Communicating effectively and clearly requires skill and understanding, knowing that everyone operates from their personal model of their world. The way we perceive things becomes our reality, and we communicate from that perspective. That is why we often are surprised when we have expressed our point of view with others, only to find that it is not understood – or even worse, understood in a way completely opposite from what we intended to communicate!
In an effort to assist in enhancing your communication skills, below are some communication elements that may be useful (elements excerpted from Practice Planners by Arthur E. Jongsma, Jr.) As you read them, please keep an open mind and take the time to absorb each one, to notice where you might be able to make minor shifts in your communication to get major results.
Avoid mind-reading: Refrain from assuming and telling other people what they think and feel, or what their reasons are for things they do. None of us like it when others tell us what we think or feel, and this often triggers arguments.
No name-calling: When we are upset with others, it is because of what they did or didn’t do – in other words, their actions. Calling people names is not referring to their actions. It is labeling who and what you perceive them to be, which has nothing to do with the specific action to which you object. Name-calling is one of the most assured ways to turn a discussion into an argument or fight.
Be specific, providing evidence based information: When presenting information, stay away from making comments like “You always ” or “You never ,” as this is emotion driven, not evidence driven. Be specific with your communication, giving evidence of what did or did not occur. Describe a specific action rather than labeling a person. Even if they very often or very seldom do something, it is unlikely that they always or never do it—no human being is that consistent. By being specific and providing evidence based information, you will avoid leading to an argument.
No interrupting or long speeches: These two guidelines go together. When we cut others off or finish their sentences for them, the message is, “What you have to say is not important enough for any more of my time.” Also, we’re often wrong about what people mean to say when we finish sentences for them. Of course, for one person to let another talk uninterrupted, they both have to know that they’ll have a chance to speak, which is why long speeches cause problems.
Talk about one thing at a time: We may have many problems to work out with another person, but if we bring them all up at once he/she will feel overwhelmed. Most of us want to get along with others, and we want to know what they want from us. When we start bringing up one issue after another in a discussion, it is sometimes called “kitchen-sink fighting” because it seems to other people that we are throwing everything at them including the kitchen sink.
Claim your own feelings and actions: A near-guaranteed way to miscommunicate and create negative feelings is to blame someone for your own feelings or actions, by saying “You made me feel ” or “You made me do .” Other people can’t make us do anything, unless they use physical force. They can’t make us feel or think a certain way. Turn it around: Do you want to be blamed for someone else’s actions and feelings? To solve a problem instead of starting a fight, it works better to say things like “When you did (action), (result) happened, and I felt (emotion).”
Be mindful and respond to both the spoken and unspoken parts of the message: As well as listening to other people’s words, we need to respond to the emotions they express through facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. It always helps if others see we are paying attention and trying to understand them. Be mindful when you are communicating with others in person, refraining from glancing at the time, rolling your eyes, or looking at your smart phone! And when you are on the telephone, stay away from typing into your computer or doing other activities as they can be heard, and the other person will notice that you are distracted.
Use a structured communication method:
– Agree to talk about an issue at a specific time in the near future and at a place that is practical for both people and as free of distractions as possible.
– Agree on who will talk first and who will listen first (you’ll trade places often).
– Make short statements, using an Event, Result, Feelings format:
“When (event) happened, you did (action), it caused (result), and I felt (feelings).”
Have fun exploring and applying the above elements, knowing that you can make minor shifts that generate major positive results. And, remember to be flexible!