How to Become a Better Communicator Using Time-Tested Design Thinking Methodologies
Communication skills are required in all aspects of our work and life. Whether you are communicating with your team, securing a deal with a client, or describing your next big idea, strong communication skills will help you succeed and excel in everything you do. Becoming a better communicator provides numerous benefits for both yourself and the people you interact with.
People are at the root of the human-centred design process—what they feel, need, want, and how they are impacted by the decisions we make. In order to effectively understand what other people need, including our customers, team members, and communities, we must communicate effectively.
This article will take a deep dive into how you can become a better communicator using strategies and methodologies from design thinking. While it’s true that some people are more naturally gifted at communicating, we must all continue to develop our skills. No matter where you are now, there’s always room to improve, and a continuous improvement mindset will serve you well as you develop and hone the way you communicate.
How to Become a Better Communicator
1. Actively Listen and Remember What People Say
Great communicators are great listeners, and they understand there’s a very big difference between actively and passively listening. Active listeners pay close attention to what other people are trying to convey and deeply engage with them as they are speaking.
This means making eye contact, mirroring the speaker’s body language, and asking follow up questions as needed. Actively listening will help you communicate better because you will fully understand what the people around you are trying to say, and those people will feel more comfortable speaking to you because you are visibly interested.
The next time you engage in a conversation, pay close attention to what others are saying and add in both visual and verbal cues to show that you are following along. If you’re unsure of anything they said or want to know more, ask questions that illustrate you were deeply listening and care about what they have to say.
Want to take it to the next level? After you have a conversation with someone, make a note of a few things they said that you can follow up on later. Asking a specific question about your previous conversation the next time you speak to that person will show that you were deeply listening and took the time to remember what they said. It can be as simple as asking how their vacation went, how a hobby is going, or if their child had a good birthday. Remembering the details will set you apart from other communicators, and it will help you build rapport inside and outside of the workplace.
2. Be Mindful of Your Body Language
Effective communication isn’t only about the words we say—our body language counts too.
Pay close attention to what your body language is signaling to other people. Whether communicating in person or by video, we are all watching for nonverbal cues when we communicate.
Slouching, folding your arms, looking at your device, looking at a clock, and not making eye contact are clear signs you don’t care about the conversation. If you look at your watch, even if it’s a smartwatch sending you a notification, it suggests you’re checking the time, which communicates that you may have to leave or have better places to be—not a great way to prove you’re engaged and interested in the conversation.
Practice your nonverbal cues and avoid any body language that indicates a lack of interest on your part. Instead of folding your arms or keeping your hands in your pockets, utilize them to get yourself more involved in the conversation. Instead of checking your phone or smartwatch if you get a notification, turn off your notifications or put your device on silent if you are engaging in any sort of conversation.
Improving your body language takes time and practice. If you want to make drastic improvements, practice at home in front of the mirror or record yourself to find out what other people see and hear when they communicate with you. Is your language clear? Do you slouch, fiddle, or avoid eye contact? Practice communicating with clear, engaged, active body language that illustrates your interest and authentic enthusiasm.
3. Seek Out and Implement Constructive Feedback
How do you become a better communicator? You ask for feedback.
Feedback can help you hone your skills, and it will give you insight into how others feel about your communication tendencies and style.
Ask people you are close with to provide you with constructive feedback on all aspects of your communication. Ask about your speed, tone, body language, listening skills, and the communication preferences you lean towards. Are you more blunt and straightforward in your communication preferences, or are you more methodical, taking the time to deeply consider what you want to say before you say it?
One-on-one meetings with your team members are an ideal time to gather consistent, constructive feedback on your communication. Do you always push for in-person communication when your direct report would much rather have an email from time to time so that they can process what you are saying? Has your hands-off approach actually kept your team members in the dark about whether or not they are doing a good job?
After gathering feedback, be sure to implement it. Try your best not to take any feedback personally, as any feedback you receive is a learning opportunity that will help you develop your communication skills. Make giving and receiving feedback a consistent practice to build a continuous improvement mindset in your workplace.
💡 Add structure to your feedback—download our free Feedback Grid Worksheet.
4. Have Empathy for Each Person’s Unique Perspective and Circumstances
You have no idea what someone else has been through today or throughout their life. Everyone has a unique set of experiences and circumstances that affects their opinions, values, and how they communicate.
