Ever felt like what you are trying to say feels like you are speaking a foreign language? Or that you are talking but clearly not being heard or understood? Problems with communication are some of the biggest issues in relationships, workplace stresses and family problems. Most communication courses are related to becoming a better leader or more effective teacher. However, having poor communication skills can really harm one’s ability to get his/her needs met, feel heard, and have rich relationships.
Let’s look at a few common blockages to effective communication.
- Not actually listening to what is being said/lack of attention or interest. This might seem obvious but if we don’t actually stop and pay attention we are more likely to come away with miscommunication. It also has the potential to make the speaker feel like you really don’t care about them or what they are saying.
- Formulating a rebuttal or thinking of what you want to say instead of listening. It’s easy to start thinking of ways to problem solve but that is rarely what is needed. It also leaves us distracted by our own thoughts and makes it hard to track with the conversation.
- Giving advice or throwing out solutions. A lot of verbal communication is process. If we start giving advice or solutions we can shut a person done who is merely processing an idea. Think of your role as being to listen and understand rather than needing to fix.
- Different perceptions/viewpoints. We need to watch our bias and consider what the speaker has to say. Just because a person’s viewpoint is different doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. We seem to have lost the fine art of being able to disagree without hating or judging.
- Communicating without awareness of the non-verbals. This is extremely important in our present culture of communicating through text, emails and other means where we don’t see the person we’re ‘talking to.’ Roughly 65-90% of communication is non-verbal so try to have important talks in person (or minimally by FaceTime/Skype or phone). If we don’t experience body posture, facial expression, gestures, eye contact, and verbal tone, we have a tremendous potential for poor or miscommunication. Text conversations are far more likely to provoke fights, disagreement and hurt feelings.
Here are five ways to make communication more effective.
- Practice active listening. Actually focus on what the person is saying with the idea that you might need to rephrase it and summarize what was said. It involves being reflective with statements that show you have heard and are trying to understand what the other person is saying.
- What’s your body saying? Check your own non-verbal communication.Making eye contact, putting a phone or other item down, and having an open, relaxed posture can help. If you aren’t sure how you come across, watch your facial expressions in a mirror while you talk to someone on the phone. Think of someone who makes you feel comfortable in conversation when you are with them. What is it that they do that makes you feel at ease?
- Choose your timing wisely. Set the stage in a way that increases the likelihood your communication will be effective. Don’t attempt to have an important conversation with someone while they are watching their favourite sporting event or just climbing into bed. It can also be helpful to give someone a heads up about wanting to talk about a certain topic and setting a time in the future to do so. (This gives introverts a chance to do some processing about what they think and feel about the topic).
- Clarify and summarize. If you aren’t sure what the person means, ask for more information. Think of how you order fast food in a drive-thru. The conversation goes back and forth to obtain information and clarify whether the listener has heard correctly. This is not to be done in a parroting manner but with a genuine desire to understand. Summarizing helps a person to feel heard.
- Be present and show empathy. If someone feels like you are present and care about what they are saying, good communication usually follows! This helps us to get our relational needs met as well. To be empathetic means to essentially picture yourself walking in someone else’s shoes — to be considerate of what it might be like to be them and to step into their world as they are sharing.