Before I get into the golden rules of communication, it’s important to understand how our understanding of communication has changed.
Yes, plenty has stayed the same – people are still people, after all – but the way that people interact with one another and the closeness we have with each other is truly modern.
There’s more to communication than just interactions.
In the past, we interacted with a very small number of people.
For example, let’s pretend it’s the 70’s and you want to talk to a friend. You might call them up. But, long distance calls were $1.25 a minute. If you called you kept the conversation short. Or you just waited until you saw them. A few brave souls might actually write a letter. (When I was in the army this was the only method of interacting with those I was not in proximity with.)
Today, people can connect in all sorts of ways that were unimaginable just a few short years ago.
7 Golden Rules of Communication
The rules of communication are established by one’s culture. They’re not going to become obsolete the next time Facebook changes how it organizes your feed.
It’s no mistake that the golden rules of communication are the ones that have been around forever.
The way you apply the rules may be different, but they’re proven for a reason – they work.
1. Don’t be mean.
As far as communication rules go, “don’t be mean” may be the simplest and easiest to apply.
Did you ever make a point to smile at a cashier? Do it – the reaction is always a smile back, plus a hint of surprise. Cashiers are so used to dealing with run-of-the-mill customers – the ones who are rushing, rude or angry – that the tiniest drop of kindness gets noticed and reciprocated; it’s contagious.
The same is true for kindness in communication. Kinder communication will encourage more positive responses, and those responses will be kinder, too. Change your wording in live chat and emails to be softer and nicer, connect with people more often to say “thank you.”
Bonus: it doesn’t cost anything to create kinder communication. This is a great opportunity to create a culture of kindness within your communities, too.
2. Know who you are talking to.
Knowing who you are talking to isn’t as simple as, “female, ages 20-35, metropolitan area.” You have to know so much more about their demographics (for example, which metropolitan areas?), as well as what they want, strive for and struggle with. Knowing who you are talking to is twofold: you have to know who they are from a physical standpoint and who they are in terms of their hopes, dreams, and aspirations.
3. Pay closer attention to other’s actions than their words.
This isn’t permission to ignore the words someone might use. Instead, it means being responsible for taking all their behaviors into account instead of assuming everything is fine because you ended a phone call in a satisfactory way.
Someone may say they’re happy but never talk to you again.
Why are they doing what they’re doing? What would make some say or write that they like you but never reach out to you?
4. Your own actions have to be trustworthy, too.
Saying one thing while performing another way is death to communication – or at least to your reputation.
People aren’t new to the game – they communicate all the time. Talking about how fantastic you are doesn’t matter a bit if you can’t deliver. And if you talk yourself up and then don’t rise to the occasion, the experience feels worse than it was.
The key is to say what you mean and mean what you say. People like to predict the future. The extent to which your communication matches your behavior will affect the extent to which you are satisfied with the communication.
5. Be ethical.
Avoid sneaky, unethical practices like trying to make yourself look better by making someone else look worse. Instead of attacking or undermining your others, learn from them respectfully (as in, don’t steal their ideas). Nothing cheapens a communicator like putting down another communicator to try to stand out.
6. Be Yourself.
By trying to make everyone happy, you end up making nobody excessively happy – how can you when you’re playing it safe?
There’s a way to stick with what you know works while still taking risks to try new things. I’m not sure what that way is for you – it depends on your unique situation – but I know it exists. Define who you are, figure out your values and voice, determine where you can try something new, and then don’t be afraid to put it all out there.