When the phone rings, do you dread picking it up? Do you default to email and text when communicating? Does the thought of a face-to-face conversation make you nervous?
You’re not alone. Approximately 15 million adults suffer from social anxiety, but in the workplace, interacting with others is critical. It allows employees to be productive and businesses to operate at maximum efficiency. Unfortunately, workplace communication is difficult for many people. When I talk to my clients, many of them complain about new employees’ poor communication skills. It’s also a prevailing Millennial stereotype, even if it’s untrue.
The good news is you can conquer this issue, which has serious career implications, by getting outside your comfort zone, modifying your thinking, and practicing new behaviors. Grab a friend to work alongside you, and you’ll both be celebrating promotions soon enough! Why? Because you’ll stand out among your competition if you can become a good communicator.
Why Is Verbal Communication so Important?
When people hear your voice — or, better yet, see your face — it allows you to:
- Build trust because the conversation feels more personal. Others can read your reactions better and gauge your intent.
- Show appreciation more effectively. The visuals and tone will make the message more genuine.
- Avoid misinterpretations and negative feelings. When you’re verbally communicating with someone, you can easily spot conflict and quickly resolve it.
- Handle delicate matters with more finesse.
- Address complex problems more efficiently.
- Increase client or customer service for those who prefer a more personal touch.
The ‘How’ of It All
So how do you get better at this? The simple answer is, well, practice. Here are three action steps:
- Use your smart device as a telephone. Challenge yourself to place two phone calls a day; then, increase that number to five a day. These calls don’t have to be complicated. For instance, next time you need to look up a restaurant’s hours, call instead of plugging your query into Google. Rather than texting a friend, call to catch up. And ask your friends to call you without notice so you can practice answering the phone professionally.
Additionally, there’s a good chance you’ll use video conferencing tools like Zoom or Skype at some point in your career. So arrange a mock call on your laptop to practice video conferencing and ensure your technology works. Afterward, ask for feedback on your eye contact, tone, and overall confidence levels.
- Increase your face-to-face conversations. Every day, try to spark two conversations with complete strangers. This could be on your university campus, while waiting at the bus stop, or with a clerk at a local shop. It might sound scary at first, but by seeking out opportunities to engage strangers, you’ll soon be able to talk to anyone. Plus, you might make someone’s day by noticing him or her! Refuse the itch to avoid conversations.
During these encounters, practice strong, steady eye contact and, when it’s appropriate, a solid handshake. For instance, it might be strange to shake a store clerk’s hand, but when you introduce yourself to someone at school or church, don’t hesitate to extend your hand.
- Check your gut. Before every meeting or conversation, ask yourself: How should I communicate this? I recommend opting for a call, video conference, or personal visit (over email) if:
- You see an opportunity to build or nurture a relationship.
- There’s room for miscommunication.
- You’re discussing a complicated issue.
- You’re sharing bad news.
- It’s an emotionally charged subject.
- You’re brainstorming.
- You wouldn’t want the email to be forwarded on.
Afterward, you can send a follow-up email if you want a paper trail or need to clarify next steps, but starting with a phone call is best.
Overall, keep challenging yourself to get out of your comfort zone when it comes to people and communication. The more you do it, the better it will feel. I’ve had clients with social anxiety actually begin to experience joy in meeting strangers. They just took it one step at a time — facing their fears and focusing on getting to know others. And as you master your ability to communicate effectively, your confidence will grow, others will trust you more, and you’ll be given greater responsibility.