Communication is our lifeline, much like a life preserver to a drowning person. Without it, we are bereft. It is definitely 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.
So what is important to understand about communication? These 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 to what we say before we speak. 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 be misconstrued as, “I don’t care about you right now.” You didn’t necessarily mean it that way but that’s how it could be perceived. Perhaps your spouse knows you well enough to know that you need your coffee first and doesn’t feel slighted. The point is that what we do or say can be received differently than we might intend. You could forget to kiss your spouse goodbye as they leave for work, and this unintended slight might turn into an argument. As busy as we all are, try to think ahead about what your words or actions may mean, or how they might be received.
- Not many people have been taught communication skills. It’s a sad fact that there’s not much preparation in life for successful communication. Most people just wing it. Without people having the knowledge and skills, their ineffective communication can cause misunderstandings, 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 some simple communication training.
- 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, or inattentiveness (doing another activity while someone is talking to you). Maybe walking away just means you need to take care of something. But you can see how that could be interpreted as anger or indifference. Observe your behavior and learn from it. Perhaps get some awareness by practicing in a mirror. Look at how you say things and notice your body movements and nonverbal cues. It might surprise you. Be especially aware of what you don’t do or say: all of these 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 you expect it to 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 comment or statement? Was it received the way you meant it? You won’t know unless you check your partner’s reaction and listen to the response. Get in the habit of asking for clarification. You might ask them, “What are your thoughts?” If you made a request. You could even parrot back what you understood them to have said. “So what I heard you say was…” Is that correct? Some conversations require clarification to avoid misunderstandings.
- Active listening takes concentration. When you listen to someone, are you giving them your full attention and focus? People have a tendency to be thinking about their reply rather than actively listening to what is being said. Often people will even break in to finish the other person’s sentence, eager to provide a quick answer or comment. Instead, make eye contact and concentrate on what is being said. Give them your full attention. Show true interest in what they are sharing 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 just wanting you to listen or understand. Having good conversation etiquette is highly underrated.
Maybe you’ve 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. And truly being heard is relationship gold.