Effective communication is a critical component of mastering success. By mastering the art of communication, you’ll increase every level of performance in your life. I’ve often said that if you just communicate, you can get by. But if you communicate skillfully, you can work miracles—miracles in your family relationships, your business relationships and your friendships. Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity and the emotions to affect other people. What a unique opportunity to touch others with something small but powerful—our words.
Related: How to Speak Well… and Listen Better
Now before we get to the fundamentals of effective communication, there’s some groundwork to be laid. You see, preparation is the key to good communication. You’ve got to make deliberate, consistent effort to keep putting into your head, and putting into your heart and soul, valuable information from your life experiences. You can’t speak of that which you don’t know. You can’t relate what you don’t have. You can’t give out what hasn’t come in. So the first key to good communication is a consistent way to gather information, knowledge, experiences and then remember it, store it and have it available so that you can use it. And preparation is the key.
Now to prepare for good communication, I’ve got four words for you. Here they are:
Sharpen your curiosity and your interest in life and people. Those are the big subjects: life and people. What about life? The questions you might have about life and the mysteries of life. What about people and the human behavior? People ask me, “Mr. Rohn, when you go to Russia are the people there the same as they are in America?” And the answer is “yes.”
Everywhere I go around the world, from South Africa to Northern Ireland, people are the same. What they want is the same. They would like to be employed. They’d like to have something to do. They’d like to have a way to earn their way. They’d like to make a good living. They’d like to supply incredible values for their family, and plan for the future—not only for the next generation but the next generation after. They’d like to make a contribution to the community and to their country. They’d like to be valuable in more than one respect. They’d like to be good parents. They’d like to leave a legacy. The list is the same whether you go to Siberia or Australia. It doesn’t make any difference. We all have those kinds of ambitions. In some countries, of course, the opportunity to do so is a lot better than in other countries that are struggling with just survival, let alone succeeding.
You should sharpen your interest and keep a journal of your impressions when you visit another region. I got to Australia and if it’s raining they say, “Bring your brelly.” That means umbrella. They’ve got all these unique words. So when you go to Australia, when you go to other countries, you pick up on this because it’s interesting. It’s interesting conversation, and if you know a little about this, it’s fascinating. The key is to just sharpen your interest in life and people, and region and country, and nation and ceremonies, and style and expressions, and all that.
You just pick up all of that flavor and the style and the language and the idiosyncrasies of where you go. You pick all that up as preparation so that your conversation will be more interesting to someone else. And you can flavor it with the color of your experiences of where you’ve been and what you’ve seen and what you’ve heard.
Go from interested to fascinated. Interested people want to know, Does it work? Fascinated people want to know, How does it work? What goes on below the surface? I can see that it works, but what makes it work?
Kids have this extraordinary ability to ask these questions. They can ask a hundred an hour. It’s amazing. It’s because they want to know. Their minds are just zinging all the time. Questions about what’s happening and what’s going on and how does it work and why is it this way and how come it works like this? That’s so valuable in preparing to store in your mental bank and your bank of experiences more and more information, more and more experiences, colored and flavored by your own emotional content so that when you get ready to speak, you have something valuable to say.
Day by, let life fascinate you. Let life interest you. Substitute fascination in place of frustration. I used to be frustrated, now I’m fascinated. It’s a little trick you just have to play, but I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I’m on the freeway in Los Angeles. My airplane leaves in 35 minutes. The traffic’s moving not one inch. I’m not fascinated. I’m telling you now, it doesn’t work every time. Nothing works every time. But every time you can get it to work, let something fascinate you instead of frustrate you. Be curious how life works. That’s how you gather more from your life experiences and prepare for good communication.
The next word, and this is an important word in preparing for communication, is sensitivity. Try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Try to feel what they feel. Try to hurt like they hurt. Have sympathy and compassion.
Sensitivity is trying to understand where someone might be at the moment. The reason that they’re angry may not be obvious. Maybe the IRS just knocked on their door a couple days ago. That’s why they’re upset. You can’t just go by what’s obvious because there might be some reasons behind the reasons. So you’ve got to learn to be a little more sympathetic, a little more understanding. This is vitally important. Sometimes it’s difficult, unless you are like that person, to sympathize or to have sensitivity. But here’s what you must do: You must try. People know when you try.
I go to Mexico and try to speak a little Spanish. I listen to music on this great Spanish station in Los Angeles. If you try to understand, try to speak a few words, it goes such a long way in identifying with people, in building a bridge of understanding and getting something started toward good communications.
So we’ve got interest, we’ve got fascination, and we’ve got sensitivity. Here’s one more word: knowledge. You just have to know. Collect knowledge in your journal, from your ongoing education. Fill up your mental and spiritual and emotional bank so that it becomes like an unending reservoir to draw from. That begins to help you prepare. Do your research. Gather up stories. Keep the flow of knowledge going into your journal, as well as into your head and into your heart.
Adapted from The Jim Rohn Guide to Communication