The ability to communicate effectively is key to your professional success. Strong communication skills are pivotal for senior leaders, but as equally instrumental for aspiring leaders according to Harvard Business Review.

For some people, communicating effectively comes easily; for others, it’s a daily struggle. The good news is that everyone has the potential to become a great communicator with concerted effort and practice.

Here are some of the top traits that great communicators have in common, and tips on how you can acquire those qualities to improve both your personal and professional life.

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They Build Relationships

You may be stellar at public speaking and getting a point across, but your audience must trust you to make sure your message is as potent as it can be. It’s important to build a trusting, personal relationship with your audience so they can see the value in your message.

Conceptualize how your message will affect the person or people to whom you are speaking, and then make sharing that insight a top priority. When you make a personal connection and pay attention to what the other party needs, you’ll be able to build trust in your relationships. Your audience is much more likely to listen carefully and regard you as a thought leader if they know your message will directly impact their lives.

They Listen and Retain Information

Great communicators listen just as much, if not more, than they speak. It’s extremely important to actively listen so you can then respond appropriately. After all, few people want to listen to someone when they know that person is not listening to them in return. Make sure you pay attention and encourage them to share more with questions to show you understand—avoid thinking about what you’re going to say next.  Be present in the moment.

They Pay Attention to Nonverbal Cues

Great communicators don’t just hear what someone says: They pay attention to how they say it, too. This means paying attention to the inflections in the speaker’s voice, their facial expressions and body language, and other cues.

For instance, think about the number of different meanings behind the word “okay.”  It can be an enthusiastic response accompanied by a smile and nod of the head; it can be long and drawn out and give away the speaker’s uncertainty; or it can be short and curt, with an undertone of frustration. And those scenarios are just the tip of the iceberg, which is why you need to pay attention.

Work to understand what a person is trying to say, even if they’re not using their words to say it. It may sound obvious, but it’s incredibly easy to miss these clues if you’re not paying attention.

They Ask Questions

It’s normal, and completely acceptable, to not always understand what a person is saying. However, the difference between a great communicator and a poor one is that a great communicator will take the time to ask for clarification when they need it.

Ask questions. “What do you mean?” or “Can you elaborate on that?” are polite ways to show you’re trying to understand them, but still need clarification. Your audience will appreciate your willingness to truly understand what they’re trying to say. This goes a long way in building the trusting relationship described earlier.

They Are Knowledgeable

There’s nothing worse than listening to a dynamic speaker who proves they actually have little understanding of what they’re talking about. Not knowing your material in depth is one of the best ways to lose your hold on your audience. It doesn’t matter how good your stage presence is if the information you are communicating is incomplete. Your audience won’t trust you and they won’t see they value in what you’re saying. They’ll stop listening.

Take the time to conduct thorough research so you are confident in your information. However, no one expects you to have encyclopedic knowledge, so if you’re not sure about something, say so; if you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it and say that you’ll look for the answer and get back to them. Transparency will lead to respect from your audience, and they’ll thank you for it.

Great communicators build relationships, listen and retain information, pay attention to nonverbal cues, ask questions, and are knowledgeable. Practice these skills to become a more effective colleague and thought leader.

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