In a world where we are used to expressing how we feel or what we think with multiple emojis, or where the question “how are you?” is more of an ‘in passing’ question, rather than a genuine concern; there is bound to be miscommunication or someone who feels misunderstood, at some point in our daily interactions. The ability to effectively communicate with people is one of the most important life skills we can possess. We communicate every day, verbally and non-verbally, to those around us, whether we are always aware of it or not. The way we communicate with the people around us directly impacts our relationships with them. Our interactions with our family, friends, co-workers, clients, boss, and strangers, determine whether or not these relationships grow, are stagnant, or are diminished. In most instances, they determine whether or not the outcome of the interaction is a good or bad one.
How do we communicate ineffectively?
It is extremely easy for us to not communicate effectively with one another. We get upset and make statements we don’t mean; and we beat around the bush instead of saying or explaining what we want to say. There are several ways that we encourage and practice miscommunication with one another. Some of the ways we do this include:
1) We try to multitask
When we attempt to multitask and juggle several activities at once, we run the risk of giving more attention to one of those activities, and less attention to the rest. If someone is trying to speak to us while we’re doing a task, it’s easy for us to not hear exactly what they said or misunderstand what they said. Likewise, if we’re trying to respond to an email, but we’re busy cooking or watching television, it’s easy for us to type the wrong sentence or misread what was sent in the email.
2) We are too busy
Sometimes we are too busy to listen, too busy to check up on a friend, too busy notice that our partner craves spending time with us because we haven’t been around much; or too busy to realize that something bad is happening to a family member or loved one. Sometimes we’re even too busy for ourselves.
3) We ask the wrong questions
Instead of asking someone the questions we want to be answered, we instead ask a different question in hopes that they would offer the information we want to know.
4) We hear but we don’t listen
We might be having a conversation with someone on the phone or in person, and instead of paying attention to what the person is saying, we are focused on something else. We maybe got distracted by an incoming message on our phones, the television, or something happening outside. Instead of trying to understand what the person is saying, our focus is more on our response. We heard what they said, and responded; we didn’t listen and understand.
5) We act on our emotions
We sometimes let our emotions get the better of us and lash out at our loved ones in anger, or stop talking to someone who sends us a message we interpreted as a bad one. We sometimes don’t take the time to identify and understand how we’re feeling, thinking about a response, and then responding. Everything happens too fast, and we feel too hurt to think about what to say at the moment.
How can you improve the way you communicate?
Improving the way we communicate with one another can be done by practicing a few techniques on our own. If, you want to start improving your communication skills, try practicing some or all of the techniques below:
Take the time to truly listen to the person you’re talking to. This stands for all messages, emails, texts, phone, and in-person conversations.
2) Summarize, repeat and ask questions
Ensure that you understand what the person is saying, or trying to know how they truly feel, by summarizing what they said, repeating keywords and phrases they used, and asking questions. This shows your friends, clients, and family members that you’re not only giving them the attention they want but that you’re interested in what they’re saying.
3) Use “I feel” statements
Replace statements like “You never have time for me” or “You’re so lazy” with, “I feel overwhelmed when I have to do the chores by myself” or “I feel really sad when we don’t spend time together”.
4) Take the silent treatment out of your back pocket
If you feel angry, sad, upset, or frustrated as a result of what someone did or said, then let them know. When you give someone the silent treatment, you’re trying to make them feel the way you feel- bad. Stop using the silent treatment as your way to try to solve a problem. Not saying how you feel, or trying to address the situation, doesn’t address anything. It either makes things worse or is a quick fix until the next situation arises. Say how you feel and work together to find a solution.
5) Express your feelings, rather than being passive, or passive-aggressive
The silent treatment might not be your go-to in a situation, but crawling up into a shell and not saying what you want to say or how you feel might be. You might be passive-aggressive and make comments that hurt or offend the other person. At the end of the day, being passive, or passive-aggressive, doesn’t allow you to get your message across. Work towards being more assertive and express your thoughts, ideas, and feelings without fear.
6) Work on being more self-aware
If you can identify and notice when you feel sad, mad, upset, frustrated, or overwhelmed, and take the time to assess your feelings, the situation and determine what you would like to say, you would communicate your feelings more effectively to your audience. Being aware of how your audience or the person you’re speaking to may feel, will also help you to communicate better with them.
7) Be honest
This might be the hardest step to do, but it’s one of the most effective ones. Try your hardest and your best to be as honest as possible every time you speak to someone. When doing this, pay close attention to your tone and the choice of words you use when doing so. Ensure that the tone and words you have chosen to use are not only appropriate for your audience, but are being said as a means to explain or solve a situation, not hurt or punish the other person, or persons involved.
Communicating more effectively can be an extremely challenging task. Sometimes we take the easy route by inserting an emoji instead of writing a sentence, or lash out at someone when we’re upset. We might even resort to saying nothing, for fear of how our opinion or statement might be perceived. However, if we are going to try to be heard, understood, and understand others, we must try our utmost best to listen, ask questions, be honest, be assertive rather than passive or passive-aggressive, and be more aware of our feelings, and those of others.