01/20/2012 04:24 pm ET Updated Mar 21, 2012

One Thing to Know If You Want to Improve Your Communication Skills

Being in the communications field, I am often presented with questions from people who want to know how they should say, write or present something. Similar questions also come in from the media asking things like how a boss should tell an employee that he or she has body odor, how a husband should tell his wife he had an affair (or vice versa), or how a coworker can tell another coworker that her perfume is giving him a headache. These name just a few. The list goes on and on and on. What I find utterly remarkable though, is that people do know exactly what to say every time. I know this because of the questions themselves.

For example, someone will write to me ask, "How do I tell my kids we can't afford to buy them the things their friends have?" Or, I'll be speaking at a conference to an audience when the question comes up, "How do I tell my employee that his or her performance is not meeting expectations?" All I can think of in response is, "Well, have you tried saying exactly that?" Frankly, I couldn't come up with anything better. "Your performance is not meeting expectations," "We can't afford to buy you the things your friends have." It's perfect, yet for some reason, people think that it is not okay to say the words they hear in their heads, even though those words are reasonable, uncomplicated, fair, clear and understandable.

Granted, I'll admit, there are other conversations that aren't quite so simple, like asking for a raise, terminating an employee, or even discussing an inheritance with parents, a subject that came up recently and one I'd not thought about before. In cases such as these, "just say that," won't do. These types of conversations require more thought, consideration and strategy before diving in headfirst and blurting out, "Can I have a raise?" "You're fired," or, "Mom? Dad? How much money can I expect to inherit when you die?" Whichever the case may be however, there is one way to become more fluent no matter what the topic.

If you think about it, at its core, communication is an exercise in understanding one another better. That's all. This is positive, not negative, despite the industry's tendency to want to turn "difficult conversations," into big, bad, dreaded events. But they don't have to be. All they really require is being able to tell someone what you think and how you feel sans the emotion.

The real challenge then, is not about dealing with conflict and confrontation as the boogeyman that many would have us believe it is; but rather it is to know yourself so that you can become secure enough with your thoughts and feelings to express them without fear. So in the end, the only thing you really need to know is yourself.

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