Blah, blah, blah! All too often the words we speak come across as meaningless chatter. Communication — the transmitting of information from one person to another — is such a common part of our lives that we engage in it without giving the words we speak much thought.
Our communication techniques can devalue those we are closest to. In fact communication (or lack thereof) is among the leading causes of divorce today, and contributes to numerous problems in both personal and professional relationships. With a little practice, one can improve his or her communication skills and also improve relationships with family, friends, and co-workers.
When it comes to communicating through the spoken word, follow these simple steps:
1. Think before you speak. Do you find yourself jokingly saying that once again you have “opened mouth and inserted foot”? Remember, the words you say have the power to hurt or heal. Once the words have left your lips you cannot take them back. Think before you speak!
2. If you have a complaint, turn it into a specific request, with a goal in mind. This keeps the complaint from being negative and putting the receiver on the defence. Try the sandwich approach. Give a compliment, then the request or creative criticism, followed by another compliment. Make sure the compliments are genuine. False flattery will do more harm than good.
3. Get permission before “dumping” on another person. Ask if this is an acceptable time to unburden on them. You don’t know what kind of day they have had, and by unloading your problem you could be adding more stress to their already stressed out day.
4. Listen to the problem, don’t try to solve it. As someone shares their problem with you, remember this is not an invitation to solve the problem, nor does it warrant your opinion, unless asked for. Often when someone shares a problem, the purpose is not seeking advice so much as the opportunity to hear themselves think out loud.
5. Ask leading questions. Leading questions are those which give the listener the opportunity to choose between two or more options, give their opinion, or express their feelings. Exercise caution when asking leading questions, as you can influence the answer to your question by the way you present the choices, your body language, and the tone of your voice.
6. Give the listener time to respond to your question or statement before giving more information. Silence is not only golden, but conversation is a two way street involving both speaking and listening. During a conversation, make a comment, then wait for the recipient to reply.
7. Eliminate background noise and distractions. Distractions, whether from music, television, or any other source, can make it difficult for the one being addressed to focus on what is being said. This is especially important when addressing an elderly person who may experience a hearing loss problems or dementia.
While the words we speak need to be chosen with care, it is important to remember that they account for only 20 per cent of our conversation. The tone of voice we use when speaking and the body language we display, including our stance, carries more weight than the words we speak, and will be remembered long after our words are forgotten.
Listening is just as important as speaking is. Listening is an art that involves more than just hearing what is being said. The art of listening, like that of speaking, can be learned with practice.
1. Listen to not only what is being said, but perhaps more importantly to what is not being said. Look at the person as they speak: what is their body language saying? What tone of voice are they using? What are they not saying?
2. Stop interrupting the person talking. When you interrupt, you send a message that shouts, “What I have to say is more important than what you are saying. I’m more important than you are.” It’s also vital that we give our complete attention to what is being said and stop thinking about what we are going to say next. By listening and not planning what you are going to say, as soon as the speaker stops talking, even for a second, you are in essence putting the other person ahead of yourself.
3. Give the speaker your full attention. Stop texting, put the book down, and stop looking around to see who else is in the room. When we are distracted we miss out on what is being said, thus hearing only part of the message that is being conveyed to us.
4. Restate what you just thought you heard. It only takes a minute and it helps to avoid misunderstandings. A simple, “If I understand what you are saying, you said that…” can work wonders.
By learning the art of communication, we avoid misunderstandings, convey our thoughts, increase our empathy, give and receive clear directions, and perhaps most important of all, improve our relationship with those closest to us.