This June marks the beginning of Effective Communications Month. As the world reels from the isolation brought by the pandemic and the call for social and cultural change grows louder and louder, it becomes more important than ever to practice effective communication. There are plenty of opportunities to practice effective communication in your family, work, and social life. Many of us already attempt effective communication with our loved ones. However, many of us mistakenly think that since someone is our friend or family member, we automatically understand how they think and feel. In fact, what our loved ones say to us is often filtered through our preconceived notions and we often end up distorting how they truly feel. Because of this, learning how to effectively communicate is a process. Thankfully, there are several “tools” of communication that you can add to your toolbox.
Before you even begin to listen, an elimination of barriers to effective communication is necessary. These barriers can be judgments, feelings of superiority, preconceived notions about the situation, fears of being vulnerable or misunderstood, annoyances or distractions, etc. These barriers stand in the way of listening but working to eliminate them can open up pathways of open and honest communication. Listening is an active action. Truly listening requires a limitation of distractions and an active effort to not mentally prepare a rebuttal while the other person is speaking. Using your body language to demonstrate active listening is also an effective tool—you can nod your head, use your facial expressions, or lean forward to encourage the speaker.
Understanding & Being Thoughtful:
Before you even begin to respond, you can reiterate the problem or the main feeling being expressed back to the speaker. This makes the speaker feel heard and it can help clarify the central message. Understanding what is being said and being thoughtful about what you’re about to say from there is an essential tool for effective communication. It is okay to take your time before you respond. You want to stay focused on the issue at hand so bringing up past conflicts or situations should be avoided. It is important to not get too emotional or to exaggerate while still remaining empathetic and descriptive.
Speak at an even pace and remain clear and honest. It is okay to express yourself in a way that is true to you. Using “I” statements can help: “I understand how you feel”, “I see your perspective”, or even, “I don’t understand. Can you help clarify?”. I statements help us take responsibility for our own thoughts and feelings and prevent us from blaming the speaker in any way. You can validate and understand the speaker without necessarily agreeing with them. Disagreeing is a response; and as long as you remain even-tempered and empathetic, it can be effective. In fact, several different responses can be used effectively: advice-giving, self-disclosure, information-giving, reassurance, and analysis are all types of responses that, when used empathetically and honestly, benefit effective communication.
Exercising these elements or tools of effective communication can begin at home and be replicated in our social and work environments. Making an effort at effective communication becomes increasingly more important in today’s world. It is absolutely necessary to utilize every communication tool at our disposal because it equips us for our interactions with others and therefore the world at large. If we are listening, understanding, being thoughtful, and responding effectively, our toolbox is full.