New year’s resolutions – these top 5 interactive skills will ensure we’ll become better communicators in 2021

Business Insights

Tony Hughes, CEO of global negotiation, sales and communication specialists, Huthwaite International, highlights the top five key communication lessons from 2021 that we should take on board as we enter the New Year.

1. Be mindful of your online behaviours 

Many of us realised quite quickly that there are a number of behaviours that can be instantly irritating to people during online conversations. Virtual communications provide multiple barriers such as poor connections and technology issues without even having a conversation. Therefore, with virtual communications not disappearing from the agenda anytime soon, it’s crucial that verbal behaviours do not irritate those you are talking to.

Self-praising declarations are one of these irritators. The words ‘fair’ and ‘reasonable’ can cause tension and may cause lasting damage to your relationship, communicating a lack of sincerity. Verbal behaviours such as telling someone you’re ‘being honest with them’ or ‘that you’re trying to be frank’, can indicate that you may not have been completely honest in the past.  Leave this language where it belongs - back in 2020!

2. Active listening is essential

Listening separates skilled communicators from unskilled and active listening is key to ensuring the conversation goes well. We demonstrate active listening by acknowledging statements. Acknowledging is not the same as supporting, by acknowledging we show we are listening but do not necessarily show agreement. Using phrases such as 'I understand', or paraphrasing statements show that we are aware of their opinion and their thoughts without necessarily agreeing with them.

Taking care to allow people to fully express themselves, especially if they are agitated or excited, is key to defusing a highly emotional or tense conversation. If we must disagree, make a positive statement before and after the disagreement, saying things like 'I fully understand what you’re saying, and will do my best to help’. However, I will need some time to investigate the situation. Let me come back to you in X time’. Implementing active listening into your communications during 2021 will lead to much more effective and less confrontational conversations.

3. Remember to show emotion

Perhaps surprisingly, skilled communicators show their emotions and indicate how they are feeling towards a situation more than the average communicator. Particularly important when dealing with a difficult online conversation. Phrases including ‘I am pleased we are making progress’ or ‘I’m worried that this won’t work out’, can be substituted for an outright agreement or disagreement as it’s difficult to argue with someone else’s emotions. This verbal behaviour also reveals something personal, which is likely to encourage trust within a conversation. If someone expresses that they’re concerned a deadline won’t be achieved – it’s then difficult to retort with ‘no you’re not.’ In the right context, showing emotion is a highly effective way of deescalating confrontation.

Its difficult to observe someone’s body language over a virtual camera call so tone of voice is more easily interpreted and allows the expression of empathy. Listen carefully for clues to how the conversation is going from their tone and note that nerves tend to make the voice higher, and this can be very noticeable.  Smiling when you speak (if appropriate) will also help to relax you, and the other person. Practicing with a friend of colleague can help to produce the relaxed tone of voice necessary to sound sympathetic or authentic.

4. Dealing with extreme levels of reaction

People with an unusually high or low reaction level present characteristic problems, and how you deal with these high or low reactors is a whole communication skill in itself. We’ve all experienced talking faster or drying up I’m sure, when dealing with a ‘low reactor’ or perhaps giving away too much information or exaggerating? It’s important to stay focused and factual if people appear unresponsive – don’t try and fill the communication gap!

5. Don’t allow discussions to lead to a breakdown in communication

A When a meeting is working well, people react positively or constructively. When a meeting is ineffective, tensions can arise leading to a potential communication breakdown. An extremely negative discussion can lead to ‘Defend/Attack’ behaviours where opinions are expressed more strongly and more directly.

Avoid these behaviours by responding positively and appropriately and most of all, try to actively listen to what is being said. Take the time to understand a differing point of view and respect their position before responding. Taking the time to listen will give you time and space to fully consider other opinions. If you decide you do disagree with what they’re saying, active listening will leave space around the discussion which offers the opportunity to react in a constructive, rather than an emotional manner.

To learn how Huthwaite International can help your team develop a highly effective virtual communications strategy in 2021, visit: