Communication is one of the central pillars of any relationship in your life, and it’s also one of the most difficult to master. There’s a magic in language that gives you the ability to take ideas and thoughts in your own mind and share them with another mind. But there’s a bit of an art to effective communication, and there are sure to be a few bumps in the road…
Misunderstandings Will Happen
We’ve all been frustrated by moments where we just can’t quite get the point across, or even understand the point someone else is trying to make to us. For whatever reason, misunderstanding prevails. But don’t give up hope!
The Trick to Language
The trick to communication is learning to be clear enough so that the words you share end up meaning to the person you’re sharing with very nearly what they meant to you. So, what are some tips for communicating clearly and effectively with those around you?
Take Your Time
Good communication requires patience. Sure, you can certainly rattle off any old thing to your friend when you’re “spilling the tea” or making a joke, but there’s so much more room for misunderstanding when you hurry. Idioms, slang, and popular phrasing can be fun, but you have to acknowledge that using those often make your meaning blurry.
Know What You’re Trying to Say
This doesn’t mean you have to be formal and stiff. It means that it often takes a bit more time to think about what you really mean before you can say it as clearly and simply as possible. Take your time and do your best to actually say what you mean.
Let’s Be Honest
One of the most important – if not the most important – aspects of communication is honesty. It’s imperative that there be an open and unobstructed flow of communication between you and your partner, friend, parent, sibling, family member, coworker, or any other relationship that you care about in your life.
Honesty Starts with the Self
Being honest in your relationships first means being honest with yourself. How can you expect to effectively communicate with your partner what you think and how you are feeling about a situation, when you don’t really know that for yourself? (This goes back to taking the time to figure out what you really think or feel so that you can communicate it as simply as possible to someone else.)
Be Aware of Distractions
One of the biggest things that can distract from open and honest communication is our emotions. Your feelings are very real and valid, but they are also fleeting and temporal. Pride and fear can often get in the way of effective communication by prompting you to say things you shouldn’t or keeping you from saying things you should.
Don’t Deny Your Feelings, But Don’t Bow to Them Either
It’s important that while you acknowledge your feelings (and those of the other person) as part of the conversation, neither of you allow them to dictate the direction of the conversation. Honesty isn’t ignoring how you feel, but it’s also not allowing your feelings, which can change and fade, to determine what you do or how you treat someone else.
Communication Goes Both Ways
Speaking is only one side of a two-way street in communication. Listening is also an integral part of meaningfully connecting in your relationships, and it is your responsibility to do the due diligence at both speaking clearly what you mean to say and listening well to what others are telling you.
Listen to Understand
While it may not be consciously intentional, what can often end up happening in a conversation with someone else (especially a heated argument) is listening to respond, instead of listening to understand. The two are distinctly different and if the goal is effective, loving communication, then understanding must take priority.
Put an End to the Vicious Cycles
The issue comes in, again, when you find that you’ve allowed your emotions (or even that of the other) determine the direction and flow of language. There’s an old proverb that says, “A quiet answer turns away wrath.” When there’s a vicious cycle of poor communication happening, the only way to stop it from escalating is to take a different approach.
Listening to understand can look like taking in what someone has said and then repeating it back to them in the form of a question to clarify or confirm their meaning. For example, if you’re not quite sure what someone meant, you can respond by saying, “I just want to make sure I understand. Are you saying…?” or “Here’s what I heard…”
Don’t Panic over Conflict
Confrontation and even disagreements are normal aspects of all relationships, so there’s no need to panic or believe that something is wrong if it happens. The idea is to learn ways to disagree and confront healthily. That means both sides need to feel supported and heard. It’s a good idea to look for and utilize techniques that help you navigate those more sensitive, or even explosive topics.
Avoid Using “Extreme” Words
One thing to steer clear of, especially when emotions are high, is using extreme language: like the words “always” or “never.” If you tell someone that they always forget to do such-and-such or the never do this or that for you, then your claim, which is an exaggeration by default, can do nothing but elicit a defensive response.
Be Aware of Natural Triggers
Not only are you ineffectively communicating your actual feelings to that person, but you are also triggering defensiveness from the other person, which can only spiral further into a lack of understanding and deeper miscommunication.
You Can Always Turn the Conversation Around
It can be a pretty hard cycle to break, once it gets going, but not impossible! As long as one party can make a conscious shift to redirect the vicious spiral, the conversation can turn around. In order to move in a more positive and helpful direction, you must be willing to…
Own Up to Your Mistakes
If you have legitimately done something wrong and are trying to make amends in your relationship, then you must be willing to take ownership of what you did and the consequences that came from your actions. There is no continuing forward if you are unwilling to go there. None of us are perfect.
Accept Correction with Grace
It’s hard to naturally and gracefully accept criticism or critique. Nobody likes to be wrong. But one of the best ways to open up channels for honest and effective communication (even ones that have been closed for a long time and seem impossible to reopen again) is admitting that you messed up or graciously accepting correction
Create a Safe Place for Opening Up
This is especially effective in helping the other person to drop their defenses. If you are willing to admit where you need to improve, then the other person is more likely to do so as well because you’ve created a safe space for it. They will likely lower their guard a little bit because they know, at least to some degree, you can see their side of the story.
Often, especially in heated arguments, the argument can be very pointed toward the other person carrying much of the blame. “You did this, and you didn’t do that.” Quell the tornado of blame by taking the hit and admitting when you are wrong, even if you had reasons for what you did. It really will do wonders for allowing communication to move forward.
