Being able to communicate with others is one of the best life skills a person can develop. Someone who can effectively communicate thoughts, ideas, and feelings is better equipped for success both on the job and in personal relationships.
Effective communication is much more than being able to talk; it is also the ability to listen and understand others, to “read” and interpret body language and to know the best ways to get our points across.
What are your goals when communicating with someone?
There are 3 main goals to be found in all communication that we undertake with others.
1. To inform – you are providing information for use in decision making
2. To persuade – to reinforce or change a receiver’s belief about a topic
3. To build relationships – some messages that you send may have the goal of building good will between you and the receiver
While this is fairly straight forward how is it then that on occasions our verbal or written interactions with others can go horribly wrong? Sometimes, our words or meaning get misinterpreted which can lead to a breakdown in communication or even worse, a breakdown in your relationships.
Then there’s those occasions where you are either being aggressive when relating to others which will obviously cause them to have a negative reaction, or you are being too passive in your communication which means you are being ineffective in expressing your feelings or needs.
Barriers to Communication
In almost every case if there is a block to effective communication happening between you and someone else it will boil down to one or more of these barriers to communication.
- Disinterest in the conversation
- Lack of background information
- Jumping to conclusions without waiting for the whole message
- Language differences
- Badly expressed messages
- Not listening
- Arguing or debating
The essence of good communication is to understand each other’s meaning. This requires becoming a better listener. In fact, if you can get relly good at listening you will have the most amazing relationships and influence over others. Why? Because they will feel seen and heard.
Here are some of the qualities of someone who is an effective listener:
- Eliminate distractions. If you find it hard to concentrate because of your surroundings, move to another area or schedule another time to talk.
- Make time to listen. If you are in a hurry or don’t have time, let the speaker know and schedule another time to talk. Better to delay the conversation than to risk having an important conversation cut short.
- Practice reflective listening. Repeat what you think the speaker said to ensure you heard the speaker correctly. This is called “reflective listening” and it is identified by statements as “If I understand you correctly…” reflective listening gives the speaker a chance to clarify a point and ensures that both the speaker and the listener are on the same page.
- Listen for understanding. If you don’t understand what is being said, don’t by shy or embarrassed to ask questions. It is better to ask for clarification than to risk a misunderstanding that could lead to problems later on.
- Wait for the speaker to finish. Don’t interrupt, even when it’s apparent the person speaking is gathering his/her thoughts.
- Pay attention to what is being said. When someone is speaking, don’t spend that time preparing your remarks or working on a project – listen.
- Keep eye contact. Doing so shows that you are interested in what is being said, which may encourage the speaker to express him/herself more freely.
How and when you give feedback is of utmost importance when relating to others. If you listen first so that you get really clear about what is being communicated, then you can give feedback if ti is needed. If you’re not clear, then your first lot of feedback will be to ask for clarity.
Here are so other examples of effective feedback versus non-effective feedback:
Useful – “I think it is good because …”
Not useful – “That is good.”
Focus on Behavior not the Person
Useful – “I think this report needs to focus more on …”
Not useful – “You really have done a poor job.”
Focus on Things the Person can Manage
Useful – “Perhaps if you …”
Not useful – “You should have stopped the person doing …”
When a person is receptive, or is seeking feedback then share information or experience about what, not only ‘why’ something could have been done differently. Do Not Overload them. Too much information, especially negative material, will overwhelm the person and make them feel bad about themselves (One thing that could have been done differently is …)
Always check that the person is on the same page as where you are coming from as this will help to keep the communication doors open. If in doubt, ask, “What did you understand from what was said?” Remember, Feedback is Given to Help, not Hurt.
Balance positive to negative feedback by at least 2:1 (2 positive comments for 1 negative comment)
Receiving feedback (both positive and negative) is usually much harder than giving it, because it is OUR feelings at stake! Hear and/or really Listen, don’t debate. Listen to what is being said, without judgment of the speaker or yourself
Do not interrupt. Try to be calm and receptive and let the person finish. Always assume that they are trying to assist you. Seek Clarification… be sure you understand what is actually being said, rather than responding to what you think or feel is being said.
Open and Closed Questions
In order to gain more information, ask questions that require more than a one word answer. A closed question allows a single word answer, for example YES, NO or OK. An open question keeps the communication going.
- Closed Question – Did you enjoy the dinner?
- Open Question – What did you enjoy about the meal?
- Closed Questions – Are you feeling okay?
- Open Questions – You seem a bit tired, what’s up?
What to do about Arguments
Everyone gets into arguments, but good communicators know how to argue fairly. Here are some guidelines to keep your arguments from going too far south.
- Try the five-second rule. Because we sometimes say things without thinking of the consequences, wait five seconds before you comment on what is just been said. Use this time to exercise control and think about what you should say.
- Stick to the issue at hand. Talk only about the present point of disagreement. Bringing up or engaging in discussions about past problems adds the proverbial fuel to the fire. It also shifts the focus from the present problem, which means it probably won’t get resolved and will cause trouble again.
- Manage your anger. Anger is a natural emotion, especially when you are having a disagreement. But don’t allow your anger to turn violent. If you feel your anger reaching that point, leave the scene immediately and do something safe to calm
yourself down – counting to 20, taking a brisk walk or exercising.
- Don’t resort to drugs or alcohol, or drive your car away like a madman on steroids.
- Speak and act with regard for the other person. Remember with whom you are arguing. It may be a marriage partner or someone whom you love and care about deeply. Although that is probably the last thing on your mind when you are having a disagreement, it should be the first.
Lastly, anyone can improve their communication skills if they really want to. It’s really just common sense and a matter of respect. If you respect yourself, then it will be easier to respect others for their right to think, feel and speak what’s on their mind.
If you don’t respect yourself, then it will be almost impossible for you to be respected by others because your energy and attitudes will most likely have an instant negative impact on how they think and feel about you long before you even open your mouth.