Simple tips for better communication
Whether we are talking about your partner, your kids, or your colleagues – good communication can make or break your relationships.
In our increasingly busy world, we are less likely to really take our time to explain ourselves well, or to listen carefully to each other. Much of our communication is via text or social media messenger these days, and can even take the form of an emoji rather than words.
Emojis are fine when the topic is light. But for anything that carries weight, we need to make sure both parties understand the context properly. And context can easily get lost in a text or email.
Have you ever received an email from a colleague that got you really upset, angry or anxious, only to later discover that it wasn’t intended to upset you?
We’ve all had similar experiences to this one. Or how about a real, face-to-face verbal conversation where you spoke but you didn’t feel heard? I think we’ve all been there too.
But just because it’s a common occurrence doesn’t mean we should just accept the status quo. Communication is a skill that we can all sharpen up. All coaches go through training in active listening to ensure that clients are really well heard and its a really helpful communication tool.
So here are a few simple tips and strategies for clear communication, which absolutely can help in all of our relationships.
The basics of active listening
The first thing to say is that interrupting is to be avoided as much as possible. If you want someone to open up and really share with you, then give them space and don’t disrupt their flow. It’s not a skill that many use today, so when you can hold a quiet space for another person to just speak without interruption, they will likely appreciate you just for doing that.
The next tip is to focus on why you are listening. Are you listening to learn more about what you are being told, or are you listening to find a gap in the conversation where you can interject with your opinion or advice? Here’s a big hint. The former is active listening, and the latter is what most people actually do!
Usually, when in a conversation, we are focused more on what we are going to say next, rather than what our conversation partner is actually telling us. This isn’t necessarily an ego thing – I’m not saying we are selfish. Sometimes it’s that we are self-conscious that we might not have an intelligent response, and so we try hard to create one. The trouble is that takes over our attention, and we lose track of what the other person was saying.
Try to relax about your response. It really is okay to pause and think before you answer. Actively focus on what the other person is saying – you may be surprised how much more you hear!
Giving another person your full attention in this way clearly demonstrates that you respect and value them. This can only improve your relationships with people, so be brave and give it a go.
How about when it’s your turn to speak?
If you have something to communicate to others, and it’s a big deal, you might be worried about their response.
Have you ever tried to start a serious conversation with a friend, only to be frustrated that they are distracted by their phone?
A great way to approach a serious conversation is to ‘pre-frame’ it. In other words, to give the other person a little warning that some serious talk is headed their way. This gives them a chance to adjust and shift their focus to you. When their phone goes back into their pocket, you know they are ready to hear you out.
This is about preparing the other person to meet your request for their attention, rather than expecting them to know they should. Sure, perhaps good old fashioned manners should dictate that they give you their attention anyway, but in today’s world we have to work with what we’ve got. So let them know it’s time to put the phone down, turn the music off, and connect with you properly.
What can get in the way of good communication?
Apart from the tech-based distractions I just mentioned, there are plenty of other things that can affect your attempts to communicate something important.
Do choose your timing wisely if you don’t want to be left frustrated. Trying to talk to your partner first thing in the morning, as they are rushing out the door for work, is a bad time. Trying to engage your boss in a serious conversation before they are due in a meeting is a bad idea too.
They say communication is a two-way street, so the clue here is to think about the other person (or people) in the equation. When is your boss more likely to have time to give you their full attention? When is your partner in a more relaxed state and able to respond in a supportive way?
In summary, pick your moments.
Another classic communication blocker is hurt feelings. This can come up in all sorts of relationships too, from family to professional. The key here is to avoid blame or accusations and focus only on facts. The way that you word these facts has an impact too. Be careful to avoid sentences that begin with, “You…”
Think about another way you could ask for what you need or make your point, without putting an uncomfortable focus on the other person.
The final point I want to raise is that your own emotions can damage your attempts at communication – so always take a pause before saying or emailing something in the heat of the moment. If you are angry, offended, or feeling threatened, this is about giving yourself the space to recognise the emotion and catch yourself before you make a situation worse.
Good communication can be about not saying something too. It isn’t always about saying everything that’s on your mind and sparing nobody. So think about how carefully choosing what you do communicate, especially in a stressful work situation, will impact you further down the track.
If in any doubt about whether you should say something or not, just take a break, excuse yourself to the bathroom if it helps, and then give yourself a moment to think about it.
Improving your communication skills can make a really positive difference to all of your relationships, even your relationship with yourself. Feeling heard is a real confidence booster, and being able to give somebody the gift of hearing them fully is a great feeling.