We are communicating all the time. At home with our families, with our partner, at work, with our neighbors, at the store, literally – all the time. So if we are communicating all of the time, shouldn’t we all just be really good at it? You’d think. But communication is a learned practice. People go to school and get degrees to learn how to communicate properly. It takes time and mindfulness to really master it.
I’m sure you can find hundreds if not thousands of articles talking about communication in much more detail, but I want to break it down into 5 quick, easy to adapt practices that will help you to communicate more effectively, today.
#1 – Say what you mean and mean what you say
Seems pretty basic, right? But it’s a lot harder to do than you may think. A lot of times we don’t say exactly what’s on our mind for fear of hurting someone’s feelings or maybe because we aren’t sure how our message is going to be received. Instead, we dance around the topic at hand and aren’t accurately conveying our message to the recipient. You CAN express yourself and speak what’s on your mind in a way that is respectful and honest while also getting your point across to the other person. If you’re worried about the way the message will be received, preface your conversation with that. Open with something like, “I want to speak honestly with you about “x” but I also want to do so in a way that won’t hurt your feelings. Can you be patient with me while I find the words to express this properly?” And maybe it doesn’t have to be that formal but you get the point, communicate up front that you’re about to dive in to an uncomfortable topic.
#2 – Listen to Understand, not to Respond
I tell my kids this ALL the time. When they get in trouble for something and I have to talk with them about it, they are so quick to give me an excuse or their reasoning for doing what they did. They aren’t interested in hearing my point of view or why it is that they are in trouble. When it’s our turn to talk, we have the floor. But when you pass that over to the other person, give them that same platform to be able to speak their mind without being interrupted. That also means actually listening to them, not just thinking about all of the things that you are going to say once they stop talking. We have to pay attention to the other person to really make sure that we are receiving the message that they are trying to get across.
#3 – Ask Clarifying Questions
That’s actually a really good segue into this point which is, asking clarifying questions. When you can respond with a question that summarizes or validates what they said, it shows the other person that you heard them. It also gives you an opportunity to make sure you understand what they are trying to say. If the other person is telling you about the horrible day they had and how challenging it was because the kids were not listening to them, you could follow up their story with, “It sounds like you had a really frustrating day, what are you going to do to help relax?” Or if you didn’t understand, “What were the kids doing that made you upset?” Both ways will show the other person that you are paying attention to what they are saying and care enough to make sure the message is being received.
#4 – Be mindful of nonverbal communication
Even if you aren’t physically saying anything, your body might be. When you’re communicating, face the person that you’re talking to. Put away the phone and be as present as possible. Try to visualize what the other person is seeing. If you’re talking with someone and they kept looking at their phone or their watch every few minutes, how would that make you feel? I know it would make me feel rushed or maybe as if what I’m saying isn’t important to them. Be engaged in the conversation.
#5 – Keep Practicing
Know that effective communication doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, practice and patience with yourself and with others. Know the areas where you can improve and actively work on them every day!