Although we hate to admit it when we are young, our parents have a great deal to teach us. I was thinking about my childhood recently and remembered that several of my father’s pet phrases are actually quite relevant to effective communication. Here are three that I remember quite clearly and what they taught me:
Dad’s words: “Look at me when I’m talking to you.”
Communication lesson: Eye contact is essential for effective communication.
While direct eye contact is viewed as confrontational in many cultures, in the American context, direct eye contact shows respect. It says, “I am listening to you. You are important to me.” When my father would (ahem, rarely) discipline me, he made sure I was listening to him by seeking out eye contact.
Dad’s words: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
Communication lesson: People form a lasting opinion of you based on the first few seconds of communication.
Make sure you can clearly and effectively articulate a personal elevator pitch. Practice speaking clearly. Make good eye contact. Dress appropriately for the occasion. The listener’s first impression of you will be hard to change, so try to create a positive impact up front.
Dad’s words: “Always use a firm handshake.”
Communication lesson: Positive body language reinforces effective communication.
A handshake should be firm (but not too firm!) and last only 1-2 seconds. Don’t squeeze too hard, but don’t have limp spaghetti hands. Your handshake should say, “I am confident.”
Of course handshakes are not the only aspect of body language to consider. Don’t cross your arms. Don’t put your hands on your hips or in your pockets. Stand up tall. Smile.
What did your parents teach you about communicating?