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Have you ever taken a moment to consider how often we communicate with others on a daily basis, and in what ways? Every species on the planet has some form of effective communication, be it through speaking and sounds, nonverbal signals: such as eye contact, facial expressions, hand gestures, and/or body language. Human beings are social animals. Our ancestors' survival depended on community, and communication was one of the most important skills used to better relationships and avoid conflict. Some of them were great communicators, revered for their teachings, storytelling – even for their ability to communicate with supernatural entities. The power of the word has since developed, and our ability to talk to one another has overcome the constraints of distance and time! Advanced technology allows us to speak to anyone, anywhere, at any hour. This, however, does not translate to good communication skills. In fact, it seems the more we develop ways to communicate, the
less effective our communication is!
Why You Should Learn to Communicate Effectively?
Communicating effectively allows us to express ourselves fully while listening and respecting the POVs of others. In a relationship, effective communication helps eliminate conflict through the understanding of each other's emotions, intentions, and needs. When communicating effectively, we will find clarity and direction, helping to build trust and minimize challenging situations.
More Than Words
Communication isn't just verbal, in fact, numerous sources say it only makes up 7% of our communication. That leaves
93% of our interpretation to nonverbal signals, such as body language and other cues. So, to be an effective communicator, our awareness isn't limited to how we speak, but how we hear, listen, respond, and move.
Critical traits for effective communication:
Active listening means paying attention to the person's message. It's when we show interest and understanding in our partner's words, maintain eye contact, and give feedback when required. Active listening may also include rephrasing
their message to ensure clarity has been established. Some wonderful ways to confirm we've understood is by using phrases like:
“So, what I'm hearing is…” “If I understand correctly…”
It's about being an
engaged listener with the goal of comprehending their feelings and needs.
When we practice empathy, we acknowledge someone's feelings and message; we try to see it from their point of view to increase trust and resolution. Empathy does not mean we abandon our own feelings, but rather work collaboratively to problem-solve.
Self-awareness is utilized when we're mindful of
how we're communicating both verbally and non-verbally. It includes awareness of the goal, which is improving communication.
Emotional management is the practice of keeping our negative feelings in check so we can react constructively, improve communication and relationships.
Collaboration is practicing the “team” mindset to eliminate poor communication and streamline problem-solving. This may require us to let go of our egos and learn to accept feedback. If we pay attention and implement these elements of effective communication, our relationships will evolve in a positive way.
The Trouble with the Talk
A common issue with communication is we don't always say what we mean, and people don't always interpret our words in the way we intend. Communication can get messy. Many of us have trouble communicating effectively, and there are numerous reasons for this. Our ability to articulate our feelings, motives, and needs could be impacted by our upbringing, the confines of our own vocabulary or language, as well as current stress. If you find yourself struggling to clearly express yourself, know you are not alone. Fortunately, effective communication skills can be learned. Effective communication can increase self-esteem and better our relationships. If you need added guidance, speaking with a professional is always an option, as they will have tips and tools for becoming an effective communicator. In the meantime, here are some key points to increase your communication skills today!
What Makes an Effective Communicator
Before you sit down to communicate with your partner, understand what you want to say – what is your
goal for the conversation. If your message is clearly defined, you're setting the conversation up for success. Being honest encourages open communication, and also gives your partner permission to speak freely.
Experts agree that a part of effective communication is
timing it right. Of course, choosing the right time to speak can feel tricky. From the wise words of Dr. Emily Morse: Make sure it’s not when either of you is feeling cranky, hungry, tired, or stressed. Instead, you want to strive for a time when you’re feeling relaxed, energized, and at ease.
The Right Environment
As important as timing is,
where you have the conversation matters! Effective communication can only take place when both parties are feeling calm in their environment. Choosing a private place that supports you both is conducive to clear communication. Additionally, make sure the environment you are speaking in is neutral. For example, if you're having these conversations at home, for a lot of people, the bedroom is a very intimate place. Consider speaking at the dining room table or on the couch instead. Likewise, if you're having this conversation in a more public setting, ensure you both are free to express yourselves without interruption, or strained hearing as a result of loud music, or company. A great alternative is going for a walk or picnic with the intention of having a discussion.
Positive State of Mind
If your brain is distracted or experiencing strong emotions, you will struggle with effective communication and active listening. That is not the best foundation for a constructive discussion. Be aware and honest about current distractions. Distractions could take the form of stress, anger or sadness, arousal, or being under the influence. The context in which the mind is submerged, can muddle the message and sabotage clear communication. Ensure you are both entering the discussion with an open heart and mind, remembering you are on the same team. Take a few deep breaths, make eye contact, and communicate with curiosity and compassion.
The Practice of Communication
Now that you know
how to be an effective communicator, let's put those traits into action. Here you will find the key points on how to practice communicating effectively, to support positive feedback and outcomes.
Clear is Kind
Use clear communication to get your message across. If our statements are contradictory or convoluted, it will be difficult to make any headway on the issue.
Remain Level Headed
Speak calmly. If you scream or hurl insults, it will distract your partner from your main message, and most likely elevate the tension between you.
Remember, 93% of communication is nonverbal. Be mindful of your body language, maintain eye contact when possible, and try to keep your facial expressions positive or neutral. If you want to express your understanding through nonverbal communication or offer positive reinforcement, try nodding, smiling, and/or taking your partner's hand. These are great ways to maintain connection and alleviate tension.
Stay on Topic, Abandon Blame
Effective communication means remaining on topic, and not pulling in past conflicts that were forgiven or resolved. It is very easy to get caught in the never-ending spiral of “who is at fault.”Remember, lean into your curiosity and compassion. Keep your tone steady, and use “I feel” statements rather than flinging blame with “you did this…” statements. The important thing here is to take responsibility for your own needs. When we make someone else responsible for our worries or issues, we are giving them our power. Stay strong in your message, and work together to find a solution that supports both of you.
Take a Break
I believe hitting
pause can be necessary. If you find you're running in circles, things are too heated or are becoming too difficult to digest, take a break. Have a communication “safe word.”For example, if you feel you are getting triggered and are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain a rational conversation, use the safe word and take 15 minutes for yourself. If 15 minutes isn't cutting it, gauge how realistic it would be to circle back on the discussion 24 hours from now?
In any relationship, compromise is essential. If you can find a happy middle-ground for you and your partner, it may have greater benefits long-term than digging your heels in.
Communication and Intimacy
Effective communication has major benefits, not only on conflict resolution but intimacy as well. By communicating effectively, you are creating unity and connection, building integrity and trust. It better prepares us for difficult, even awkward, topics of conversations, but also deeper love and respect. Learning how to effectively communicate will also have a positive impact on how you show up in the world. It is a
practice: no one gets it right all the time. Yet, by practicing effective communication you will, by default, adopt the five elements of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, internal motivation, empathy, and social awareness. These skills are conducive to more fulfilling relationships, self-concept, and overall quality of life. So, communicate effectively and reap the benefits!