Keep an open mind and have empathy. If someone forgets to say hi to you in the office, don’t take it personally. It could be they were up all night dealing with a sick kid, got rear-ended in the parking lot, or just received terrible news about the health of a loved one.
Give people the benefit of the doubt. Each one of us goes through different pains and struggles, so don’t be too quick to judge. Empathy is the name of the game when it comes to effective communication.
💡 Want to learn more? We discussed the importance of empathy in the workplace and how to build your empathy skills in two recent guides.
5. Be Aware of Different Communication Preferences
It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing the way we prefer to communicate is the way others prefer to communicate. The truth is everyone has different communication preferences and styles that come more naturally to them.
Some people prefer bold and direct communication, while others may find this way of communicating aggressive and pushy. Some people want to engage in a bit of small talk before getting to the point of a conversation or email, while others may find a barrage of small talk stressful and draining.
Get to know the people you communicate with. How do they prefer to communicate? What preferences do they lean towards? What mode of communication do they prefer?
Do what you can to meet them halfway. Even if you prefer email, if you notice your direct report or manager always comes to speak to you in person, try to engage in this way sometimes. If you notice your colleague always gets straight to the point in every email, try to do the same for them.
It’s all about balance, and understanding that we all have different communication preferences and tendencies is a step in the right direction. Being aware of these differences will help you change up your own communication habits so that you can communicate with people in the way they’re most comfortable.
6. Drop Your Assumptions and Give People Room to Grow
In human-centred design, we often talk about our assumptions—more specifically, how to break free from them.
What assumptions do you have about how other people communicate? What assumptions do you hold about who people are? What first impressions have you held on to?
When we carry assumptions about other people, we put them in a box, hold them back, and don’t leave them any room to change or grow. We make a decision about someone and then let those assumptions stick when it actually takes a long time to get to know who someone really is.
Try your best to move beyond first impressions, and give people the benefit of the doubt as you continue to communicate with them. As we discussed in our point about empathy, you have no idea what any person has been through or experienced, so keep an open mind as you get to know people.
Dropping your assumptions will make you a better communicator; one who’s adaptable, open to change, and always seeking continuous improvement. Moving past assumptions will also give the people you communicate with the space and freedom to adapt, change, and improve themselves.
7. Continue to Build Your Communication Skills
Building your communication skills is not a set it and forget it task. It’s an ongoing journey, and you’ll need to continually practice your communication skills throughout your life.
How can you improve as a communicator, and how can you provide your team with the tools and resources they need to build their communication skills? What team building opportunities can you provide to help your team communicate more effectively with each other, your customers, and your community? A team that communicates effectively is more productive, can make better decisions, trusts one another, and actually enjoys spending time working together.
Continue practicing, gathering feedback, adapting, and learning.
Invest in Human-Centred Communication Training
Invest in yourself and your team with human-centred communication training. Using methodologies rooted in design provides a framework that focuses on the needs of the real people you communicate with every day, including your team, stakeholders, customers, and community.
If you want to continue developing your communication skills, take part in Overlap’s Creative Problem Solving School. We carefully crafted a suite of courses to bring design thinking training to anyone ready to learn. Our wide range of courses includes practical and engaging materials that will help you work better together, understand your customers, and navigate complex challenges.
We have an entire course series dedicated to becoming a better communicator. Our Better Communication Bundle includes:
- 301—Community & Staff Engagement Foundations
- 302—Facilitation & Better Meetings
- 306—Making & Communicating Ideas
With this series, you and your team will learn how to better communicate with one another, your stakeholders, and your customers by using design thinking methods.
The Community & Staff Engagement Foundations course provides the skills necessary to run captivating engagement sessions in a virtual environment. You will explore how changing your mindset can lead you to ask better questions and gather more accurate data.
The Facilitation & Better Meetings course will teach you how to get more from individuals in group settings by leveraging their strengths and asking the right questions. You’ll learn techniques to lead your team through meetings that get things done.
Finally, the Making & Communicating Ideas course will show you how to build compelling prototypes and presentations to better communicate your ideas. You’ll break down commonly held assumptions about visualization and build your creative confidence using a step-by-step design thinking prototyping process.