We live in an age of communication. Thanks to technological innovations like Facebook, tweeting, twittering, texts, and e mails, we are more connected than at any time in history. And yet somehow we seem LESS able to communicate with one another than ever before.
A recent study stated that people have very little to SAY when they meet. No longer do we come home for supper and respond to questions like “So how was your day?” We KNOW what happened during the day from the series of texts, calls and e mails that have flown through cyber space. So what is left to actually say?
Communication always involves several components. First it requires a message, which consists of the substance of what we want to say. The message is important of course, but to be truly effective in communicating that message, there must be a method. The method refers to the ways in which the content of that message is conveyed, and usually utilizes a number of essential communication techniques and skills. We have all sat through boring and seemingly unending lectures where good and relevant content seemed to get lost because communication tools were not employed, and it became “all talk”, most of which we didn’t hear.
Any message between people consists of three distinct parts:
- The Actual Words that are exchanged.
- The Tone of Voice with which those words are uttered, whether friendly, nervous, angry or whatever.
- Our Body Language, which is the non-verbal messages conveyed by facial expression, body posture or general appearance, including the physical energy invested in the communication, such as a smile, and/or eye contact.
A good balance of these three factors is absolutely essential for effective communication.
- That’s the theory. But what happens in practice. You gear up for a difficult but necessary conversation with your boss (or spouse or friend). In your head, you practice how it will go. You rehearse what you’ll say, and how you think he/she will respond. The point you’d like to make is clear to you, so it should be a piece of cake, right? You take a breath and approach.
- Ten minutes later, you walk away, confused and irritated. That did not go as planned. They completely misunderstood the message you intended to communicate and now instead of getting what you needed, you’re both angry and frustrated.
- How could one simple conversation go so wrong?
The trouble with talk is getting from content to communication. We talk every day, from buying our morning coffee or newspaper to the sports results, or our social adventures. It seems like communication should come naturally with so much practice. But when it comes to the ‘biggies’, the conversations that really matter, more often than not, we fumble, stumble, stammer and talk in circles around the real issue until it seems impossible to simply say what we mean and be understood.
When it comes to interpersonal relationships, not being able to communicate successfully is one of our biggest obstacles. Sadly most of us don’t really know how we come across to others, and some don’t CARE! Maybe you push too hard, appearing overly aggressive. Maybe you silently seethe or sulk, when you don’t get what you want. The tone of your voice, body language and the words you choose all play major roles in the way your messages come across. Simply raising your eyebrows or lowering your voice can impact the way your words are received. From your head to your toes, everything you do affects what you say, and how people understand it.
Effectively communicating can be difficult, but understanding the hidden messages that you project can help make it easier to get your point across.
How can you create healthy, satisfying relationships with colleagues, friends, family and your mate? The following suggestions may help:
1. Avoid Speaking in a Stranglehold:
The way you speak can completely change the meaning of the words coming out of your mouth. The dreaded “We’ve got to talk” bit becomes even more dreaded when you utter the line in your “angry voice.” Try unclenching your jaw and relaxing your tone before you speak. The person on the receiving end of your speech will likely be much more receptive. You can say the exact same thing, but by changing your voice, you’re suddenly changing the tone of the conversation completely.
2. Let them hear your body talk:
Non-verbal cues can be used to convey a point without saying a word. How many times have you observed someone rolling their eyes or looking away when someone else makes a point or talks about a problem, showing, rather than telling, exactly how they feel. Don’t go this route. Instead, just SAY what you’re feeling and make sure your words speak for themselves. Keep your body language neutral: arms loose at your sides, maintain eye contact, and go easy on the facial grimaces or body shrugs.
Along the same lines, choose your words carefully. Be very clear about what you intend because we all have our own understanding of what certain words mean. To ensure that your message carries the same meaning as you’ve intended it to, CLARIFY. Stop and ask: Can you understand what I mean here? Does this make sense?
Don’t be afraid to be very clear about what you need. Being assertive is a good way to communicate, but it can be misunderstood and interpreted as being aggressive. We need to speak directly, being precise and well defined; but always in a respectful way. Good communication is not being forceful or aggressive, or indeed behaving passively, which itself can be a subtle form of aggression. It’s simply being calm and clear.
3. Develop good boundaries
Your boundary is an invisible line that separates you from other people. Imagine your boundary as a wall with a gate in it. Your boundary needs to be solid enough that people can’t intrude and treat you badly, but it needs to have enough openings that you can let people get close to you.
Good boundaries are absolutely essential to healthy relationships. Having a solid boundary means that you feel free to say “no” and to express your preferences and opinions clearly. A boundary helps you prevent people from “breaking in” and taking advantage of you. It’s important, because if you can’t do this you’ll end up feeling resentful, underappreciated or angry at being controlled by others, and eventually burnt out.
Having an open boundary means that you have the ability to be connected to people in your life. If you have difficulty with this you’ll feel lonely, isolated, or distant from those closest to you. If you experience these feelings, try opening up and sharing more of yourself in relationships.
4. Take the initiative
You get out what you put in a relationship. Do you want to have a good friend? Be a good friend. Do you want to be closer to someone? Then get closer. Pick up the phone. Extend an invitation.
Do you want more support with a problem? Reach out and ask for help. Want to be noticed by your boss more? Do something high-profile or promote yourself more effectively. In the real world, we have to take responsibility for our own success and happiness.
5. Work on yourself and your relationships will improve
Take stock of what you might subconsciously be projecting that leads others to respond to you in certain ways. People tend to respond to what they sense. Do you suffer from high anxiety? You may be making the people around you feel stressed. Do you have a lot of anger? You may be pushing people away by being prickly. Do you feel taken advantage of in your relationships? Maybe deep down you don’t feel entitled to have more.
Our relationships are a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. What are the unconscious messages that you are projecting to that person whom you are finding it difficult to communicate with? Ask someone you trust if you don’t know. Work through your own emotional issues and your relationships will change.
6. Project warmth, curiosity and respect
Finally, and most importantly, these are the top three qualities that will attract others to you. Always treat others with respect especially at times you are angry with them. Don’t be dismissive, use sarcasm or demean people. Be warm. Smile. Be kind. Know how and when to apologize. And, above all, take a natural interest in the lives and experiences of others. Treat them as special and show that you care.
It’s easy to focus on what others are doing to frustrate you. Instead, shift your focus onto what you can do to improve your closest relationships.
Being aware of all the ways you communicate will help you make the right choices and come across as assertive in any difficult conversation. You’ll never again walk away scratching your head and wondering “what just happened?”