12-keys-to-being-a-better-communicatorThe top salespeople—and top executives—in every field are amazing communicators. They have a gift for getting their ideas across and persuading others.

Except that it’s not a gift. It’s a set of learned skills that anyone can master. Here are the twelve things great communicators do that you can do as well.

1. Ask questions
Asking questions is essential to good communication. whether you’re just getting to know someone or trying to make a sale, questions are the most important tool in your toolbox. Most salespeople—heck, most people in general—don’t ask anywhere near enough questions, typically being in too much of a rush to get their own points across. Questions, though, enable you to forge connections and gather information, both of which facilitate more effective communication.

2. Listen attentively
People become much more open and receptive to your thoughts and ideas after they’ve had a chance to express their own. So listen. And listen well. When someone is talking with you, give them your full attention. Maintain eye contact with them throughout. Don’t look at your phone or around the room.

3. Keep an open mind
Whenever we listen to another person, we do so with a variety of filters, biases, and assumptions. All of which can prevent us from truly hearing, understanding, and appreciating what the other person is trying to say. Work on keeping your mind open and unbiased. (Click here for a free resource.)

4. Respect others’ viewpoints
It’s easy to dismiss other people’s viewpoints as wrong or stupid when they don’t agree with our own viewpoints. But that’s a huge mistake. Everyone’s beliefs, thoughts, values, priorities, desires and fears stem from their experiences, which are always different from ours. And each of those items is as valid for them as ours are for us. Don’t judge or dismiss. Seek to understand and learn. You don’t have to agree with someone’s opinion or idea to respect it.

5. Look for subtext
When people talk, there are two things they are trying to communicate: facts and emotions. Facts are typically conveyed directly via their words. Emotions, however, typically aren’t. And emotions are every bit as important to understand as facts! Which means you need to pay attention to the feelings behind the words, as well as the tone the person is using. (Note: The idea that words only account for 7% of communication, while tone contributes 38% and body language makes up 55% is a complete myth.)

6. Acknowledge and validate what others say
People need to know they’re being heard. As they talk, give them feedback, both visual (smiling, nodding, frowning, grimmacing) and verbal (“Right.” “Gotcha.” “Definitely.” “Sure.”) Go even further and validate their thoughts and emotions (“I understand.” “Point taken.” “I don’t blame you.”)

7. Ask for clarification
If you don’t understand what the other person has said, communication hasn’t actually taken place. Anytime you’re not sure about something, ask for clarification or for more details. Instead of making you look stupid, it makes you look curious and caring.

8. Don’t interrupt
Nobody likes being interrupted. It’s rude and annoying. It communicates to the speaker that what you have to say is more important than what they have to say. Shut up and let them talk.

9. Paraphrase
Summarize back to the other person what you believe they said. It helps make sure that you did in fact understand what they were trying to get across, and it helps them feel heard and understood.

10. Be positive
Nobody likes a whiner. If you’re always complaining, people will tune you out. Approach every conversation positively. Even if you’re bringing up a problem, frame it positively by tying it to the larger goals of the person or organization.

11. Aim to connect, not impress
Too many salespeople and executives try too hard to impress the people they talk to. They use big words, industry jargon, and acronyms. They brag about themselves and always have to “one-up” the other person—i.e. their story has to be more impressive than the other person’s story. But you know what people are really impressed by? Authenticity. Caring. Attentiveness. Empathy. Passion. Strive to be relatable and understandable, not impressive

12. Speak to both logic and emotion
As much as we like to think otherwise, we make decisions emotionally. We use facts and logic to justify our decisions, but we always make them based on emotions. So be sure to always address not only the facts of an issue, but the emotions surrounding it. Build your arguments logically, but include the emotional elements as well.

Whether you want more sales, or you want better results from the people you lead, work on these twelve skills. Read books, attend training seminars, get individual coaching, and consciously practice them every day with prospects, co-workers, family, and friends.

Great communicators are not born, they’re made. And you can be one.