While effective communication may come easily for some, it is far more difficult for others.
What about you?
Does it seem that communicating with others is increasingly difficult and disrespectful? Do your disagreements feel less like interacting and more like overreacting? Are your rants making their way into your everyday conversations more and more?
You’re not alone. Communication can be tough for many of us, especially when our emotions take over.
What gets in the way?
Communication is often complex because the way information is shared varies from person to person, depending on a variety of factors. The unique nature of our relationships, our family of origin, our pasts, our circumstances, our communication styles, as well as our emotional needs, impact how we communicate. Moreover, a lot of this happens under the surface, in split seconds, without our awareness. And maybe, too often, adversely affects what we say and how we say it.
Learning to be a more effective, compassionate, and respectful communicator might be one of the best investments you make in yourself.
Finding ways to tune into your own issues and needs while employing proven, effective communication tools is vital. You can fulfill your need to be heard and understood while capably influencing and engaging the people in your life.
So, instead of unproductively ranting or overreacting, consider using these communication tools:
Be an active listener
Effective communication is a two-way street; you can’t be a good communicator by insisting on being the only one speaking. You need to find a happy medium of give and take in a conversation.
Finding a way to really tune in is crucial because listening demonstrates respect and self-control. It honors the other person’s point of view and their right to speak without being dismissed, interrupted, or shut down.
However, be aware, active listening is not quietly waiting to speak. Active listening is not simply hearing the other person’s words. Active listening is not formulating your response while the other person talks. It means ensuring you understand the message the other person is trying to relay.
Active listening involves hearing the import of what is being communicated to you, asking questions for clarity (not debate), summarizing what you think they mean, and asking if you have the correct understanding before responding with your own thoughts.
Focus on your nonverbal communication
What you don’t say is just as important as what you do, so it’s important that your actions and behaviors match your words. Try to establish rapport and connection with your body. Lean in, look at the person speaking in an interested and open manner, relax your body, nod in understanding.
Avoid rolling your eyes, shrugging, and folding your arms. These communicate disrespect, disinterest, or even disdain. Communication is meant to connect not create distance. Be careful to show that you want to do more than make your own point. Signal that you are willing to be fully present and engaged physically and mentally.
Take responsibility for your reactions
Effective communicators are responsive rather than reactive. Take charge of the way you behave and reply to others. Don’t allow someone else’s differing, offensive, defensive, or divisive position to determine your ability to communicate well.
You own your responses and you are responsible for your reactions. When you practice self-control and mindful awareness you can slow down the temptation to react without thinking. If you’re feeling attacked or overwhelmed, it’s okay to take a step back from the conversation and temper your response with introspection. Then, reconvene when you feel emotionally grounded and able to hear and share effectively.
Be clear and concise
When you state your needs, it’s crucial to be as straightforward as possible. Do your best to leave little room for interpretation so that the other person thoroughly understands your intentions. If you’re having a difficult conversation, it can be intimidating to state your needs with this much vulnerability. However, misunderstanding can keep you and your conversation partner from ensuring your needs are met and impede vulnerability in future interactions.
Just as you would want the whole truth when you’re listening, do all you can to present the full picture when you’re speaking.
Agree with the feelings, if not the perceived facts
It’s not your responsibility to agree with everything that’s presented to you in a conversation. Conflict happens. You and your friend, sibling, parent, spouse, co-worker, etc. won’t always see eye-to-eye. That is totally okay. Instead of agreeing with the facts, try relating to the feelings.
For instance, you don’t have to sanction their conclusions, but you should try to understand the feelings and emotions. You don’t have to agree with the position of your partner, family, friends, or co-workers, but simply try to understand and voice compassion. You may share similar feelings of concern with the topic being discussed. Start there.
The factors contributing to your opinions don’t have to be agreed upon, but normal, human feelings can provide common ground.
Effective communication is vital for a happier, more connected life.
If you don’t feel confident in the way you communicate with others, you can take steps that can lead to more effective communication skills. Read books or watch videos on effective communication and improving listening skills. Join a group that works to improve speaking and leadership skills. Or, seek guidance from a professional who can help you uncover your communication weaknesses and support you as you learn new tools and skills for effective communication in all your relationships.
Carlene Lehmann, MA, is a marriage and family therapist associate at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. She helps couples and individuals learn effective communication skills, emotion regulation skills, and how to improve relationships with partners, family, friends, and co-workers. Contact her at 512-270-4883, ext. 105, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling Page.