not sounding arrogant? Does the hierarchical position of the other speakers affect the way I communicate? Does the environment I am in interfere with my emotions in such a way they affect my discourse? All these questions will help you identify points that can be developed.

AM I OPEN TO THE FEEDBACK OTHER PEOPLE GIVE ME ABOUT WHAT I SAY OR WRITE?

Feedback is necessary for everyone. It’s something that should not be taken for granted or despised. In terms of learning and development, other people’s vision and feedback about any aspect of our lives should be considered. Feedback, correction, and suggestions serve to our growth. It is necessary to be humble and admit we make mistakes and that they are part of any learning and growth process. For that reason, ask for feedback. Ask other people, hierarchically above or below you, what they think about what you said or wrote. Notice how your speech or text has impacted them. Those replies will be important to detect the gaps in your communication skills and work on them for your development.

DO I KEEP VISUAL CONTACT WITH OTHER PEOPLE AS I TALK TO THEM?

Eyes speak. Wearing protection masks against Covid-19, more than ever, visual contact is a must in the relational interactions. Even not wearing a mask in videoconference calls, it’s advisable to keep your eyes focused on the other person’s eyes. It shows interest and helps the other person to understand better what you are saying. If you can’t keep this contact for any reason, you must try to find why and solve that limitation. Eyes communicate.

In conclusion, it’s worth it to look for support to deal with your communication struggles. These questions will possibly help you notice some of the problems that need to be tackled. Because there are many questions here, it’s obvious you will not be able to find quick solutions to all of them at once. The idea is to gradually work on each issue with no hurry, carefully, so that you can handle all the aspects that will improve your communication power. The fact of being fluent users of our mother language as native speakers cannot make room to disregard learning more about it. 

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