Learn Empathy – it’s Your Greatest Tool
Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” And it is your greatest tool in all of your relationships. Taking a moment to consider yourself in another person’s situation does wonders for helping you to understand their actions and possibly even their feelings and motivations.
Build Up Your Compassion
When you truly seek to understand another person, even for a moment, it builds a lot of compassion. There’s a tenderness or soft-heartedness that comes along to help melt away confusion and anger, because we can imagine where that person is coming from and what prompted them to act a certain way.
Kindness is Strength
Empathy and compassion are not weaknesses or disadvantages. Being kind and understanding does not mean that you let other people roll over you and abuse you. In fact, sometimes the most loving thing we can do is to call people to a higher standard of living. Loving another person also requires you to love yourself.
Acknowledge the Needs of Others
Do whatever you can to build up this ability that will help you to have more grace toward others in your relationships. It takes practice and conscious effort to think of someone else before yourself. It doesn’t mean you don’t consider yourself of any less value, but simply that you are moving beyond the natural tendency to consider your own needs and are strong enough to acknowledge the needs of others as well.
It seems simple, even automatic and unnecessary, to affirm you to be present whenever you are speaking with someone. But in today’s world of instant accessibility and short attention spans, it’s getting harder and harder for us to slow down and be truly present wherever we are.
Keep it Consistent
If you want to communicate value to the person you are talking to, then make sure you are saying that with both your words and your body language. You can’t have one and not the other. They both need to be synchronized in order to articulate the authenticity of your message.
What You Do Means More Than What You Say
Body language is so powerful that people will believe what you are doing over what you are saying, even if they are in direct opposition to one another. For example, if someone was telling you “No” while they nodded their head yes, statics show that you would be more inclined to believe the affirmative nod was the “true” answer.
Your Actions Matter
So, what you are doing while you are speaking is saying a whole lot the person you are with. In other words, if you are saying that you are listening, but you’re also scrolling through your phone while talking or someone is talking to you, then they are more likely to believe you are too distracted to listen and are not actually interested in what is being said.
Make an Intentional Connection
Be present. Make intentional eye contact. You don’t have to stare at them unblinkingly, but certainly seeing someone literally eye-to-eye is very meaningful and denotes a deep connection and awareness of one another. That’s why it can feel so uncomfortable sometimes! It’s a vulnerable thing to reveal “the windows to your soul” to another.
It’s also a good idea to stay in the room when someone is speaking with you or telling a story. This might sound obvious as well, but it can feel completely natural to get up from the table and go into the kitchen to grab a drink whenever someone is telling a story. Instead, wait for a natural break to ask if they would like anything to drink and offer to get them something while you grab something for yourself as they continue.
Make it a Habit
This goes back to empathy. Make it a habit to consider how your actions might look to you if they were being done to you instead of by you. Would you be offended if someone started flipping through a magazine while you were having coffee with them, even if they were still “listening” to you?
Don’t Assume Information
Sometimes it isn’t so much what you are saying, but what you aren’t saying that can have the most impact on your communication. For example, you might assume that someone already knows something and begin your conversation from there, but when the other person doesn’t respond in kind, it leads to frustration on both sides.
Don’t Withhold Information
Let’s say your business partner resolved an issue at work and dismisses the thought since it is no longer a worry, but you still don’t know about it yet. It makes you so anxious that you finally bring it up, since it is still pressing on your mind, and they respond, “Oh, but I’ve already taken care of that weeks ago.” That withheld information caused undue stress that could have easily been solved with more effective communication habits.
Save Yourself (and Others) the Heartache
Assumed or withheld information can lead to surprises being revealed too soon, bad business planning, poor budgeting, unnecessary stress, and other severely consequential bouts of miscommunication galore! Save yourself—and others!—the heartache, and invest the extra time clearing up muddy details. It will save you in the long run.
Don’t Be Afraid of Repetition
More often we need to be reminded things than we need to be taught them. It’s far better to double, even triple check on things and risk overcommunicating (only possibly a minor annoyance, but most likely helpful in the cases where things hadn’t been communicated previously) rather than there being missing pieces of information.
Consider Your Timing
When the goal is to have a fruitful, meaningful conversation, it is important to consider when you are trying to have this conversation, because that is going to have a direct effect on just how productive the conversation can possibly be.
Know When to Dive In
For example, you might be anxious to have a heart-to-heart with your loved one about something very important, even central, to your relationship. As well-founded as your intentions may be and however desperate you may be to have the conversation as soon as possible, it would not be wise to try and dive right in as soon as they get off from a trying day at work!
Give People Room to Process
People need time and space to process. Some people might even need warning to prepare for a major conversation. Others will want to dive right in to achieve resolution as fast as possible. It’s important to learn how different people function best so that you can make the most of the opportunity.
A conversation in person, when time as been intentionally set aside, is going to be more productive than a text message conversation while you’re distracted at work. Be fair to the person you are speaking with and ask that they be fair with you. Carving out intentional time shows care and value.
It Takes Practice
Ultimately, good communication derives from intentionality. It takes practice. It’s something that you will always be improving, but it is incredibly rewarding. Your diligence and commitment to speak and listen well is one of the most loving things you can do for every single one of your relationships.
You’re Bound to Succeed
When you are deliberate with your time and attention, when you are honest and kind, when you are conscious of the other person and how they might view the situation, when you speak with simplicity and use thoughtful phrasing, you are bound to have more effective and purposeful communication.