When was the last time you got into a bit of a scuffle with a friend, lover, family member or even a stranger? When was your last miscommunication or misunderstanding? If it hasn’t been for a while, then you’re doing something right! Most of us, however, run into complications at times or even frequently.
Nowadays, we are constantly in contact with one another. While this can be a great thing, it also leaves more room for error. Enter the internet and text messaging. Not only are there words being thrown out more easily and readily, but there are so many ways to misinterpret what is being said or what the intentions are behind it. So how do we do it? How do we communicate in a more helpful and effective way without completely censoring ourselves?
I have always loved working with communication. I work with families, couples and individuals. Often times, that work involves resolving or processing conflicts, and guess what is more than not at the center of this? Bingo, you guessed it. Communication! Whether it’s a teen talking to their parent, a partner talking to their significant other, or a casual conversation gone wrong, there are helpful tools and tactics to keep in mind. Here’s a few tips and tricks on how to engage in more helpful communication!
Focus on Your Own Experience, Not the Other Person’s.
When in a conversation, sometimes we begin speaking for the other person or other people. Be more mindful to speak for yourself. You only truly know your experience. If it is not your story to tell or your emotion, try to stay away from it or focus on your point of view. It is better to ask than assume. People will appreciate it!
Use “I” Statements
Along the same lines, use “I” statements. People respond and hear what you say when you begin with an “I” statement. This is especially true in arguments! Think about it. Here’s an example of the same exact message but two different ways it can be communicated; 1) “It makes me feel really upset when this topic comes up” or 2) “Every time you bring up this topic I get really upset”. The second one sounds more accusatory and depending on your tone, they may not even hear the second part of the sentence, which is the important part! By putting yourself out there and leading with that information, you are more likely to be heard and get a better response.
Going off our last example, we can easily fall into the trap of blaming or sounding like we are blaming. It is often a defense but the more we stay away from it, the better the communication. Once we start throwing out terms like “well if you didn’t…” or “I wouldn’t have, if you…” things can go downhill quickly (even if it’s meant jokingly!). Take ownership of your thoughts, feelings and actions. If you can’t express yourself without doing so, maybe you need to take time to figure out why you are bothered or upset by the situation before you bring it up in discussion.
Ask, Don’t Assume
Ah, one of my favorites. If you don’t know something, that’s okay! Whether it’s the latest gossip, how someone’s feeling, what someone’s thinking, etc., it is always better to just ask. As the old saying goes, “when you assume, you make an a** out of you and me.” People will respect you more if you take the time to ask and inquire. You learn more this way as well and avoid a lot of misunderstanding!
Address the Elephant in the Room
If there is an elephant in the room, address it! Seeing an old friend you haven’t in a while? First time with a family member since a big blowout? As uncomfortable as it may seem, you might as well address it. Otherwise, the conversation will seem forced and awkward and may even manifest itself as a rude comment or new argument. Clear the air! You’ll be happy you did. And when you do, remember our previous tips!
Stay Away from Vulgar Language
Yes, some of us naturally have the tendency to curse like sailors (do sailors still curse?), but try to hold back when you can. Adding unnecessary swearing can come off as aggressive or unattractive even if it’s meant in a harmless manner. You will sound better-spoken, more intelligent and there is less of a chance that something you’re saying will be taken the wrong way.
Talk About the Topic, Not the Person
When in conversation, talk about the topic, not the people involved in it. If you are talking about a topic of debate or just a casual event, stay away from shifting attention to the person’s character, personal qualities and values. Feel free to relate back to yourself, but it becomes a grey area when you drag someone else into it or make someone the focus of attention rather than the topic. Explore topics in a helpful way. Again, much better grounds to learn something new and engage in more meaningful conversations without the gossip or drama.
If You are Talking About a Person, be Mindful You are Doing Just That
If you happen to be into the gossip and don’t intend to change this, be mindful that you are in fact talking about other people. A good rule to go by: don’t say something about a person that you wouldn’t say if they were standing in the room. Although they are not there, they have feelings. Think about how you would feel if someone were talking behind your back, and the respect you would want them to show if they were talking about you with some friends or acquaintances. Chances are we have all fallen victim to this already, but better to acquire a positive practice. Set a good example! What comes around goes around and people tend to learn your words one way or another.
If You are Agreeing on Something, Offer a Different Perspective; Play Devil’s Advocate
It’s a great thing when you can understand both sides of a situation or at least explore both sides. This makes for more meaningful conversation at times. It is easy to gang up and make judgements when everyone in the conversation is in agreement. I’m not saying being in agreement is a bad thing, but you do yourself and everyone involved a favor by expanding your views. You also never know if you just created a space for someone to be more honest about something!
When deep in conversation, it is good to give reflections. These could be reflections of what you’re saying or what the other person is saying. This is helpful in avoiding miscommunications or misunderstandings, which happen more often than we realize! A helpful way to do this is to start your reflection by saying something like “It sounds like…” or “It seems like…”. That way, there are no assumptions being made and if you got something wrong, you are giving them a space to correct you in a helpful way.
This may sound silly, but it is very important and often overlooked. When we hear something we relate to, something that resonates with us, sparks an idea or a point in an argument, we turn off our listening and immediately start thinking of what we want to say next. WRONG! If it’s that important, you’ll think of it again. You may miss something else even more important by being in your own head and own conversation! Also, it’s not always about us (I know, how dare me). Another helpful tool is to have something to write or type with and write yourself short reminders during the conversation so you can go back to it. I mean short key words, not a paragraph so that you miss even more of the conversation and look rude!
In a day and age where we easily become distracted, try to stay present in the conversation. No phones, no T.V. in the background, nada. It will help you to listen, stay engaged and enjoy the conversation more. Plus you will look like less of an a** than when you lose your place in the conversation and have to pretend like you didn’t hear the person. You can do it!
Ask for a Minute/Break if You Need It
In a world where everything demands immediate attention, take a minute. If you find yourself fading or having trouble paying attention, excuse yourself. In general, by not responding immediately, you are not breaking any laws (I promise!). It is better to take a minute and have a more thoughtful response than to just blurt something out or dish out your “uh huhs.” And trust me, they can tell when you’re not really listening or fully engaged. If they get this sense, it could cause them to disengage, feel like you’re not interested, feel invalidated and the list goes on.
So challenge yourself! See if these helpful tools and tricks can improve your communication.
Mia Gardner, LCSW
Author: Mia Gardner
Author Bio: Mia Gardner, LCSW is a Psychotherapist and Life Coach. While she works with a variety of clients, she specializes in children, family therapy, family centered concerns, and communication within her private practice. As a Life Coach, she helps those who are looking to take back control and gain insight, happiness, and the life they desire. Mia is also an author being featured in the book “20 Beautiful Women” and is coming out with Children’s Books that focus on positive thinking, positive interactions and self-esteem.
Link to social media or website: http://www.sincerelyyourtherapist.com