Communication is our lifeline, much like a life preserver is to a drowning person. Without it, we are bereft. It is a learned skill, but unfortunately, not many efforts have been made to teach it. It is more or less assumed that people know how to do it. But communication differs depending on who is the communicator and who is the receiver. Men, women, children—all communicate.
What is important to understand about communication? Five crucial factors come to mind.
- It is not easy. It sounds frightful, but it’s true. Most of us don’t even give a thought before we speak with someone in our lives. We don’t realize that in fact, we are communicating without even knowing it. For example, you wake up in the morning and leap out of bed without even so much as saying good morning to your significant other. That’s the start of your communication for the day—a behavior that could mean “I don’t care about you now.” You didn’t necessarily mean that. Perhaps your spouse knows well enough that you need coffee first and gets up without a slighted feeling. The point is that what we do or say can be received differently than we intend. You could forget to kiss your spouse goodbye as he or she leaves for work, and this slight might turn into an argument—or not. Try to think a bit ahead about what some of your words or actions may mean, even though this process may be difficult.
- Not many people have been taught communication skills. It is a sad fact for sure that there’s not much preparation in life for successful communication unless you’ve been in a class on the topic in college or high school. Most people just wing it. Without people having the knowledge and skills, their ineffective communication can cause misunderstanding, arguments, and an inability to resolve conflicts effectively. Most relationships suffer because of this knowledge deficit. More divorces and family conflicts could be spared with simple ways to send and receive information.
- It isn’t just words. Have you ever told someone how you felt without really saying it? All it takes is a look (rolling your eyes), a touch, turning your back, walking away, being silent, a harsh tone when saying goodbye, or inattentiveness (doing another activity while someone is talking to you). Maybe walking away just means a need to get some fresh air. But you can see how that could be interpreted as anger. Observe your behavior and learn from it. Perhaps get some practice by facing yourself in a mirror. Look at how you say things and notice your body movements, it could be surprising. Be especially aware of what you don’t do or say: an astonishing fact is that all of those involve communication.
- Your effectiveness is determined by the reaction. It is common to get in the trap of thinking that communication is one-sided: that is, we send it out and our communication loop will be successful. The truth is that communication doesn’t exist alone. Perhaps you have communicated an idea to your partner. Did your partner understand you? How did he or she perceive your communication? In the way, you sent it, or another way? You won’t know unless you check for your partner’s reaction. A good practice is to get in the habit of asking for clarification. You might say, “What are your thoughts?” If you made a request for action, be sure to check and see if the recipient has heard you.
- Active listening takes concentration. When you listen to someone, what are you thinking about? Often, people think primarily about their reply. People may even break in to finish the other person’s sentence, so eager to provide a quick answer. Instead, concentrate on understanding the idea being put forth. Put full attention on absorbing the information. Show true interest and ask questions. Then wait, and avoid stepping on what the other person is trying to finish saying. Remember that sometimes a person might tell you about a problem not actually wanting you to reply quickly with a solution, but rather primarily wanting your understanding. Asking what they need at that time shows a true willingness to be an active participant.
Maybe you have heard some of these things before, but reading it now may just hit the spot and make a difference. Effective communication can be viewed as the glue that holds a relationship together.